Some Good New Books

I’ve read some very good books this year, and it’s been a pleasure to share my thoughts about them on my blog. Today’s blog post highlights the five novels I read in October. Four of them (Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford; The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens; The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash; and The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain) were published in October. The other book, News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, was published in October of 2016.

 Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford

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Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford

I eagerly awaited the release of Jamie Ford’s latest novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, and it did not disappoint. After hearing Mr. Ford speak at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in September, I really looked forward to reading this book. My September 18, 2017 blog post, Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, was about that festival and the seven authors I got to hear speak.

Historical fiction is near and dear to my heart, so it’s no wonder that I enjoyed reading Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Mr. Ford took a reference to an actual shocking event at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle, Washington and created a powerful story about the young boy named Ernest who was raffled off at the Exposition. Yes. You read that correctly. Something different was raffled off each day of the fair, and one day it was an orphaned child!

The Chinese slave trade around the turn of the 20th century and the thriving red light district of Seattle in the early 1900s provided the perfect backdrop for this book. Mr. Ford gives us chapters set in 1909-1911 and chapters set in 1962 around the World’s Fair in Seattle so we can follow the amazing fictional life of Ernest – a mixed race boy from China.

 The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens

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The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens

I became a fan of Allen Eskens’s writing when I read his first novel, The Things We Bury. I’ve now read all four of his novels. Here are the links to my blog posts that talked about his first three novels:  The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens; What I read in January; My writer’s notebook; and What I Read in April  ­.

The Deep Dark Descending is a dark story of just how deeply a person can descend when his anger, bitterness, and desire for revenge become an obsession.

In this novel, Minneapolis homicide detective Max Rupert sets out to find and punish the person or persons who murdered his wife. The case had been ruled an accident, but Rupert could not accept that.

The Deep Dark Descending takes the reader to the frigid Minnesota-Canada border and a frozen lake. Put this novel on your winter reading list.

The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash

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The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash

The Last Ballad is author Wiley Cash’s newly-released novel. It is set in Gaston County, North Carolina and is based on the life of textile millworker Ella May Wiggins. Ms.Wiggins was murdered in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929 during a riot that resulted from efforts to organize the millworkers into a union. Labor unions have never been popular in the state, and that was definitely the case in the textile industry in the early 20th century.

Although I grew up an hour from Gastonia, I had never heard about this incident. In fact, Wiley Cash is a native of Gastonia and he only recently learned of it.

The Last Ballad takes the reader into a world of poverty inhabited by both black and white millworkers in the 1920s. Ms. Wiggins was a white single mother who lived in an otherwise black neighborhood. She was instrumental in trying to get her black neighbors and co-workers the right to strike for better wages. The white workers didn’t have the right to strike either, but until Ms. Wiggins pushed the point, the possibility of black workers going on strike was unimaginable in that time and place.

This is a story of a woman’s courage as she fought for better working and living conditions for her children and her neighbors.

The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain

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Diane Chamberlain Author Event The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain

After having met Diane Chamberlain at the On the Same Page Book Festival in West Jefferson, North Carolina last year (Diane Chamberlain Author Event )and enjoying two of her other novels (Pretending to Dance A Novel’s First Line and The Secret Sister Books I’ve been reading), I got on the waitlist for The Stolen Marriage as soon as it was “on order” at the public library. The novel’s October 3, 2017 release date finally arrived!

I love it when I can read an expertly-written novel and learn something at the same time. Like Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad, Diane Chamberlain’s The Stolen Marriage delivered in a big way. I regret that I cannot read The Stolen Marriage again for the first time. It was that good!

The Stolen Marriage was inspired by the true story of the citizens of Hickory, North Carolina building – and getting up and running – a hospital for polio patients in just 54 hours in 1944. Being a native of North Carolina, born in 1953, this is another piece of history that I didn’t know. It was an amazing feat in this small town in Catawba County, and it was covered by Life magazine. In historical literature, it is referred to as “The Miracle in Hickory.”

The fictional story Ms. Chamberlain created around this event is one of trust, love, and betrayal. There are numerous plot twists in this novel. It will keep you up at night turning pages.

 News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

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News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

The premise and title of News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, intrigued me when I read a blurb about it, so I borrowed it from the public library.

This is a tale of a fictional character known as Captain Kidd who traveled around Texas in the 1800s getting paid to have public readings of articles from various newspapers. Many people were illiterate and newspapers were rare in the region.

Captain Kidd agrees to return Johanna, a young white girl, to her family in southwest Texas. Years earlier, Johanna had been kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans. Being raised by the Native Americans, Johanna had no recollection of the habits and mores of her white family.

