A Variety of Books Read in April 2020

When April ended last Thursday, I was surprised to find that I’d read seven books during the month. Whether it was a result of the pandemic or the tedium of the last weeks of the 13 weeks I couldn’t walk, I don’t know. I just know I couldn’t seem to concentrate to read or listen to much fiction. I had better luck reading nonfiction books.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I get most of my books from the public library. The public libraries here closed suddenly in mid-March. Some books I wanted to read were not available from the public library in downloadable form. Waitlists for e-books filled up quickly as people realized it would be weeks or months before they could once again check out physical books.

What I discovered last month was that, in addition to reading books about the craft of writing, it was a good time to tackle my to-be-read (TBR) list. That list is made up of several hundred books I didn’t read when they were published. Some of the books on the list are books I realized months or years after their publication that I had become interested in them.

I read seven books in April. Here are my thoughts about them.


Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

I finally got around to listening to Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. What a treat! It was entertaining and funny.

A humorous legal thriller by John Grisham
Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

This book takes us back to the fictional Ford County, Mississippi that Mr. Grisham first wrote about in A Time to Kill. Sycamore Row is a story of inheritance, family greed, a non-relative who inherits everything in Seth Hubbard’s will, and some questionable lawyers. Everyone in town gets interested after it is revealed that Mr. Hubbard’s estate exceeded $20 million.

The path to justice in Sycamore Row runs from Mississippi to Alaska and back to Mississippi. There are surprised witnesses and in the end the reader learns the significance of the sycamore tree.


The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides had been on my to-be-read (TBR) list since I heard all the hype about it when it was published last year. This was reinforced when the movie adaptation was publicized. Yet, I didn’t read it until a couple of weeks ago. Or, rather, I listened to it. I regretted not reading it earlier.

The Silent Patient, a psychological thriller by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

The silent patient is Alicia, who murdered her husband, Gabriel, and immediately stopped talking. The narrator throughout most of the novel is Theo, a psychoanalyst who sets out to help Alicia.

In the midst of Theo’s quest to get Alicia to talk – and ultimately, to tell why she killed her husband, Theo discovers vulgar emails his wife of nearly nine years has exchanged with another man.

The Silent Patient was Alex Michaelides’ debut novel. This psychological thriller will keep you turning pages (or speeding up the rate at which the audiobook is being read to you.”

Alicia is a famous artist in London. Her new-found notoriety as a killer makes the price of her paintings skyrocket as she is safely tucked away in a secure facility being analyzed. As the story unfolds, the focus transitions from Alicia to Theo himself and his psychological state. He visits his former therapist, Ruth, who guides Theo through his own feelings of inadequacy. She encourages him to leave his wife.

Then Alicia becomes the temporary narrator in Part 2, Chapter 13. She reveals how much she hates the rifle Gabriel inherited from his father. She describes the days leading up to her shooting Gabriel five times.

A new twist to the story is revealed. At this point, you’re only halfway through The Silent Patient. A lot is packed in this book of only 336 pages (or less than nine hours of listening.)

In case you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you.


Everything Happens for a Reason:  And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler

I read a little about this book online and immediately got on the waitlist for the ebook at the public library.

The author, Kate Bowler, was raised an Anabaptist in a section of Manitoba, Canada containing numerous Mennonite communities. She learned early on that Jesus lived and taught the virtues of a simple life. Around the age of 18, Ms. Bowler started hearing about the “prosperity gospel” that many televangelists were preaching. It seemed that everyone was being attracted to this new idea that Jesus wants His followers to be wealthy.

Ms. Bowler describes the “prosperity gospel” as follows: “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart:  Why do some people get healed and some don’t?….The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution.”

In her mid-twenties, Ms. Bowler interviewed “the prosperity gospel’s celebrities” and then wrote a history of the movement. What she found was that the prosperity gospel encourages its leaders to buy private jets and mansions. What she also found were people seeking a way to escape the lives they were living. Some wanted the high life, but most wanted relief from some kind of pain.

Something else Ms. Bowler found was that a part of her sought an escape, even as she cringed at the guarantees the prosperity gospel made. She came to believe God would make a way for her and hardships would merely be detours; however, she no longer believes that.

As a new mother, Ms. Bowler was diagnosed with cancer, and she was told, “Everything happens for a reason” and “God is writing a better story” until she didn’t want to hear it again. It made her feel like everyone had a theory about why she had cancer.

