4 Books I Read in February 2021

Thank you for your patience, if you’ve been eagerly awaiting an extra week to find out what I read last month. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read my blog post from last Monday, #OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation & Why They Had to Be Replaced.

Without further explanation, I’ll launch right into my impressions of four of the eight books I read in February.


The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

I listened to this novel. It was mesmerizing. It is told from the point-of-view of an American woman, Elise, whose father immigrated from Germany. Due to lies a neighbor boy told about her father during World War II, she (as a teen) and her parents were scooped up and sent to a family internment camp in Texas. Her best friend there was an American teenage girl of Japanese descent.

I was immediately drawn into the story as the book starts with Elise as an older woman suffering from dementia. More than perhaps anything else I’ve read, the author put me inside the body of this woman who knew she was losing her memory but refused to give in to the disease. She even had a name for her memory-deficient self — Agnes.

Her coping skills were quite impressive. Elise got on a plane to track down her long-loss internment camp friend so they would reconnect before she completely lost her memory. I was right there with her on her physical journey, and then the book took me on a trip through their experiences in the internment camp.

I was unaware of this family internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. After giving the reader an idea of what life was like in the camp – where German- and Japanese-Americans were held captive until they could be sent to their ancestral countries in exchange for Americans who had been caught behind enemy lines when the war started, the novel takes you on Elise’s journey as she and her family spend the last year of the war living in Germany. It then follows Elise’s life after the war and ends by jumping back to the beginning of the book in Los Angeles in 2010 on her trip to look for her long-lost Japanese-American friend, Mariko Inoue.

It was a lovely story to listen to. It was well-written and I found myself pulling for Elise from the first page to the last page. I found myself listening to it at bedtime and struggling to stay awake long enough to listen to just one more chapter. If you’re an avid reader, you know what I mean.

If you want to know more about the Crystal City, Texas internment camp, Jan Jarboe Russell has written a nonfiction book about it, The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.


Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Laleh Chini is a blogger I follow. Soroosh is Laleh’s new novel. In the beginning, Soroosh is a 10-year-old boy who has to become the man of the house and find a way to support his mother and younger siblings. Living in the port city of Abadan, Iran — home to an enormous refinery — Soroosh’s mother is between the proverbial rock and a hard place as she isn’t allowed to work or go into public places alone since she’s a woman in a Muslim country.

Soroosh takes his new role very seriously and starts brainstorming to figure out a way to earn money to support the family. He starts by purchasing handmade Persian rugs one at a time from a woman and sitting by the side of the street to sell them. He is industrious and a good salesperson.

Mid-way through the book, Soroosh is a young adult and has continued to work hard to provide for his s extended family. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I won’t give more story details. Always eager to step out of his comfort zone, Soroosh is constantly looking for a way to expand his business interests so he can help others – whether that is providing jobs or bringing in enough income that he and his wife can do charity work.

Although Soroosh and his family face many challenges and sad events, it is an uplifting story of what persons of strong faith can do when they work hard, remember their meager beginnings, and look for ways to give back to society.

Ms. Chini is an excellent storyteller, which comes through in this novel. She writes in a way that enables the reader to visualize the scenes she describes. Written in first-person, it reads like a memoir as it follows Soroosh for decades of his life. I’m impressed at Ms. Chini’s ability to write a novel in English, as it was a second language for her. She also brings in some history and historic sites as Soroosh travels for his business endeavors, as Iran has such a rich and long history.


Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but I’m so glad I did. It is the kind of novel that’s hard to put down. The characters are developed well and I really wanted both of the main characters to find happiness and what they were looking for.

A young Cherokee man, Cowney Sequoyah, and a young Cherokee woman, Essie Stamper, get jobs working at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, during World War II. The resort had been taken over by the US Government and housed foreign diplomats and their families.

Even As We Breathe is the story of the pull the Qualla Boundary has on Cowney and Essie. (The Qualla Boundary is the land trust in North Carolina that the descendants of the Cherokee people who hid out in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma in 1838 live on.) Even as they yearn to get away from Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, they are drawn to it. The story shines a light on the white world’s prejudice against Cherokee Indians in the World War II era.

(Before you get upset that I use the term “Indian” instead of the politically-correct term “Native American,” when I did the research for my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I learned that, since the term Native American can be used to describe anyone born in America, the North American Indian Women’s Association recommends using the term American Indians. Therefore, I use the word Indian in this blog post and I used it in my vintage postcard book referenced herein.)

