The 3.5 Books I Read in July 2019

Too many books, too little time! I got more reading done in July than I did in June, although a couple of the books I finished last month were actually started a month or more before. The best part was that I got to read 3.5 historical novels. Although not based in my favorite time period – America’s colonial and revolutionary eras – I was pleased with the novels, and even learned some things from the one I didn’t finish.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

#HistoricalNovel set in #EasternKentucky during the #GreatDepression with #HorsebackLibrarians.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

This historical novel taught me about two aspects of American history with which I was unfamiliar:

            1.    Due to an extremely rare genetic disease, Methemoglobinemia, some people in eastern Kentucky had blue skin; and

             2. Part of the WPA program during The Great Depression paid people (mostly women) to deliver library books and other reading material to isolated individuals in Kentucky.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a fictionalized story of one such “Book Woman.” Cussy had blue skin and was, therefore, an outcast. She loved her job of delivering reading materials to her regular patrons. She rode a mule to do her work.

Cussy faced many dangers at home and on her book route, and this novel takes you along with her as she continually shows courage in the face of extreme poverty and personal vulnerability as a blue-skinned woman.

The first third or half of the book got a little tedious, as it seemed like most of Cussy’s days were pretty much like all her other days with the occasion father-arranged male visitors who came her way. As I recall, to a man, she found her gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) callers to be disgusting. Her father was desperate to marry her off because he’s promised Cussy’s mother he would.

Spoiler alert:  Her father finally marries her off and it doesn’t begin or end well.

I’m glad I read the book because the story of those Kentucky WPA horseback and mule-riding librarians was something I hadn’t known about. I also didn’t know about Methemoglobinemia. I like books that teach me something. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, is a prime example of how we can learn from good historical fiction.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first book in the Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal. I read the fifth book in the series, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante three years ago. I enjoyed it and have had Ms. MacNeal’s other Maggie Hope novels on my To Be Read List ever since. I wanted to go back and begin with the first book in the series. Now I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

You might recall that Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was one of the books I was reading when I wrote my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/. I was trying to read too many books at the same time, and I didn’t finish this Susan Elia MacNeal novel until July. That’s not a reflection on the book. It’s merely proof that I try to read more books than I can finish in a reasonable length of time.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary takes place in London in 1940. Graduating at the top of her class, Maggie is highly-qualified to be a spy for the British government; however, being female, at first she is relegated to being a typist at No. 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Part of the time Maggie Hope is assigned to decoding at Bletchley Park. Here’s a link to a great four-minute interview with Betty Webb and Joy Aylard who actually worked there during World War II:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dgj2k. The program was part of the BBC’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. (I’m now getting a message saying I can’t watch the clip at my location, but maybe you can where you are. A friend in Belgium sent it to me on Facebook.) If the BBC link doesn’t work, perhaps you can still find it on https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisonWriter/. I posted the video there on July 29, 2019. While you’re there, I invite you to “like” my writer’s Facebook page.

The copy of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary that I read included several pages of author’s notes at the end. It was interesting to learn how Ms. MacNeal wove real people and fictional people into this cohesive story. She also gave some research facts she discovered and what inspired her to write the novel.

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

This is an engaging historical novel set in London during World War II. Many novels have been published over the last several years in conjunction with the 75th anniversaries of various events of that war. I’ve read a number of them, but The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan stands out in my mind.

You might be surprised at who the spies in the story are. You’ll be surprised when some very unlikely people find themselves spying on the British Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Woven throughout is a story of the estrangement between an adult daughter and her mother. There are family secrets that are eventually revealed.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m generally not a fan of listening to a novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.

I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Ryan has in store for us in her next novel. Perhaps you’ve read her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I also gave it five stars. If you want to see what I said about that book, here’s a link to my April 1, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/. ­­­­­­­­­­­­

The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

#HistoricalNovel set in #Ireland during the #PotatoFamine
The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

I’ve mentioned The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander in several of my blog posts including https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/08/three-other-books-i-read-in-march-2019/ on April 8, 2019. I’ve become a fan of V.S. Alexander’s historical novels. It’s just personal preference, but The Irishman’s Daughter didn’t hold my attention like Alexander’s first two novels, The Magdalen Girls (2017) and The Taster (2018.)

Alexander does a brilliant job of research and has a talent for sharing research without beating the reader over the head with info dumps.

The Irishman’s Daughter takes place in Ireland during The Great Potato Famine. The father in the story oversees an estate for an absentee landlord. He has two daughters. One dreams of marrying the rich landlord, who is oblivious to the poverty and starvation faced by his tenants. The other daughter is emotionally moved by the dire situation and tries to stretch their little bit of food with as many people as she possibly can. She longs to marry a local farmer.

I must admit that I did not finish reading this book. With other books vying for my attention, this one just didn’t grab me. I’ve read good things about the book, though, so I’ll give it another try when I get a chance.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Traitor, is scheduled for publication on February 25, 2020. Although I didn’t like The Irishman’s Daughter as much as Alexander’s earlier books, I’ll get on the waitlist for The Traitor at the public library as soon as it’s ordered.