“I wish this were a different kind of story. But this is a book about befores and afters and how people in the midst of pain make up their minds about the eternal questions:  Why? Why is this happening to me? What could I have done differently? Does everything actually happen for a reason? If I accept that what is happening is something I cannot change, can I learn how to let go?” – Kate Bowler

I sort of got mired down in the details in rest of the book and eventually lost interest in finishing it. I could not identify with all her “Why me?” thoughts and questions. I’ve had my share of physical problems, but I’ve never asked God, “Why me?” I tend to think, “Why not me?” Jesus never promised us a perfect life. He promised to be with us throughout our lives, no matter what happens.

Kate Bowler teaches at the Duke Divinity School.


The Whistler, by John Grisham

In my blog post on April 6, 2020, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/06/eight-books-i-read-in-march-2020/ , I said, “A John Grisham novel has never disappointed me.” That statement probably still holds. I listened to The Whistler in April, but I didn’t get “into” it like I have the other Grisham books I’ve read. Let’s just say it was probably my fault and not Mr. Grisham’s.

The Whistler, by John Grisham

Much of April I seemed weighed down mentally by all the news about the coronavirus-19 pandemic. Many days I had trouble concentrating enough to read. I was trying to listen to The Whistler during one of those reading slumps. I would probably enjoy it more if I read it or listened to it during normal times.


Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different, by Gordon S. Wood

I minored in history in college, and this book reminded me of a history text book. In other words, it told me more than I wanted to know about each of the men the author sees as founders of America. Each chapter was about a different man, and one of them surprised me. I would have liked the book better if Mr. Wood had included several women.

Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different, by Gordon S. Wood

I’m planning to write a blog post on June 29 about some of the founders of America, so I’ll save my other comments about this book until that time.

I won’t hold you in suspense until then, though. The founder I was surprised to find on Mr. Wood’s list of eight men was Aaron Burr.

Stay tuned for more on this topic in a couple of months, just before the 4th of July.


Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall

I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less about the techniques fiction authors use to write vivid settings. If you’re a fiction fan, you just want the settings in the books you read to be so vivid that they put you there.

I took copious notes from this book, and I believe I learned more than a few things that will improve my writing skills. The book addresses ways to include all the senses in one’s writing, varying sentence structure, using weather for intensity, light to set mood, and detail for realism – but not too much detail, and using similes for world building – but not too many of them. The book gets into deep point-of-view, opening scenes, fight scenes, scary scenes, love scenes, night scenes, indoor scenes word choice, and research.

I highly recommend this book for anyone learning to write fiction.


Fiction Pacing: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall

I also found this book by Rayne Hall to be helpful. In it, she addresses varying the pace throughout a novel. She writes about how the length of sentences and paragraphs can either speed up the action or slow it down. Even word length enters into that, along with how to craft dialogue.

The book talks about how to use (and not use) techniques like flashbacks and memories, euphonics, strong verbs, and descriptions to control the pace in fiction.

Ms. Hall has written numerous writing craft books and I look forward to reading more of them.


Since my last blog post

X-rays last week showed good healing of my fractured tibial plateau so, after 13 long weeks, I was finally allowed to start putting some weight on my right leg. I feel like I’d been set free! I can now go anywhere my walker and I can go. I haven’t tried steps yet! It’s great to be able to go outside, even if we are still under a state-at-home order in North Carolina. I’m thrilled just to be able to walk outside!

Until my next blog post

Read a good book, if you have the luxury of time and concentration. I’m currently listening to A Conspiracy of Bones, by Kathy Reichs.

Be creative. If you are a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Stay safe and well. Listen to the medical professionals. We’re all in this together. The life you safe might be mine!

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read The Whistler, by John Grisham, what did you think about it?  What have you read lately that you would recommend to the rest of us? Have you supported an independent bookstore recently? If you want to give a shout-out to an independent bookstore, feel free to do so in the comments below or the comments on my Facebook page when I post this blog post later today.

Thanks for stopping by!

Janet

#OnThisDay: Freedom of Information Day

Occasionally, I blog about an event associated with that particular day. Did you know that March 16 is Freedom of Information Day in the United States? Neither did I; however, I believe it should be a national holiday.

In light of the current political climate in America, I want to shout from the rooftops about freedom of information today!

