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

 

Diane Chamberlain Author Event

Hearing a published author speak is one of my favorite things to do. I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Diane Chamberlain yesterday afternoon at the Ashe County Public Library in West Jefferson, North Carolina. Her appearance was part of the annual Ashe County Arts Council’s On the Same Page Book Festival.

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View of downtown West Jefferson, NC from the Ashe County Public Library in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Chamberlain said that her books are “part suspense, part mystery, and 100% family drama.” She quoted a Japanese fan who wrote, “You make me believe life is beautiful even if it is full of pain and rage.”

As is the case with most authors, Ms. Chamberlain’s publishing journey was tough. She said that a writer needs three things in order to get published:  “talent, perseverance, and luck.” She started writing her first novel in 1981, but it was not published until 1989. She kept writing and finally got lucky in 2008. Her book, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, was chosen as the Target Book Club Book one month which meant it was prominently displayed in every Target store.

Also in 1981, the wife of a United Kingdom publisher visited Ms. Chamberlain’s publisher in the U.S. and requested a book to read on her flight back to England. The book she was handed was the CeeCee Wilkes book. After reading it on her way home, she told her husband that he had to publish it in the U.K. She has been published in the U.S. and the U.K. ever since.

Each of Ms. Chamberlain’s books is different. She enjoys finding the perfect setting for each of her novels and draws from her own life experiences, including her education and first career in the field of psychology. I found it interesting that she occasionally asks her fans on the Diane Chamberlain Readers Facebook page to suggest names for characters or locations. She related an amusing story about how for a while she got ideas for male characters by going on an online dating site.

I’ll save some of Ms. Chamberlain’s comments about her 2015 novel, Pretending to Dance, for my blog post in a couple of weeks after Rocky River Readers Book Club meets to discuss the book.

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read — perhaps one of Diane Chamberlain’s best-selling novels.

Janet

Disclaimer: I attended this event and wrote this blog post on my own volition and received no compensation for endorsing Diane Chamberlain’s books.

A Novel’s First Line

One of the challenges a writer faces is how to “hook” readers. The opening lines of a novel cannot ensure the book’s success, but they can ensure its failure. Most readers will not read a book if the opening paragraphs don’t grab their attention. The first line of a novel is very important.

I keep a list of novels’ first lines in my writer’s notebook. The opening sentence I’m sharing with you today is from that list.

“I’m a good liar.” — Pretending to Dance, by Diane Chamberlain.

What’s the first line of a novel that you recall?

Janet

Books I’ve been reading

I had no idea that I had not written a “What I’m Reading” blog post since last September. Today’s post will hit the highlights of what I read over the last several months of 2015.

The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding, taught me about the dark side of map collecting. I loved geography from the time the subject was introduced to me as a child. I have fond memories of poring over my parents’ AAA map of North and South Carolina. I distinctly remember the time I pointed out to them that the yellow line running straight to the coast looked like the most direct route to me. That’s the day I learned that the straight yellow line was the state line and not a highway. I was hooked! Maps will forever fascinate me. Getting back to The Map Thief, though, the book presents the history of E. Forbes Smiley, one of the world’s foremost cartography experts; however, Mr. Smiley yielded to temptation and systematically stole valuable rare maps from various museums and libraries. All the stolen maps that were recovered and linked to their sources were returned to their owners, but many of the recovered maps are still in the possession of the FBI because the owners cannot be verified. It’s a fascinating book, but the details got a little tedious.

Pretending to Dance was the first book I’ve read by Diane Chamberlain. It this novel, Molly Arnette keeps a secret about her North Carolina childhood from her husband. After a trust was broken, Molly moved to California to make a new life with her husband. When they try to adopt a child, Molly fears her secret will come to light. It was a good read. I’ll definitely read more books by Diane Chamberlain.

Paula McLain’s book titled The Paris Wife is the highly-acclaimed historical novel based on the life of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Hadley. Hemingway swept Hadley off her feet, married her, and whisked her off to Paris to a life for which she was ill-prepared.

The Narcissist You Know, by Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., will help you understand and cope with that person you know who thinks he is the center of the universe.

In Without You, There Is No Me, Suki Kim tells about her experiences while living in North Korea as an English teacher. The book gives a glimpse into a country that is almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. Although a nonbeliever, the author went to North Korea with a group of Christian teachers under the guise of being one of them.

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova gained popularity when it was made into a movie. I have not seen the movie yet because I like to read a book before it hits the theater. It is an intriguing novel about a 50-year-old Harvard cognitive psychology professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The book brings home how utterly sad it is for someone who is professionally trained in brain disorders to receive the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, knowing full well what the future probably holds for her.

Corrupted is the third book in Lisa Scottoline’s Rosato & DiNunzio’s series. A case from Bennie Rosato’s past haunts her until it resurfaces and she is compelled to try to set things right and get justice for a man she could not save from a juvenile detention center when he was bullied as a 12-year-old. A good read!

Lee Smith’s The Christmas Letters was the November 2015 selection for Rocky River Readers Book Club. It is a lovely telling of a family’s history through their Christmas letters. The letters go beyond what family members did since the last year’s Christmas letter, and includes what the writers are thinking and how they are maturing as family dynamics change. It is a relatively short book. You might want to put it on your list to curl up with in front of the fireplace on a cold winter weekend.

My next post will be about some of the books I’ve read so far in 2016.

Happy reading!