Books Read in July 2022

Suddenly, it’s the first Monday in August! Summer months fly back too quickly for me. (I’m not a fall or winter person.) Today’s blog post is about the books I read in July. I hope my comments will prompt you to read one or more of them.

I try to always point out that I’m not a book reviewer. I just like to share my thoughts about some of the books I read. I don’t follow any book review guidelines. I don’t receive books for review. I get 99.9% of my books from the public library. I’m not beholding to any of the authors I mention – or to any publishers. Reading is just part of my journey as a writer.


The Foundling, by Ann Leary

The Foundling, by Ann Leary

This novel is based on an experience of the author’s grandmother. It’s Ms. Leary’s fourth novel, but the first one of hers that I’ve read.

Set in 1927, The Foundling is the story of two women who grew up in the same orphanage.

As an adult, one of them is falsely accused of being “simple-minded” and is incarcerated in a facility for such women of child-bearing age. They’ll all be released when they can no longer have a child. The “reasoning” behind that policy is that a simple-minded woman will pass on her mental deficiencies to her children.

As an adult, the other woman gets a job working in the facility where her long ago childhood friend is being held against her will.

The female worker is determined to get her friend released because she knows she shouldn’t be in the facility. Along the way, the worker befriends a newspaper reporter who has always wanted to write an exposé about the facility.

At times, I found the worker to be too gullible, but I was completely drawn into the story and had to keep reading to find out what happened in the end.


Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, by Sally Cronin

This is an e-book I purchase several years ago. It landed on my TBR and there it stayed. I follow Sally Cronin’s blog and she follows mine. Please check out one of her posts from yesterday. ( https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2022/07/31/smorgasbord-posts-from-my-archives-memoir-waterford-ireland-history-the-colour-of-life-the-shop-and-bakery-family-1840s-1940s-by-geoff-cronin/).

I finally got around to reading one of her books. Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a delightful collection of Sally’s stories. They run the gamut from humorous to sad and bittersweet. I enjoyed each one and found it impossible to choose a favorite.

It’s not the only book of yours I’ll read, Sally! I promise!


Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

This latest book by John Grisham is a collection of three novellas. By definition, a novella is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.

If you do an online search for guidelines about word counts, you’ll find there’s no ironclad publishing industry agreement. Trust me. I’ve tried to find definitive guidelines. I tend to give more credence to Brian A. Klems, the online editor for Writer’s Digest magazine than to some of the other sources. Mr. Klems said a short story is 1,500 to 30,000 words; a novella is 30,000 to 50,000 words; and a novel is 55,000 to 300,000 words. As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway in there.

That being said, I don’t know the word counts of Mr. Grisham’s novellas in Sparring Partners. The title of the book is a clue that each of the novellas is about lawyers.

The first one is the longest of the three novellas. It’s about a lawyer who steals settlement money from clients and then abandons his family and flees the United States. He’s had no contact with anyone for years. The plot gets quite involved. A local reporter is determined to unravel the mystery of the lawyer’s disappearance. Rumors swirl about the lawyer’s whereabouts and there’s speculation he has returned to the area. His wife is dying of cancer. One of their two daughters wants to talk to him. Is he being investigated or have the authorities just written him off?

The second novella is called “Strawberry Moon.” It was my favorite of the three, which probably qualifies me as a proverbial “bleeding heart liberal.” It is a touching story about a young man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time as a young teen and ends up on death row. That’s where he’s been for 15 years and he’s scheduled to be executed tonight.

Mr. Grisham has a knack for getting across his philosophy about a moral issue in his books – something that novice authors are advised to avoid. I love how Mr. Grisham is able to pull it off and remain one of America’s most prolific authors. The moral issue he tackles in “Strawberry Moon” is capital punishment. He also conveys the importance of books and how books (and a person who gets books into the hands of a death row prisoner) can have a profound impact on a prisoner.

“Strawberry Moon” brought me to tears – which a story rarely does.

The third novella in Sparring Partners is about a young man who enters a hospital for relatively routine surgery and leaves the hospital paralyzed. A lawyer wants to make a big splash by winning a tremendous settlement from the hospital for his client.

I had trouble getting into this novella and completely lost interest in the plot when it came to light that there was a snake in someone’s house. It was after midnight when I got to that part of the story. Not good! I didn’t read the rest of the story. Just sayin’.

I highly recommend the first two novellas in Sparring Partners. I’ve heard that Mr. Grisham enjoyed writing this format, so maybe he’ll write more novellas for us. I hope so – as long as he leaves the snakes out!


Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

It was coincidental that I read two books last month by John Grisham. That can happen when you’re on the waitlist at the public library for multiple books by one author. Murphy’s Law sometimes kicks in, and you get both books at the same time.

When I logged into my Goodreads.com account to list this novel on my “Currently Reading” list, I discovered that I’d already read the book and given it four stars. The funny (and slightly frightening thing) is that I have no recollection of having read the book.

The “up” side of that is that I got to enjoy it all over again. With absolutely no memory of the plot, every twist, turn, and development was a surprise.

In true Grisham fashion, this legal thriller grabbed my interest from the beginning and never let me go. It took me back to the dark economic days of 2008 with the failures of huge financial institutions and the uncertainly of the time.

The book follows Samantha Cofer from the day she is laid off by a large financial institution in New York City and given the option of working for a short-listed nonprofit organization for free for one year. The reward would be that she might get a job again with the company that laid her off.

Samantha signs on with a nonprofit in southwestern Virginia’s coal country and is introduced to the underbelly of big coal companies and the way in which they rape the Appalachian Mountains and leave wildlife and people in dire straits and in worse conditions than they were before strip mining started destroying mountains from the top down with the resulting debris cutting off streams and the resulting slurry behind forever – or until a dam breaks and it crashes down the mountains to pollute the water, destroy homes, and wreck peoples’ lives.

I listened to Gray Mountain on a Playaway device while I took my daily walks. Some days I walked longer than planned, because I wanted to keep listening to the book. Books can be good for your physical health, as well as good for your mental health.

I highly recommend the book… even if you’ve read it. Or, especially if you’ve read it but forgotten all about it.


Since my last blog post

My sister and I have been busy compiling family favorite recipes and typing them in my new Atticus writing software program. We hope to publish them! I’ll keep you posted on our progress toward that goal.

I’ve also been organizing my thoughts toward publishing some historical short stories. One I’m considering writing has led me to early 18th century research about Essex County, Virginia – a place one of my ancestors lived in the early 1700s.

My historical novels are on the back burner but not forgotten as I turn my immediate attention to things I can start publishing on a smaller scale.


Until my next blog post

Keep reading! I hope you have at least one good book to read.

Make time for family, friends, and a hobby.

Start writing a journal or a book. You know you have a book in you that’s begging to come out!

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, or Highland Park, etc.

Also, add to that list the people of eastern Kentucky as well as the wildfire areas in the western United States. Do what you can.

Janet

Books Read in November 2020

As has become my routine, my first blog of the month is about the books I read the previous month. I read a couple of good books in November, so I’m eager to tell you what I thought about them. As sometimes happens, more than one book with difficult topics presented themselves at the same time. This was a month of unpleasant topics, but the writing was excellent.


And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

You must read this book! It is historical fiction at its best.

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

The name of this historical novel might be a turn-off for some people but, if you are a true fan of historical fiction, you must read this book. If you desire to learn more about the American Civil War, you must read this book. Vicki Lane has done a masterful job of weaving the story of the war in the mountains of North Carolina through the voices of five point-of-view characters.

This is a story that the history books rarely mention. If it’s mentioned, it is glossed over and allotted one sentence. I remember reading references in history textbooks such as, “Brother turned against brother” and “Neighbor turned against neighbor.”

Those descriptions of what actually happened in places like Madison County, North Carolina, don’t hold a candle to the depth of hate and evil that took place there. And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane, puts flesh and bones, horror, heartache, and names on such mundane statements that you’ll find in history books.

Ms. Lane’s novel is based on a true story, and four of her five main characters were real people. It is not pleasant reading, but it is artfully written. The suspense slowly builds until unspeakable evil takes place. And the Crows Took Their Eyes is the perfect title for this tale of hate and revenge.

Oh, how I wish I could write historical fiction like Vicki Lane does!


A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham

I listened to this latest legal thriller by John Grisham. Michael Beck always does an outstanding job reading Mr. Grisham’s novels for the audio editions. He outdid himself on this one with the numerous accents. And Mr. Grisham outdid himself with some gut-wrenching courtroom testimony.

A Time for Mercy gets into some tough subjects. A boy kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. To give more details here would be revealing too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book for you. It is a gripping story with many layers. I highly recommend it.


Since my last blog post

I finished writing a couple of historical short stories. I now have five stories completed and six others in various stages of planning and researching. Maybe I’ll get a collection of short stories published in 2021.

It has been refreshing to spend more time writing lately. I realized that I am happiest when I’m writing.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie.

I hope you have quality, imaginative, and satisfying creative time, no matter where your creative interests lie.