Why March 16th?

James Madison was mentioned repeatedly during the recent presidential impeachment hearings held by the U.S. Senate. James Madison is revered as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.” He advocated for openness in government. He insisted the government must have no secrets from the people. How radical was that? He drafted the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights.

U.S. Freedom of Information Day
Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751. Hence, March 16 was chosen in 1966 to be celebrated as Freedom of Information Day. It’s unfortunate that the day itself gets no attention. We seldom hear anything about the Freedom of Information Act except when its implementation is being questioned by a news agency.

History of the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted on July 4, 1966 and went into effect a year later. This law declares that every person has the right to access all federal agency (Executive Branch) records not protected from disclosure by on of nine exemptions or exclusions. Those exemptions include things like national security, personnel records, trade secrets, and geological and geophysical information (including maps) related to wells. Although President Lyndon B. Johnson had misgivings about the Act, he signed it into law.

It is interesting to note that the original act was replaced just one month before it’s 1967 effective date. Also, it was amended in 1974. Those amendments strengthened an individual’s right to see federal records about himself and provided a path by which the individual can get their personal records corrected. Furthermore, the 1974 amendments give an individual the right to sue the government for violating the Freedom of Information Act.

Subsequent amendments

Amendments to the Government in the Sunshine Act in 1976 spelled out Freedom of Information Act exemptions in greater detail. President Ronald Reagan issued an Executive Order in 1982 that permitted broader interpretation of the exemption regarding national security.

Between 1995 and 1999, President Bill Clinton issued executive directives that allowed the release of classified national security records that are more than 25 years old.

The Electronic Freedom of Information Act amendments in 1996 made adjustments to the way in which electronic records are kept by the federal government.

The Freedom of Information Act has continued to be a political football in the 21st century. By an Executive Order issued by President George W. Bush, the records of former U.S. presidents were protected in 2002. The 2202 Order was revoked by President Barack Obama on the day after his inauguration in 2009.

The future of the Freedom of Information Act

And so it goes. The Freedom of Information Act continues to be amended through new Acts and Executive Orders. It will, no doubt, remain a fluid law that will be amended and re-interpreted for the remainder of the years the United States of America exists as a country. Its scope will continue to be challenged in U.S. Supreme Court cases and by lawmakers and presidents.

Since my last blog post

Since my blog last Monday, the corona virus COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. Sadly, the United States has fallen far behind in preparing for and testing for the virus. This is due to the negligence of the Trump Administration, but now is not the time for finger pointing. Now is the time to start playing catch-up and learn from the current president’s mistakes.

My thoughts are with people around the world who have been infected by COVID-19 and their caregivers.

My fractured tibial plateau continues to heal, and I continue treatment for a pulmonary embolism.

Until my next blog post

Above all, try to stay well. Take reasonable precautions to guard yourself and those around you from the flu and COVID-19.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve suspended the requests for a dozen or more books from the public library to try to keep germs from other library patrons out of my house. This is when e-books can really be a blessing — and perhaps a lifesaver, so take advantage of those free e-books from your local public library system.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time. My mind is a little scattered just now due to health concerns, but when I can concentrate I’m trying to work on future blog posts and historical short stories.

Thank you for reading 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

Did you know there was a Freedom of Information Act in the United States? Have you had any personal experience with the Freedom of Information Act?

What about in your country? Does it have such an act to protect an individual’s information held by the government?

Janet

Reading is not a contest!

I was in a bit of a reading slump the first half of June. There were many books on my “want to read” (WTR) list, but books I thought I wanted to read kept making their way to the top of the waitlist at the public library and I had to check them out within seven days or go back to the bottom of the waitlist.

Last week I tried to come to grips with the lunacy of this habit of mine. Library waitlists were dictating what I was reading, while many books languished on my WTR list.

Since I can’t afford to buy very many of the books I want to read, I rely on two public library systems to make those books available to me.

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Harrisburg Branch of Cabarrus County Public Library System

Don’t get me wrong. I am a card-carrying supporter of public libraries. I have nothing but respect and love for public libraries; however, I can’t indefinitely ignore books on my WTR list while reading the newest shiny book that rises to the top of the library waitlist. It’s not the fault of the library or the system. It is my fault. I have put the cart ahead of the horse.