There are many, many layers to this story. Cowney’s club foot prevents his being able to serve in the US military during the war, which is a constant guilt he must deal with. There are family secrets that unfold throughout the book. His Uncle Bud plays heavily in Cowney’s life – and not in a good way.

The young daughter of one of the diplomats disappears. Through a series of bad decisions made by Cowney, Essie, and one of the US soldiers on duty at the Grove Park Inn – and the fact that Cowney is a Cherokee Indian and, thereby, is immediately suspect – things go badly for Cowney.

I hope I’ve given you enough information to make you want to read the book and not enough details to spoil it for you. Perhaps I especially enjoyed this book since I live in North Carolina and have visited Cherokee and Asheville many times, but I think you’ll like it, too.

The author, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and holds degrees from Yale and the College of William and Mary.

Below is a postcard of the Grove Park Inn that I included in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, published by Arcadia Publishing. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, and Asheville, my book is available on Amazon and from the publisher.

A portion of a linen vintage postcard of Grove Park Inn.

Since I was on the waitlist at the public library for The Last Year of the War and Even As We Breathe for quite some time, it was coincidental that I read them at the same time and both were set against the backdrop of internment during World War II. Another Cherokee connection was in Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson, which I read in January. (See my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in January 2021.) My favorite part of that book was the section about Cherokee translator Marie Junaluska.


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

I can’t say enough about the way Erik Larson writes nonfiction books. He has a way of bringing history alive and holding me spellbound. Granted, I’m a bit of a history buff, but I think many of you would enjoy this book even if you don’t think you would.

The Lusitania was an ocean liner of the Cunard Cruise Line out of England. Ignoring the danger all British ships – military and otherwise – faced from German U-boats in 1915 (during World War I, of course), the Lusitania sailed out of New York City toward Liverpool, England, with more than 1,900 people on board.

Mr. Larson researched the backgrounds of the people who sailed on that voyage of the Lusitania and shares with us tidbits of their lives and why some were going to England. He weaves into the book the hot potato issue of the day: Were cruise ships fair game for German U-boats?

Germany maintained that they were fair game because they were probably carrying munitions as well as passengers.

Tension grows chapter-by-chapter as we alternate between seeing the war and enemy ships from the perspective of the captain of U-Boat 20 and from the perspective of passengers on and the captain of the Lusitania.

I found listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania to be a painless way to learn details about its fateful voyage as well as more than I’d known before about German U-boats and torpedoes. The book goes beyond the sinking of the Lusitania as US President Woodrow Wilson hesitated to enter the war. In fact, it was two years after the sinking of the ocean liner before US troops arrived in England to help “the mother country” out of its dire situation.

Since my last blog post

I’ve had more books vying for my attention than I had time to read or listen to them. At the same time, I’m getting the first 50 pages of my manuscript for my historical novel The Doubloon (or perhaps The Spanish Coin) ready for a professional critique. It’s time to take the plunge!

Spring is in the air here in North Carolina. The daffodils are blooming. They’ve been the harbinger of spring my entire life. I can still remember running into the house clutching a fistful of daffodils and announcing to my mother, “The daffodils are blooming! The daffodils are blooming!” I suppose I’ve had Seasonal Affective Disorder all my life. They just didn’t have a name for it until recent years.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read this week. Maybe one of the books I wrote about today will catch your eye.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

I hope you stay safe and well. I’ll get my second Covid shot before my next blog post. I’m excited about that and the promise it brings. I’ll keep wearing a mask and maintain social distancing as long as necessary, though. I hope you can get vaccinated soon.

Janet

19 Blue Ridge Mountains Trivia Answers

How many of the Blue Ridge Mountains trivia questions I asked in last week’s blog, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/08/11/19-blue-ridge-mountains-trivia-questions/, were you able to answer?

#BlueRidgeMtnsOfNC #PostcardBook
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by Janet Morrison

I indicated that all the answers could be found in the vintage postcard book I wrote, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. These trivia questions (and the answers supplied in today’s blog post) are my way of celebrating the fifth anniversary of the publication of the book by Arcadia Publishing on August 25, 2014.

Here are the questions and answers

1.  Why was Grandfather Mountain named a member of the international network of Biosphere Reserves in 1992?  Because it supported 42 rare and endangered species. Just on that one mountain!