Johanna and Captain Kidd had a shaky and unpredictable relationship as Kidd tried his best to fulfill his promise to return Johanna to her family. Their journey across Texas is filled with misunderstandings, attacks by outsiders, challenging traveling conditions, and additional attempts to kidnap Johanna. The two of them gradually learn how to communicate and co-exist.

News of the World is the second novel I’ve read recently that did not use quotation marks in dialogue. I guess I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t like this practice. When I have to stop and think or reread something in a novel to figure out what’s narration and what’s dialogue or who’s talking, it pulls me out of the story and reminds me I’m reading. I’m sure dropping all the quotation marks saved the publisher some money, but I hope this doesn’t become common practice.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I seem to have trouble “getting into” a book at the moment. I’m more in the mood to write than to read, so I’m taking advantage of that. The last several days I’ve worked on the timeline and outline for my historical novel I’m calling The Spanish Coin. I’ll keep you posted.

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

Janet

 

Some Great September Reads

Just about the time I think I will cut back on my reading time so I can increase my writing time, a bunch of books become available to me and I’m compelled to keep reading. September was one of those months. I read seven novels and two nonfiction books.

Once again, I find to write about all nine books makes a blog post that is longer than anyone wants to read. Therefore, I’ll write about five of the books today and the other four books next Monday. I tried to insert photos of each of the five books I wrote about today, but I had technical problems with all except one of them.

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I was drawn to State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett because it is set in Brazil. One of my goals in 2017 was to read a book set on each of the seven continents.

The premise of the book is that a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota has sent an employee, Anders Eckman, to Brazil to report back on a drug they are developing in the jungle there. Anders fails to report back and word is sent that he died of a fever.

The pharmaceutical company then sends a female employee, Marina Singh, to Brazil to learn what happened to Anders and to determine the status of the drug being developed.

Marina embarks on quite an adventure along the Amazon River and its surrounding jungle. There are numerous twists and turns in the story and I believe some of them will surprise you. I highly recommend the book. The description of the jungle and the river put the reader right there!

If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise is Leah Weiss’s debut novel, and I hope it won’t be her only one. Set in the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina in the 1970s, it is the story of Sadie Blue, who gets pregnant as a teenager and marries the baby’s father, Roy Tupkin. Roy is a ne’er do well, if there ever was one, but his worst character flaw is that he is a wife beater.

Sadie’s story is told from the viewpoints of herself, and nine other people including the local preacher, the new one-room school teacher, and Sadie’s good-for-nothing husband.

I was in college at Appalachian State University in the early 1970s, so I found the time in which If the Creek Don’t Rise was set to be hard to believe. It felt more like the 1930s to me. As a college student in Boone I just wasn’t exposed to people living the way the book’s characters live.

However, Ms. Weiss did a wonderful job developing her characters! I can only hope to come close to her when I write my characters. It was truly a pleasure to read about these fictitious people and be able to picture them and hear them so vividly in my mind.

The plot kept me turning pages to see what would happen next to Sadie Blue and to see if Roy Tupkin would get his comeuppance.

The Silent Sister, by Diane Chamberlain

The Silent Sister is the second of Diane Chamberlain’s novels that I’ve read. I got to hear her speak and meet her last September at the One the Same Page book festival in West Jefferson, North Carolina.

The Silent Sister is about a family that held many secrets. Riley MacPherson grew up thinking that her older sister Lisa had committed suicide when Riley was just a toddler. Riley returns to New Bern, North Carolina to clean out her deceased father’s house. She finds evidence that Lisa might still be alive and sets out on a mission to find Lisa. Her search takes her all the way to California.

There are many twists, turns, and surprises in this 2014 novel, so I will say no more about the plot in case you haven’t read it yet. It will keep you guessing!

What We Lose, by Zinzi Clemmons

This debut novel by Zinzi Clemmons reads like a memoir. Written in the form of short vignettes, the book takes us on a journey of losses.

Though not morbid, at the root of the book is the death of Thandi’s South African mother. Her American father distances himself from Thandi after her mother’s death. He is able to move on to future happiness much more easily than Thandi.

The novel takes us through Thandi’s growing up years and her young adult years with her various friendship, marriage, and motherhood. All the while, she is haunted by memories of her mother. Thandi never fits in.

Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent

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Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent

Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent couldn’t have been less alike. Ron was a wealthy white art dealer. Denver was a homeless black man. At Ron’s wife’s insistence, he accompanied Debbie to serve a meal at the homeless shelter. Debbie kept trying to “break the ice” with Denver, to no avail. He wondered why this white woman was harassing him. Debbie told Ron that he had to make friends with Denver. It was a slow process, but Ron and Debbie finally broke through and Denver became a close friend.

This book will teach you some things you probably don’t know about being homeless unless you’ve been in that situation. Based on a true story, it will break your heart and make you cheer. It was the September book choice for Rocky River Readers Book Club.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve started off October with Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet