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

Holocaust Survivors and Osage Murders

August brought with it a host of good reading. The problem is, when I’m distracted by lots of good books to read, I don’t spend as much time as I should spend writing. The two go hand-in-hand. I’ve read from many sources that you can’t be a good writer if you don’t read a lot. Of course, you can’t be a good writer if you don’t spend time writing. Maybe this month I’ll strike a good balance.

 

Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb

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Among the Living, by Jonathan Rabb

Among the Living is a novel about a 31-year-old Jewish man, Yitzhak Goldah, who survived The Holocaust and came to live with his cousin, Abe Jesler and Jesler’s wife, Pearl, in Savannah, Georgia in 1947.

The tone of the book is set early on as the author reveals Mr. Goldah’s sense of humor and ability to take life in stride. For instance, on the way home from the train station, Goldah’s cousin and his wife inform him that they are changing his name to “Ike.” Yitzhak doesn’t like the idea, but he accepts this in an effort to not cause a rift with these generous cousins.

It quickly become obvious that Pearl Jesler is going to treat “Ike” like he’s a child. As if that’s not enough, she smothers him with kindness. And she talks all the time – many times saying the wrong thing.

This is by no means a humorous book, but there are constant undertones of “Ike” knowing exactly what the Jeslers are doing but choosing not to confront them about his treatment.

Abe Jesler is in the retail shoe business and is well-connected in Jewish circles in Savannah. Much to Pearl’s chagrin, though, they are not in the uppermost crust of Jewish society. The book does a good job of depicting the social and business lives of Jews in post-World War II Savannah.

There is intrigue as Abe gets involves in some shady business dealings at Savannah’s port. Ike’s profession before the war was that of a journalist, so he gets acquainted with the local newspaper editor and starts writing for the paper. This had the two-fold benefit getting Ike into the profession he loved and out of Abe’s retail shoe business.

Ike also became involved with the newspaper editor’s daughter, which lends a bit of romance to the book. When Ike’s pre-war thought-to-be-dead fiancée suddenly appears in Savannah, Ike’s life gets quite complicated.

The book also addresses the feelings of guilt held by American Jews because they weren’t directly faced with the horrors of The Holocaust and the guilty experienced by the survivors of the concentration camps because they survived.

After reading an article by Jonathan Rabb, “Trigger Warnings in Historical Fiction,” (http://www.readitforward.com/authors/trigger-warnings/) I sought out his latest book, Among the Living. I’ll definitely read some of his other books.

One of my takeaways from Mr. Rabb’s online article about history and writing about history is the following:

“But history is offensive. The past is filled with oppression and murder, rape and slavery, torture and madness, often celebrating each within its own context. And, as painful as it might be, there is something valuable to be learned when we confront who we have been, and who we continue to be. We cannot be so arrogant or naïve as to think that we have somehow stepped beyond our baser instincts or that by avoiding them we prove they no longer exist.” ~ Jonathan Rabb

 

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

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Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

This nonfiction book was a real eye opener for me. I knew that Native Americans have always gotten the short end of the stick from the US Government, but I knew nothing about the history of the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma until I saw the author, David Grann, interviewed about his book on TV. The story was fascinating, so I immediately got on the waitlist for the book at the library.

In a nutshell, this book is the story of how the lives of the Osage were turned upside down in the early 1900s when oil was discovered on their land. They had wisely purchased land and acquired all mineral rights. Unfortunately, their wise decisions became their undoing when they became wealthy. The government deemed them incapable of handling their own finances and assigned each headright holder a white guardian to oversee their spending even for the most mundane personal hygiene items.

This had trouble written all over it from the beginning. Unscrupulous guardians not only stole their ward’s wealth, but in many cases killed them or had them murdered. Most local government authorities in Osage County were either complicit in these murders or turned a blind eye to them. Two local physicians were even involved in the poisoning of some of the Osage. Cause of death records were falsified, and most of the deaths were not investigated.

This is a sordid tale of a horrible and little-known chapter in American history. Integral to the story is the fact that the US Bureau of Indian Affairs investigations arm came in to try to get to the bottom of the matter. It became such a big deal that the Bureau of Investigation grew in stature to become the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is incredibly well researched and is written in such a flowing way that it reads more like a novel than a history book. In case you haven’t guessed it already, I highly recommend this book.

 

Dog Songs:  Poems, by Mary Oliver

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Dog Songs: Poems, by Mary Oliver

My sister found this book at the public library and recommended it to me. If you’re a dog lover, like I am, you need to look for this little book. It’s a quick read but chock-full of delightful poems and memories of dogs and how they bless our lives.

What’s next?

I will blog about the other three books I read in August in next week’s post. No one wants to read in one sitting thousands of words about the books I read, so check out my blog next Monday to find out what else I read in August.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just finished reading State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, and I’ve started If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss.

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

Janet