2. What does Linville Falls in North Carolina have in common with Niagara Falls?  They are both caprock waterfalls, meaning the top layer of rock is harder that the underlying stone. Erosion causes the waterfall to migrate upstream over time. It is believed that Linville Falls was once 12 miles downstream from its present location.

3.  How did Edwin Wiley Grove make his fortune which enabled him to build the Grove Park Inn in Ashevile, North Carolina?  He sold Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic.

4.  What part did the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) play in the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway during The Great Depression?  The men who were members of the CCC assisted with the paving and landscaping of the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a magnificent gift they left us!

5.  When George W. Vanderbilt purchased Mt. Pisgah in 1897, what grand plan did the mountain become part of temporarily?  The 125,000-acre Biltmore Estate. (It’s no longer part of the estate.)

6.  What groups of people were housed at Assembly Inn in Montreat, North Carolina in 1942?  290 Japanese and German internees.

7.  Jerome Freeman bought 400 acres of land in Rutherford County, North Carolina that included the Chimney Rock around 1870 for $25. How much did the State of North Carolina pay for Chimney Rock Park in 2007?  $24 million.

8.  What new breed of hunting dog was developed by a German pioneer family in the late 1700s in the Plott Balsams subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains?  The Plott Hound, which just happens to be the official State Dog of North Carolina.

9.  What is an early 20th century feat of engineering on the Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?  The road crosses over itself. This example of a helix is called “The Loop.”

10.  How fast can a black bear run?   30 to 35 miles per hour.

11.  It is illegal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to willfully get within how many feet of a black bear?  150 feet.

12.  What is the name of the 57,000 acres of land purchased by the Cherokee in the 1800s and held in trust by the United States Government?  Qualla Boundary

13.  Is Qualla Boundary technically a reservation? No, a reservation is land that the United States Government gives to an American Indian tribe. The Cherokees purchased their land.

14.  Did the Cherokee people lived in tipis in the 1700s and 1800s?  No, they lived in houses.

15.  What forest contains one of the largest groves of old-growth trees in the Eastern United States?  Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

16.  What hydroelectric dam was used in the 1993 Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive?  The Cheoah Dam

17.  What is the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States?  Fontana Dam.

18.  One of the oldest postcards in my book is of Cullowhee Normal School in the mid- to late-1920s. What is the name of that school today?  Western Carolina University.

19.  Started in 1935, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s “missing link” was completed in 1987. What is the connecting one-fourth-mile long piece that filled the “missing link” called? The Linn Cove Viaduct.

How did you do?

How many of the 19 questions did you answer correctly? I hope you enjoyed trying to answer the questions and seeing the answers today. If you want to learn more about the mountains of North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, please ask for The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison, at your local bookstore, online at Amazon.com, or purchase it directly from the publisher at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook.

The contract I signed with Arcadia Publishing was for five years, so you’d better get a copy of the book while it’s still being published. I don’t know if my contract will be extended.

Since my last blog post

I’ve finally gotten into a rhythm for writing the scene outline according to C.S. Lakin’s template. It sounds backward to be writing the scene outline after writing the book, but the questions asked in the template, along with five questions I added after reading a couple of articles by Janice Hardy, are making every scene in the book stronger. It’s slow going, but well worth the time and effort.

Due to technical problems, I was unable to include images of any of the postcards from my book in today’s blog post.

Until my next blog post

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, @janetmorrisonbk. If you’d like to follow my business page on Facebook, it’s Janet Morrison, Writer.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead and still listening to Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read 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

Feel free to let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter or Facebook how you did on the trivia questions. If you have any other comments or questions for me about the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, I’ll welcome and try to answer them.

Janet

19 Blue Ridge Mountains Trivia Questions

August 25, 2019 will mark the fifth anniversary of the publication of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. To mark this milestone, I’m testing your knowledge of some of the interesting facts I included in the book.

#BlueRidgeMtnsOfNC #PostcardBook
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by Janet Morrison

The book covers the 23 westernmost counties in North Carolina and the three counties in eastern Tennessee in which a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located. If you have the book, you have my permission to cheat. That’s only fair to those of you who purchased my book. I’ll ask a few questions. You’ll find the answers in my blog post on August 19, 2019.

Although most of the original postcards are in color, they appear in black and white in both of the book’s formats. I tried to include pictures of several of the postcards in today’s blog post, but due to technical problems I was only able to post one vintage postcard image.