Sometimes by the time I get to the top of the waitlist, I can’t remember why I wanted to read the book in the first place. Did I read a glowing review of it? Did another writer recommend it as a good example of character development?

There’s also the matter of my inability to stay awake to read as long as I’d like. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has completely wrecked my circadian clock and my memory. I hope seeing a sleep specialist later this summer will result in some improvement in my sleep.

In an effort to find a piece of new advice to help me get on track with my WTR list, I read “Hot Reading Challenge Tips from Pros Who Read More Than 100 Books a Year.” The article was posted on June 21, 2018 on the www.Goodreads.com blog (https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/1294?rto=x_gr_e_nl_general&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=june212018&utm_content=Voracious.Readers&ref_=pe_3097180_285823010.) Great timing!

Apparently, a mid-year reading slump is not unusual. I took encouragement from that. It’s not just me.

Goodreads.com asked four of their avid readers (persons who read more than 100 books-a-year) to give advice to the rest of us. My takeaways from reading this blog post boil down to this:

  • You don’t have to finish reading a book you aren’t enjoying
  • Read what really appeals to you, not what you think you “should” read
  • Reread your favorite book. It might get your reading juices going again.

I already knew I don’t have to finish reading a book I’m not enjoying; however, old habits are slow to die. I am a work in progress. If I’m going to blog about a book I’ve read, it helps if I’ve read the whole book.

In my January 8, 2018 blog post, 2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans, I stated that I would take a new approach this year. With nearly 500 books on my WTR list, I said I would concentrate on reading the books on that list.

As of yesterday, my WTR list had grown to 578 in spite of the fact that I’d read 32 books in the first 25 weeks of 2018. I read 63 books in 2017, so I’m on track to equal or surpass that number in 2018. WHOA! I can’t believe I just typed that. I can’t believe I even had that thought.

Reading is not a contest!

Note to self:  Reading isn’t a contest. The person who reads the most books doesn’t “win.”

Reading whatever I want to read is a gift I received by being born in and living in a democracy. Having the ability to read at all is a gift from God and my ancestors who valued books and education.

The numbers I’ve been keeping track of are an artificial measuring stick I inflicted on myself.

My first blog post each month is about the books I read in the previous month. That was my decision, but that in itself puts pressure on me to read, read, read. When June 15 arrived and I had not finished reading one single book during the month, I started feeling the pressure of finishing several books before June 30 so I’d have something to blog about on July 2. Why am I doing this to myself?

Indeed, why?

I’ll continue to read books on my WTR list. As I check those off the list, I’m sure I’ll keep adding books to the list. That’s just the way it is when you’re an avid reader. I’ll try to stop obsessing about the numbers, though!

Incidentally, my next blog post will be about the books I read in June. Those monthly blog posts are among my most popular. I plan to continue that schedule. I just hope I will not feel guilty if I only read one or two books in any given month instead of the four or five I’ve striven for over the past several years.

Thus far in June, I’ve read three books and approximately half of three others. Saturday night, June 30 will, no doubt, find me trying to finish reading the last of those three books so I can blog about the six books I read in June.

I’m a book-a-holic in need of an intervention.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I’ve done some thinking about my novel, The Spanish Coin (working title), but I haven’t actually added to the word count lately.

I think I need to spend more time writing and less time reading!

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!

Janet

Reading and Writing in January 2018

January is over, so it’s time for me to “fess up” about how I spent the month. Perhaps a better way to say that is “what I accomplished.” In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I felt I needed to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. For January, I set a modest goal of adding 2,000 to the scenic plot outline for my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

My writing

For starters, I failed miserably on reaching my 2,000-word goal. What I did, though, was brainstorm about story location. I continue to wrestle with what direction to take in re-writing my historical novel manuscript. The working title remains The Spanish Coin.

Historical novel progress

In January I settled on a location for the story. At least, I hope I will not change from this latest locale. I did some 1700s research on the place and worked on the story’s timeline. Location plays an important role in historical fiction. The era for the novel is the 1760’s, which is a decade earlier than my original plan.

Spanish Coin location reveal

Curious about the story’s setting?  The Camden District of South Carolina. Choosing a location for the story has freed me to proceed with the outline.

Goal for February

I tend to write detailed outlines, so I’ll go out on a limb and set a goal of 6,000 words for February.