Wear your mask and try to stay well until we all get through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Janet

Books I Enjoyed in December 2018

The Dream Daughter, by Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain broke away from her usual form of writing novels and did a great job with time travel in The Dream Daughterr. The book begins in 1970 with a pregnant woman, Caroline Sears, finding out that her unborn baby has a heart defect.

The Dream Daughter, by Diane Chamberlain

It turns out that Caroline’s brother-in-law has come to 1970 from the future. He knows that if Caroline can find her way to the future, her unborn daughter can have fetal surgery – the unthinkable in 1970.

I won’t give away any details of Caroline’s journey. I’ll just say things don’t go smoothly. This trip across decades will keep you turning pages.

There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron

The title of this book caught by attention and immediately took me back 60 years to nursery rhymes about the old woman who lived in a shoe and the old woman who swallowed a fly. I’d never read anything by Hallie Ephron, so I decided to give There Was an Old Woman a try.

The story involves multiple generations, with an emphasis on several independent-living octogenarians. Things in the neighborhood keep disappearing. What’s happening? Who is doing this? Is it the strange man across the street?

There Was an Old Woman, by Hallie Ephron

Thrown into the mix is a subplot about the B-25 Mitchell bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building on July 28, 1945. Ms. Ephron sheds a light on that much-forgotten event by making one of the main characters in the book be a survivor of that plane crash. I must admit, I did not know about that tragedy in which 14 people were killed.

There Was an Old Woman is categorized as a thriller, but it did not come across to me as such. It’s more like a neighborhood mystery in which the daughter of one of the 80+-year-olds is forced to come home and deal with her mother’s illness and neglected house. The book has received an interesting mix of 1-star and 5-star reviews, with most reviews falling into the 3- or 4-star categories.

Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back, by Jackie Speier

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir by United States Representative Jackie Speier of California’s 14th congressional district. I was not aware that Ms. Speier survived the Jonestown Massacre, so that fact alone drew me to this memoir.

Undaunted, by Jackie Speier

What a life Ms. Speier has had! When she was 28 years old, she worked for California Congressman Leo Ryan. She and others accompanied Ryan to Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana on November 14, 1978 to rescue individuals being held there against their will.

Those who are old enough to remember that fateful event know that things rapidly soured upon the delegation’s arrival. Congressman Ryan was murdered and Jackie Speier was shot five times and nearly died.

For someone like me who is a history and political “junkie,” this memoir was compelling and inspiring. Ms. Speier writes about her widowhood, motherhood, her lifelong work in politics, and her 40-year determination to overcome the scars she has from her Jonestown experience.

Since my last blog post

I continue to receive encouraging comments in response to my December 17, 2018 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/12/17/to-write-or-not-to-write/. I appreciate each and every one of them and each and every one of my blog readers. I have a more positive attitude about my novel in progress since being bolstered up by so many of you over the last three weeks.

The holidays turned out not to be conducive to my getting back to putting words on paper (or the computer screen, as the case may be.) I’ve mulled the story over and over in my mind, though, and I intend to get back to writing that book this week. I need my blog readers to hold me accountable!

I’ve read many helpful blog posts and articles this week about the various facets of writing. One in particular hit a chord with me, but I’ve misplaced the link to it. The piece recommends that an aspiring novelist publish one or more short story collections in order to build readership. I’m kicking around that idea. It makes sense. The theory is that more people will want to buy my novel if they have read and liked my short stories. I needed one more project!

Call me a klutz if you want to, because I think I qualify. In the last four or five days I’ve broken a toe on both feet, but not at the same time. Don’t laugh; broken toes are painful.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Reckoning, by John Grisham.

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

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.

Have you read any books recently that you’d recommend to me and my blog readers?

Have any of you writers had experience – good or bad – in publishing short stories to build readership prior to publishing your first novel?

Janet

John Grisham’s Birthday

Today is John Grisham’s birthday. I have enjoyed reading his books, and I got to hear him speak in Charlotte a few years ago. He is an entertaining speaker, just as he is an entertaining writer. I find hope in the story of how he couldn’t even give away copies of his first book. He traveled around The South with copies of the book in his trunk. The first bookstore that agreed to try to sell his book has the honor of being the site for his book launches. I love that!

I read that John Grisham has developed a beef allergy and has said that he would kill for a cheeseburger. I ate a cheeseburger and homemade potato chips at Jake’s Good Eats in Charlotte yesterday in homage to John Grisham.

Thank you, Mr. Grisham, for all the hours of enjoyment your books have given me. It must be gratifying to know that millions of people eagerly await the release of each of your books.

I aspire to be a published novelist. I take heart in knowing that even authors as successful as John Grisham had a bumpy road in the beginning.