To see what I said about The Magdalen Girls and The Taster, please click on these two blog post links:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/ and https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/05/reading-and-writing-in-february-2018/.

Since my last blog post

I finished the online “Building a Writer/Author Platform course taught by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice. Here’s a link to it and other courses, in case you’re interested: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I had good feedback about last Monday’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/29/onthisday-uss-indianapolis/. Therefore, I’ll plan additional #OnThisDay blog posts in the future. Thank you to everyone who left comments or liked it here and on other social media networks.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen and listening to Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Or what did you read in July that you’d recommend? Do you read historical fiction? If not, you’re missing a great reading and learning experience.

Janet

#OnThisDay: USS Indianapolis

I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not know anything about the USS Indianapolis until about a week ago. In an effort to try something new on my blog, I did a little research to find out what happened on this day in history. I learned that something noteworthy and gut-wrenching happened on this day in 1945. What a story I’ve pieced together for you today!

The incident I’m writing about today actually took place about five minutes after midnight, so the date is July 30, 1945; however, being so close to the midnight hour, the incident is often referred to as happening on July 29. By the time I discovered that detail, I was not about to let go of the story for my usual Monday blog post.

The greatest loss the US Navy has experienced at sea

The USS Indianapolis was a Portland-class heavy cruiser. It carried a crew of 1,196 men. After delivering crucial parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian Island, it was crossing the Philippine Sea en route to Okinawa. Plans were being made for the invasion of Japan by the United States and its Allies.

12:05 a.m., July 30, 1945

Generic photo of sharks. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.

At 12:05 a.m. on July 30, 1945, the ship was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. Some 350 crewmen died in the blast. It would be 84 grueling hours before the survivors were located from the air on August 2. By then there were only 318 remaining survivors. The other survivors of the initial attack had either drowned, died from drinking sea water, or been victim to the numerous sharks in the waters. I read that an estimated 50 sailors were killed by sharks every day until rescuers arrived.

What happened to the commanding officer?

In my research I found several follow-up stories about what happened to the commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay. He was accused of putting the ship and crew in danger by not zig-zagging across the sea. He was threatened with a court-maritial, but in the end was given a reprimand. His conviction as being at fault in the attack continues to be fought against, as there are strong opinions that he was wrongly charged.

Annual survivor reunions

Every year since 1960, the survivors of the attack have held a reunion in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year was no exception. There are only 12 survivors alive today. Seven of them got together in Indianapolis last weekend to remember their World War II experiences and, no doubt, to count their blessings.

I found a wonderful account of this year’s reunion, including a video clip, on the website of the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis, WTHR:  https://www.wthr.com/article/uss-indianapolis-few-remaining-survivors-gather-reunion-indy. I hope you’ll take time to look at it.

As is indicated in that WTHR piece, the youngest living survivor is 92 years old, being just 17 at the time of the attack.

Wreckage located in 2017

The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis was found just two years ago in 18,000 feet of water. Andy J. Semotiuk wrote an article about that discovery in the August 21, 2017 edition of Forbes. Here’s a link to that article, https://www.forbes.com/sites/andyjsemotiuk/2017/08/21/the-story-of-the-uss-indianapolis-a-display-of-great-heroism-in-times-of-unimaginable-anguish/#1eea400a6f9e, which contains a link to a video of the discovery.

Additional sources of information about the USS Indianapolis

Another short video about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis can be found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/history/uss-indianapolis-crew-battled-sharks-and-hal/.

A 90-minute TV program aired here on PBS in January, but I missed it. Here’s a link to a source from which you can order the DVD:  https://www.pbs.org/video/uss-indianapolis-the-final-chapter-aabbsw/.

Additional sources of information about the USS Indianapolis include the following books:

 In Harm’s Way:  The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors, by Doug Stanton;

Abandon Ship!  by Richard F. Newcomb;

Out of the Depths:  An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, by Edgar Harrell USMC, with David Harrell;

Fatal Voyage:  The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, by Dan Kurzman; and

 Indianapolis:  The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.

I haven’t read any of them, but they sound like good reading for anyone who wants to know more about this horrific incident during World War II.

Since my last blog post

I’ve completed Karen Cioffi-Ventrice’s online course, “Building an Author/Writer’s Platform.” Part of it really taxed my brain, but I learned a lot. Some of it I won’t be able to put into practice until I’m a little closer to getting my novel published, but a great deal of it I’ve already started working on or doing.

In case you’re interested in taking the course or other courses offered by Karen Cioffi or others through Women on Writing, here’s a link: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I learned a lot of SEO (search engine optimization) and I even learned what black hat SEO and white hat SEO are. If you recall, I mentioned black hat SEO in my blog post on April 29, 2019 (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/29/what-triggered-last-mondays-rant/) when I didn’t have a clue what it was. White Hat SEO is doing search engine optimization the ethical way. Black hat SEO is doing it unethically.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tune in next Monday for my blog post about the books I read in July.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you enjoy occasional looks back at what happened on a particular day? If I get good response, I’ll plan other blog posts like this one. A post like this once a month might work for you and me.

Janet

P.S.  A new USS Indianapolis will be commissioned this fall.