My reading

I got my concentration back and had fun reading in January. I read what I wanted to read instead of tying myself down to any particular reading challenge.

That said, I picked up the rules for the 2018 reading challenges for the public libraries in Harrisburg and Mint Hill (I couldn’t help myself!), but I don’t plan to let them dictate what I read. With 500+ books on my “want to read” list, though, I might meet those two challenges without really trying. Incidentally, even though I read seven books in January, my “want to read” list had a net gain of 39. I realize this is not sustainable. I would have to be a speed reader and live to be a centenarian to finish my ever-growing list.

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

The book title says it all. I took note of the suggested change for each week. This week seems like a good week to start, since I didn’t begin in January. This week’s small change:  Drink enough water to stay hydrated. I’m told I should drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. Since I normally drink less than half that amount, this constitutes more than a “small” change for me.

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

This latest John Grisham novel took a little different tack from his earlier books in that The Rooster Bar is about a group of law school dropouts practicing law without licenses. I found it to be more humorous than other Grisham novels I’ve read, but it was still full of suspense.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

I blogged about this book on January 22, 2018, so I direct you to that blog post if you missed it: (Works That Last.)

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan

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The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

I’ve been reading so many novels the last couple of years that I’d forgotten how long nonfiction book titles tend to be. Or maybe it’s just the three I read in January.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. Living in North Carolina, I have toured the Biltmore House four times. The first time was on a sixth grade field trip. Motion sickness on the bus as it wound around the endless curves on old US-74 east of Asheville is my main memory from that day, but I digress.

My other visits to the Biltmore Estate have been very enjoyable. Reading this book made me want to plan another trip to Asheville and tour the mansion again. It is a delightful book.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel was inspired by the shocking history of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the first half of the 20th century. It is a gripping story and is expertly written. It is not a happy read, but I highly recommend this book.

The King of Lies, by John Hart

This was the January book choice of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. The novel is set in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I was familiar with some of the streets and buildings referenced in the book. It’s fun sometimes to read a book set in a location you have visited.

I though Mr. Hart could have omitted some of the “woe is me” theme in the first third of the book. The narrator’s whining about the wealthy people in this small town got old after a while. If you’ll hang in there, though, you’ll probably get so involved in trying to identify the killer that you’ll get to the point you can’t put the book down. You’ll think several times that you’ve figured out the villain’s identity but, chances are, you haven’t.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

This novel has been on my “to read” list for several years, so I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally read it. It is set in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Nightwoods is a tale about a woman who unexpectedly “inherits” her deceased sister’s twin boy and girl. The children give their aunt/new mother a challenge every day – and then her late sister’s widowed husband/killer comes to try to get the large sum of money he thinks the children took with them. The children are wild and uncommunicative. Add to that the fact that the aunt has no idea why her ne’er do well ex-brother-in-law has suddenly shown an interest in his children and has come to hunt them down.

What about December?

I just remembered that I never did blog about the books I read in December. They were a mixed bag of novels:  The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich; and The Secret, Book and Scone Society, by Ellery Adams.

David Ignatius’s political thrillers never disappoint me. The Quantum Spy was no exception.

The last two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich disappointed me. I used to eagerly await her annual next installment of these funny novels, but “Twenty-Three” and “Twenty-Four” were too predictable.

The Ellery Adams novel is an entertaining read about four women who want to form a friendship, but each one is required to reveal a secret about herself before they can truly trust one another.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by my fellow-blogger David J. Rogers; The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy, which was recommended by my friend Karen; Beartown, by Frekrik Backman, which is the February pick for The Apostrophe S Coffee Chat online book community; and The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn. That’s about one book too many for me to read at the same time, but they are different enough that I’m not getting the story lines confused.

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

If you subscribed to my mailing list last week, you renewed my faith in mankind. Thank you, Vicki, Colby, Katrina, and Glen!

In case you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you have another opportunity to do so using the fill-in form below. I appreciate it!

Janet

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

 

Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels

Since I had a lot to say about both of the novels I’ve finished reading so far in July, I decided not to wait until my August 7 blog post to tell you about them. One was set in South Africa during the Second Boer War. The other was set on an island in South Carolina in beginning in 2004. Quite a contrast in location and time!

