Books Read in January 2022

I had the pleasure of reading a variety of books in January. Each one was interesting in its own way.

In my December 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in November 2021, I made less-than-glowing remarks about Wiley Cash’s When Ghosts Come Home. I’m rectifying the situation today.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I owed it to myself and Wiley Cash to give this novel a second chance. I checked out the large print edition of the book from the public library in January and started reading it again. I’m so glad I did!

I think part of my problem in November was that I read the first chapter or two and didn’t get back to it for a week or so. Since the third chapter was about a new set of characters with no obvious connection to the characters in the first couple of chapters, the book sort of fell apart for me. I figured out the connection a little later, but by then I’d lost interest in the story.

Getting back to this novel in January was a real treat. I was able to give it enough attention in longer blocks of time to get into the storyline, make the connections, and care what happened to the characters.

I had to find out why Rodney Bellamy was at the airstrip that night. I had to find out what happened to Janelle’s kid brother, Jay. I had to know if Winston’s daughter, Colleen, was going to get her life back together after losing her baby. I had to find out how Winston, the county sheriff on the coast of North Carolina, got all the crimes and problems sorted out. I had to find out what part FBI Agent Tom Gross played in all this.

Determined to tie all the loose ends together, the end of the book kept me reading until 3:00 a.m. I’m back on track now with Wiley Cash and look forward to his next novel.

There is an element of racial tension woven throughout When Ghosts Come Home. The following is a very telling quote from the book. Ed Bellamy is referring to the white Marines he served alongside in Vietnam.

“But I knew something else my white buddies didn’t know: I knew what it meant to be hunted…. I still know what it means to be hunted. All these years later, we’re still being hunted.”

I’ve read all his earlier novels: A Land More Kind Than Home, The Dark Road to Mercy, and The Last Ballad.

I read A Land More Kind Than Home in 2015 before I started commenting other than mentioning the titles on my blog about the books I was reading.

In February 2016, I read The Dark Road to Mercy. Here’s the link to the blog post in which I commented on it: Some books I read in February

I commented on The Last Ballad in my blog post on November 6, 2017: Some Good New Books.


These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

I was surprised when I looked back through my blog posts to find that this is the fifth Ann Patchett book I’ve read. I’ll give you the links to those earlier four blog posts in case you’d like to read what I had to say about her other books.

To refresh my memory and yours about the Ann Patchett books I’ve read, here are my nutshell descriptions and the links to the blog posts in which I wrote about them:

(1) The Getaway Car is a book in which Ms. Patchett humorously tells what she has learned about the craft and art of writing. What I read in February 2017

(2) State of Wonder is a novel set in Brazil. It involves a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota and the jungle along the Amazon River. Some Great September Reads

(3) The Dutch House is about a dysfunctional family in which the mother leaves and never returns. There are many layers to this story and the house itself is as important as any character. I highly recommend you listen to the CD of this book which is read by Tom Hanks. I stretched my reading horizons in November

(4) Bel Canto is a novel based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru. Eight Books I Read in March 2020

(5) Commonwealth was a novel that didn’t grab my interest and I didn’t listen to all of it. It involved drunks at a christening party. I couldn’t identify with that. Books Read in May 2020

Ann Patchett is an essayist in addition to being a novelist. These formats take two different writing skills. She’s a master of both. I enjoyed listening to These Precious Days, which is a collection of essays. She reveals some of her past in an entertaining way and with humor. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’ll love this book.

I connected with her on several levels in this book. We’re both writers, although she’s light years ahead of me. We both knit – or do so rarely and not as well as those knitting experts in Scotland. Neither of us have children to dote on or depend upon to help care for us in our dotage.

It is a book about friends and family and those ties that bind us and help us along through life’s ups and downs. It was one of those books that left me wanting more when it ended.


When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut; translated from Spanish into English by Adrian Nathan West

When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut

My cousin, Jerome Williams, recommended this book. I failed to have it on my to-be-read list, although it was shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The author, Benjamin Labatut, is Chilean.

This novel reads like a nonfiction book. In it, Señor Labatut writes about various scientists and mathematicians who have had to wrestle with the moral ramifications of their discoveries. In some cases, their discoveries were meant for good but have been used as weapons of mass destruction and untold suffering. Some of these men lost their minds or were mentally tormented by the ways in which their discoveries were used.

There are unexpected twists and turns as years and decades pass, and we’re left to wonder what great wonders and what horrific demented uses of those great wonders lie in the future.

Thanks for the recommendation, Jerome. You have good taste in literature.


The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

As I’ve mentioned before, this book isn’t a fast read. It’s a history book and it packs a tremendous amount of information and insight into its more than 600 pages. Trying to read the regular print edition was taxing on my eyes, so I got on the waitlist for the Kindle edition. I rose to the top of the list early in January and was eager to pick up where I’d left off in November.

Other books also reached the top of the library waitlists, though, and I was distracted. The Silk Road isn’t the kind of book you can read in snippets. I’ll keep reading it, probably throughout 2022.



Since my last blog post

I’ve been researching the Great Wagon Road and some of old trails associated with it. In case you’re interested in learning more about the Great Wagon Road, I recommend that you look at the PiedmontTrails.com website (https://piedmonttrails.com/) and look for Piedmont Trails on YouTube. Carol, who spearheads the Great Wagon Road Project, has lots of information that she freely shares. The Great Wagon Road Project is documenting the 800-mile wagon road that went from Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia in the 1700s and early 1800s.

I’m doing this research in conjunction with the historical novels I’m attempting to write. I had planned to start writing the rough draft of Book One with the working title The Heirloom, but there’s a technical issue with my computer regarding margins. I hesitate to start the rough draft until I can get my margins set at a reasonable setting. I’ve never had this problem before.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Stay safe and well.

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

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