Here are the questions:

1.  Why was Grandfather Mountain named a member of the international network of Biosphere Reserves in 1992?

#GrandfatherMtn #GrandfatherMountain
Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

2. What does Linville Falls in North Carolina have in common with Niagara Falls?

3.  How did Edwin Wiley Grove make his fortune which enabled him to build the Grove Park Inn in Ashevile, North Carolina?

4.  What part did the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) play in the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway during The Great Depression?

5.  When George W. Vanderbilt purchased Mt. Pisgah in 1897, what grand plan did the mountain become part of temporarily? 

6.  What groups of people were housed at Assembly Inn in Montreat, North Carolina in 1942?

7.  Jerome Freeman bought 400 acres of land in Rutherford County, North Carolina that included the Chimney Rock around 1870 for $25. How much did the State of North Carolina pay for Chimney Rock Park in 2007?

8.  What new breed of hunting dog was developed by a German pioneer family in the late 1700’s in the Plott Balsams subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains?

9.  What is an early 20th century feat of engineering on the Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

10.  How fast can a black bear run?  

11.  It is illegal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to willfully get within how many feet of a black bear?

12.  What is the name of the 57,000 acres of land purchased by the Cherokee in the 1800s and held in trust by the United States Government?

13.  Is Qualla Boundary technically a reservation?

14.  Did the Cherokee people lived in tipis?

15.  What forest contains one of the largest groves of old-growth trees in the Eastern United States? 

16.  What hydroelectric dam was used in the 1993 Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive?

17.  What is the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States?

18.  One of the oldest postcards in my book is of Cullowhee Normal School in the mid- to late-1920s. What is the name of that school today?

19.  Started in 1935, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s “missing link” was completed in 1987. What is the connecting one-fourth-mile long piece that filled the “missing link” called?

In case you’d like to take the easy way out and find the answers to all these questions in one book, you may order The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison, in paperback or e-book from Amazon.com, request it at your local bookstore, or order it directly from https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/. Time is short. I’ll supply the answers in my blog post next Monday, August 19.

The contract I signed with Arcadia Publishing was for five years, so you’d better get a copy of the book while it’s still being published.

Since my last blog post

I discovered that the links that I had on my blog to my presence on several social media networks were not working properly, except for the one to my Pinterest account. Therefore, I removed the links to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ll announce in a future blog post when those links are up and running again.

Until my next blog post

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, @janetmorrisonbk. If you’d like to follow my business page on Facebook, it’s Janet Morrison, Writer. If you’d like to follow me on LinkedIn, go to https://www.linkedin.com/in/janet-morrison-writer.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Searching for Sylvie, by Jean Kwok.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read 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

Please don’t include any of the trivia answers in your comments. If you want to indicate how many of them you think you know the answers to, you may indicate that number or the numbers of the questions you think you can answer.

Read my book or read my blog post next Monday for all the answers.

Janet

Mark de Castrique at Book Club

Mark de Castrique was the guest speaker Monday night at the February meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. I heard him speak at the public library in Mint Hill, North Carolina two or three years ago and was delighted for the opportunity to hear him speak again.

The book club’s book this month was one of Mr. de Castrique’s earlier books, The Fitzgerald Ruse. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, so that is the novel’s connection with Mr. Fitzgerald. Mr. de Castrique has a talent for taking a tidbit of a true story and weaving a fictionalized story around it using the back drop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is a native of Hendersonville, North Carolina, so he has a familiarity and understanding of the region and its wealth of stories.

Since I am a writer and an aspiring novelist, I was particularly interested in hearing Mr. de Castrique from a writer’s point of view. He offered a number of pointers for those of us who wish to improve our fiction writing skills. Some I have heard before but it is always helpful to hear them again.

1. Write what you know.

2. Avoid information dumps.

3. Have a character ask questions in order to get information conveyed.

4. Add background information here and there in the book.

5. If I, as the author, am not interested in what happens to my characters, that’s a good indication that readers won’t care what happens to them either.

6. Hang in there and write what you can each day. That page or two per day will eventually be a 400-page manuscript.

7. Every book has a theme. You might not know what the theme is when you begin, but you should know in the end. At that time, you can go back and add foreshadowing and details that reinforce the theme.

8. No one wants to be preached to in a novel.

9. Life doesn’t have to make sense, but a novel must make sense.

10. One reason people like fiction is because it has to be plausible. Life isn’t always plausible.

If you haven’t read any of Mark de Castrique’s books, I highly recommend that you give them a try. You will be entertained while learning something about the rich history of the mountains of North Carolina.