The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling

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The History of Stars, by Dave Boling

One of the categories I chose for my 2017 Reading Challenge was to be sure to read a book that takes place on each of the seven continents. Without that being part of my personal challenge, chances are I would not have read The Lost History of Stars, by Dave Boling.

I’m amused at people who brag that they only read nonfiction. They think there is nothing to be learned from fiction. I used to fall into that category. I was a nonfiction snob, so my sister couldn’t believe it when I told her in 2001 that I was taking a fiction writing course.

I minored in history in college, but what little I learned about the Second Boer War has long since been forgotten. The Lost History of Stars is a novel about that 1899-1902 war in South Africa. It follows an Afrikaner family throughout the war. It is not a history of that war, and I admit that I still know few details of it; however, from reading this book I learned that the British burned the homes and farms of many Afrikaners and rounded up the women and children and put them in concentration camps. Disease and malnutrition were rampant in those camps.

From the inside flap of the book’s cover, I learned that “some 3,500 Afrikaner farmer-soldiers lost their lives. However, in the concentration camps, hastily assembled by the British forces to limit resistance among the general populace, the human toll was much higher:  it was there, while their husbands and fathers were away fighting, that more than 26,000 women and children died.” Take time to reread this paragraph and let the injustice set in.

It is interesting to me that the author, Dave Boling, was inspired to write this novel after learning that one of his grandfathers was a British soldier in South Africa during the Second Boer War. That must be the reason he wrote about a camp guard who did not wish to be there, finding it distasteful to be guarding women and children in a concentration camp.

The book is written with chapters alternating between the farm and the concentration camp. Some chapters took place in the concentration camp, and then the next chapter took place a year earlier on the farm. I would have preferred the book being written in chronological order, but that’s just my personal preference.

This is a story of family loyalty and the sheer strength of will to survive.

 

Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

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Grief Cottage, by Gail Godwin

Author Wiley Cash recommended the writings of Gail Godwin. She has had two novels published – Flora and Grief Cottage. I decided to read Grief Cottage first. It’s her new book.

Grief Cottage is set on an island in South Carolina in 2004 and partially in North Carolina in 2018. Eleven-year-old Marcus is an orphan who has been sent to South Carolina to live with his Aunt Charlotte. Charlotte is an artist and is used to living alone.

Marcus takes on the project of finding out the names of the couple and son who were lost when Hurricane Hazel hit 50 years ago in 1954. They were vacationing on the island and staying in what later became known as Grief Cottage when Hurricane Hazel hit. I thought the climax of the book would be when Marcus learned the names of those three people, but that happened less than halfway through the book.

Maybe it was just me, but I thought the story dragged in places and some information was repeated two or three times. That aside, I did enjoy the book.

Marcus’s mother had given him a picture of his father and promised to tell him his father’s name when he got older. She was killed in an automobile accident before that happened. It wasn’t until the last page of the epilogue (set in 2018) that Marcus learns the name of his father.

There are subplots that include such things as loggerhead turtle eggs and hatchlings, Charlotte’s paintings, alcoholism, and bullying. The plot takes a huge turn in the second half that I didn’t see coming. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t say more.

I’ll probably read Gail Godwin’s other novel, Flora, after I check off a few more items on my 2017 Reading Challenge.

Until my next blog post

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

I hope each of you has a good book to read. I’m reading The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins for Rocky River Readers Book Club this month; The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle; The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff; and Bird  by Bird:  On Writing and Life, by Anne Lamont. (This is what happens when all the books you’ve been on the waitlist for at the public library come in at the same time!)

Excuse me while I get back to my reading.

Janet

You Need to Read These Books!

I had another good month of reading in May. I’m on a roll for 2017! If I were a faster reader, I could devour more books. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy as many as I can.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

I’m running out of superlatives for the books I’ve read this year. I kept hearing about A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, so I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. It’s a popular book, so it took a while for my name to gravitate to the top of the list.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At times outrageously funny and at times heartwarming and touching, it held my interest from start to finish. Ove is a 59-year-old man. I could see my father, my brother, and even myself in him. I could see myself in his late wife when he recalled how it drove him up the wall because she delighted in planning the details of a trip to the extreme. That’s me! Thank goodness I have a sense of humor! Poor Ove is at odds with the world and having trouble keeping up with the modern world. For the most part, he’s not even trying to keep up.

