3 Historical Novels I Read in June 2021

I read a bunch of good books in June, so without any delay I’ll jump right in to tell you what I thought of three of them.


The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian

The Girls in the Stilt House, by Kelly Mustian

I hardly know what to say about this debut historical novel by Kelly Mustian, a native of Mississippi. Wow! What a great book!

I’ll be careful not to give away anything about the plot. Ada is a white teen. Matilda is a black teen just a little older than Ada. They both live along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi in the early 1920s. When the book begins, they don’t know each other.

A string of ill-fated events throw the girls together in the stilt shack Ada lives in on the swamp. Both of them have secrets, some of which they don’t learn about one another until near the end of the book.

This book will keep you turning pages and yearning for Ada and Matilda to get the opportunities they deserve to have better lives. Ms. Mustian is a true wordsmith. She writes beautifully and even weaves a touch of humor here and there in this book of tragedies. She carefully crafted every sentence. I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!


The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh

The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh was inspired by true events in Belfast during the early days of World War II.

Denise Weston Austin was one of the first female zookeepers at the Belfast Zoo. Ms. Austin took a baby elephant named Sheila out of the zoo so she could escape being killed when the Ireland government ordered the zoo animals to be killed after Germany started bombing Belfast.

Government officials feared that if the zoo enclosures were damaged in future bombings, the animals could escape and pose a threat to local residents. Ms. Austin took the elephant to her home north of Belfast!

Author Sheila Kirk Walsh took that information and more historical facts and wove a fascinating novel about a fictional character – Hettie Quin — based on Denise Weston Austin and Violet – the name of the elephant in the book.

It was a frightening time with much death and destruction in Belfast. Ms. Walsh drew on her own experience in Manhattan on 9/11 to bring to this novel a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what might happen next.

There is depth to this novel, as Hettie Quin loses much that is near and dear to her. She not only saves Violet, Violet saves her.

Charlotte McCurry read the book for the CD edition. Her lovely Irish brogue added an air of authenticity to the story.

My apologies to Ms. Walsh. I was unable to capture a clear photograph of the book.


The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

The premise of this novel enticed me to check it out. It’s based on a real event. In 1937, during the Second Sino-China War, university students and faculty members took 500-year-old Chinese writings (“the Library of Legends”) more than 1,000 miles on foot in an effort to save them from the bombings of the major cities by the Japanese. The premise intrigued me.

What I didn’t know, was that these ancient writings were just that: legends. Some of those legends are interwoven into the book. While that fantasy element appeals to some readers, it doesn’t especially appeal to me. I’m just not a fan of fantasy novels.

That said, I enjoyed the parts of the book that described the actual arduous journey taken by a group from one university, but I found myself skipping the pages about the legends. Halfway through the book, I stopped to read reviews of the novel. Some reviewers loved it because it is a combination historical novel/fantasy novel, while others disliked it for that very reason. I’m afraid I fall into that second camp.

It is said that China was fighting two wars at the same time. They were fighting Japan and they were fighting to keep communism out of their country. The communist influence is brought out in the book.

It was definitely worth my while to read as much of this book as I did. I learned something about Chinese history. It amazes me that university students and faculty members walked more than 1,000 miles in order to save some of the most treasured Chinese writings. I had no idea!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Remember – you don’t have to finish reading a book just because you started reading it. That’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don’t know why. That lesson finally became real to me last month when I was able to walk away from The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I had learned what I was meant to learn from it.

I’m listening to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. I highly recommend it!

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

I hope you enjoy your vocation or your retirement, and that you have time to enjoy a hobby.

Janet

3 Books I Tried to Listen To in May

I tend to only borrow library books that I think I’ll like. Once in a while, I’m led astray. I attempted to read eight books in May. Five of them were winners. The other three just weren’t my “cup of tea” – at least the mode in which I tried to listen to two of them just didn’t work out.

After waiting for weeks to get to the top of the waitlist at the public library for most of the books I read or listen to, it’s disappointing when one doesn’t meet my expectations. Please read on, though, for one of these might be just what you’re looking for. And each of them might be great reads in print.


Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

I’ll admit up front that I did not get through even half of this book. After hearing and seeing Chris Bohjalian interviewed online recently, I decided to give one of his novels a try. I found that the public library had Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands on Playaway and I needed a book I could listen to while I walk or do yardwork. This book fit the bill. I checked it out without knowing what the storyline was.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian

It’s written in first person from the viewpoint of a teen girl. That can’t be easy for a male writer to do, but Mr. Bohjalian pulls it off.

Emily is at school when the nearby nuclear power plant experiences a meltdown. Her parents work at the plant and it is immediately speculated that her father is responsible for the accident. Knowing in her heart that both her parents were killed in the accident, Emily strikes out on her own rather than being evacuated to a shelter with her classmates.

I had problems with the Playaway device itself. It kept malfunctioning. At chapter nine, I gave up. I think there are 21 chapters.

My other problem with the book was the language. I know there are teen girls who use excessive foul language, but I decided I didn’t need to listen to anymore of it.

I’ll just leave it at that.


Band of Sisters, by Lauren Willig

Band of Sisters is Lauren Willig’s 27th published novel, but it’s the first one I’ve read. It has received rave reviews – and rightfully so. I listened to it on CD.

Band of Sisters, by Lauren Willig

This historical novel is based on a group of students from the all-female Smith College who volunteered to go to France during World War I to aide civilians displaced by the war. Being from Smith College, they came from wealthy families. I had trouble identifying with any of the students except for Katie, who was not from a rich family.

This failure on my part to identify with most of the characters left me feeling a little disappointed in the book. I just wasn’t able to suspend memories of my own experience of working my way through college and graduate school enough to put myself in the shoes of these wealthy young women. That’s my problem, not the author’s fault.

I will give Lauren Willig’s novels another chance. She is obviously a talented historical fiction author. Reading novels about wealthy people just isn’t interesting to me, usually. Reading about privileged white college women in 1918 didn’t interest me enough to finish listening to this book. It’s well-written and inspired by a true story, but the privileged attitudes of some of the students irritated me. I had to work my way through college, so I can’t identify with the students in this novel.


The Last Green Valley, by Mark T. Sullivan

This is a book I’d looked forward to listening to but, like I mentioned about the audio recording of Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey in an earlier blog post, there were so many extremes in volume on this CD that I just couldn’t deal with it.

The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

I really liked Mark T. Sullivan’s earlier novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky. If you’d like to read my comments about it, here’s a link to my January 13, 2019 blog post, The Other Books I Read in December 2019.

The Last Green Valley is probably equally as good as Beneath a Scarlet Sky. I just thought I’d mention my experience with this book on CD in case you also depend upon audiobooks.


Since my last blog post

Update on that new air fryer/toaster oven: I’m happy to report that I’ve gained confidence and understanding, and this new “gizmo” doesn’t intimidate me anymore. That said, I admit I haven’t yet tried the rotisserie feature.

We’ve weathered yet another health crisis with our almost 13-year-old diabetic rescue dog. He spent another night in a specialty veterinary hospital in Charlotte. If you live in the Charlotte area, I hope your regular vet will refer you to Charlotte Animal Referral and Emergency (CARE) when your pet needs specialized care. They’re great! They’ve saved our dog’s life three times since last August.

Except for printing spine labels for the five archival binders for our 96-year-old friend’s love letters between him and his wife during the Korean War, my sister and I have finished that project. Their more than 200 letters to each other from 1951 until early 1953 have now been organized and put in archival-quality sleeves in binders. He and we can only hope that his descendants will appreciate the treasure these letters are.

My fibromyalgia flare continues and is making it difficult to chew even soft food. I know this is probably just a temporary flare. It will pass. I just need faith and patience to supplement the pain medications.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve reached the top of the library waitlist for a half-dozen audiobooks at the same time. Too bad I can’t listen to one book with my right ear and another book with my left ear! I finished listening to The Elephant of Belfast, by S. Kirk Walsh. It’s a wonderful novel inspired by a true story about an elephant in the Belfast Zoo in 1940.

For those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope you’re having a splendid summer after being confined for so long due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t have any trips planned, but I’m making the most of these warm, sunny days with fewer face-covering restrictions.

For those of you in the southern hemisphere, I learned on Friday that the National Geographic Society has named the Southern Ocean around Antarctica as Earth’s fifth ocean. I must be getting old. Since I was in school, Pluto has lost its designation as a planet and Earth no longer has just four oceans. This is proof that we should never stop learning new things.

Until next Monday,

Janet