3 Historical Novels I Read in June 2021

I read a bunch of good books in June, so without any delay I’ll jump right in to tell you what I thought of three of them.


The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian

The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian

I hardly know what to say about this debut historical novel by Kelly Mustian, a native of Mississippi. Wow! What a great book!

I’ll be careful not to give away anything about the plot. Ada is a white teen. Matilda is a black teen just a little older than Ada. They both live along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi in the early 1920s. When the book begins, they don’t know each other.

A string of ill-fated events throw the girls together in the stilt shack Ada lives in on the swamp. Both of them have secrets, some of which they don’t learn about one another until near the end of the book.

This book will keep you turning pages and yearning for Ada and Matilda to get the opportunities they deserve to have better lives. Ms. Mustian is a true wordsmith. She writes beautifully and even weaves a touch of humor here and there in this book of tragedies. She carefully crafted every sentence. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!


The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh was inspired by true events in Belfast during the early days of World War II.

Denise Weston Austin was one of the first female zookeepers at the Belfast Zoo. Ms. Austin took a baby elephant named Sheila out of the zoo so she could escape being killed when the Ireland government ordered the zoo animals to be killed after Germany started bombing Belfast.

Government officials feared that if the zoo enclosures were damaged in future bombings, the animals could escape and pose a threat to local residents. Ms. Austin took the elephant to her home north of Belfast!

Author Sheila Kirk Walsh took that information and more historical facts and wove a fascinating novel about a fictional character – Hettie Quin — based on Denise Weston Austin and Violet – the name of the elephant in the book.

It was a frightening time with much death and destruction in Belfast. Ms. Walsh drew on her own experience in Manhattan on 9/11 to bring to this novel a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what might happen next.

There is depth to this novel, as Hettie Quin loses much that is near and dear to her. She not only saves Violet, Violet saves her.

Charlotte McCurry read the book for the CD edition. Her lovely Irish brogue added an air of authenticity to the story.

My apologies to Ms. Walsh. I was unable to capture a clear photograph of the book.


The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

The premise of this novel enticed me to check it out. It’s based on a real event. In 1937, during the Second Sino-China War, university students and faculty members took 500-year-old Chinese writings (“the Library of Legends”) more than 1,000 miles on foot in an effort to save them from the bombings of the major cities by the Japanese. The premise intrigued me.

What I didn’t know, was that these ancient writings were just that: legends. Some of those legends are interwoven into the book. While that fantasy element appeals to some readers, it doesn’t especially appeal to me. I’m just not a fan of fantasy novels.

That said, I enjoyed the parts of the book that described the actual arduous journey taken by a group from one university, but I found myself skipping the pages about the legends. Halfway through the book, I stopped to read reviews of the novel. Some reviewers loved it because it is a combination historical novel/fantasy novel, while others disliked it for that very reason. I’m afraid I fall into that second camp.

It is said that China was fighting two wars at the same time. They were fighting Japan and they were fighting to keep communism out of their country. The communist influence is brought out in the book.

It was definitely worth my while to read as much of this book as I did. I learned something about Chinese history. It amazes me that university students and faculty members walked more than 1,000 miles in order to save some of the most treasured Chinese writings. I had no idea!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Remember – you don’t have to finish reading a book just because you started reading it. That’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don’t know why. That lesson finally became real to me last month when I was able to walk away from The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I had learned what I was meant to learn from it.

I’m listening to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it!

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

I hope you enjoy your vocation or your retirement, and that you have time to enjoy a hobby.

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?