The author, Fredrik Backman, is from Sweden, where his books have gained much acclaim. I am amazed at how well the humor in this book translated so well from Swedish into English. Although I don’t speak or read Swedish, I don’t believe the book lost anything in the translation. I look forward to reading Mr. Backman’s other books.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day was approaching when I was reading this book, or maybe the sentence would have struck me like a ton of bricks any time of the year. Ms. Picoult has an uncommon gift when it comes to writing. Her books tackle some of the most heart-wrenching issues of our day, and she has a wonderful way with words.

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I featured the following sentence in my Being the Balloon blog post on May 5, 2017:

“What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”   – from Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

The context of that sentence is that Ruth, the protagonist who is a seasoned labor and delivery nurse, a mother, and the widow of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan, reacts to the death of her mother with, “What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”

I highly recommend Small Great Things. In it, Ms. Picoult takes on the issue of race in America, and she has an uncanny talent for getting inside the skin of individuals from one end of that spectrum to the other in Small Great Things. The line that I focused on from the book in my blog on May 5 speaks to the humanity of us all.

In a nutshell, Small Great Things is about an African-American nurse in Connecticut who is barred from caring for the newborn infant of a white supremacist couple. Author Jodi Picoult masterfully writes from the point-of-view of the nurse, the white-supremacist father, and the white lawyer who defends the nurse. There is an explosive trial during which all kinds of raw emotions erupt. I think we all can learn some life lessons by reading and pondering Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult!

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

I kept hearing good things about this book, which had been translated into English from its original German. I finally got it from the public library, but with too many other books to read and a lot I was trying to learn about the craft or writing. Therefore, I only got 40% of the book read before I had to return it to the library for the next person on the wait list. I will definitely check it out again so I can finish it.

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The Hidden Life of Trees:  How They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World might not appeal to everyone, but I thought it was very interesting. That might be because I grew up and again live out in the country. My parents instilled an appreciation and respect for trees in us. We have a variety of trees in our yard – dogwood, pine, ash, poplar, cedar, several varieties of oak, mulberry, sycamore, black walnut, sweet gum, holly, persimmon, and maple.

I thought I knew a lot about trees until I started reading Peter Wohlleben’s book. I now know that there’s a whole world out there I can’t see or hear. The book explains how certain tree species work together and how other tree species work against one another. It talks about how trees pump water out of the ground. It talks a lot about fungi and how fungal networks underground help trees in numerous ways. It really is quite fascinating!

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I highly recommend The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. It is a historical novel about two sisters in France during the German occupation in World War II. The sisters cope with the occupation and resulting cruelties of war very differently.

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One sister joins the French Resistance and risks her life helping shot down Allied airmen across the Pyrennes and into Spain. The other sister’s nerves and wits are pushed to the limits as two German officers are billeted in her home. The book was inspired by a 19-year-old Belgian woman, Andrée De Jongh, who created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France.

This book will pull on all your emotions. When the characters are cold and hungry – which was most of the time – you will feel cold and hungry, although I’m certain that I truly can’t imagine the level of hunger or fear the people who lived through the ordeal actually endured.

When we study World War II or hear stories about it, the emphasis is almost always on the battles. The Nightingale gives a paints a picture of life on the home front in France. It was this month’s book for discussion by Rocky River Readers Book Club. Everyone at our meeting had only praise for the book – how much it taught us and how well-written it was.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

This historical novel is Yaa Gyasi’s debut as a fiction writer. It is different from any novel I’ve ever read. It is set in Africa. As part of my 2017 Reading Challenge I wanted to read a book set on each of the continents this year, so I was drawn to this novel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish reading it before it was due at the public library.

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Each chapter is about a different member of this family. It is about family ties and the horrible conditions in the slave trade. It puts a human face on slavery – a subject we tend to think of in terms of numbers and not the families that were torn apart in Africa. If I get a chance, I’d like to check this book out again.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

Like Homegoing and The Hidden Life of Trees, I didn’t get to finish reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane before it had to be returned to the library. I couldn’t renew any of the three books because there were people on the wait list. The part of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane that I got read was fascinating in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese. I had no idea!

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The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation.

There is a ray of hope, though, because the girl’s teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I have come to the conclusion this week that I am trying to read too many books and not spending enough time on my writing. My goal in June is to strike a happy medium.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I’m writing bios of my characters in the “new and improved” The Spanish Coin.

Janet