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 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

 

In Search of Grandma’s Chow-Chow

When I Googled “images of chow-chow,” I only found photos of chow dogs and pandas. (I’m not sure why a few panda pictures were scattered among those of dog, but that’s what I got.)  I wasn’t looking for dog pictures. I’m not talking about grandma’s lost dog. I’m talking about a condiment made up of green tomatoes, cabbage, onions, bell peppers, spices, and vinegar.

I finally found some pictures of chow-chow but, not wanting to risk breaking copyright laws, I chose not to include one in today’s post. Pictures are an important aspect of blogging, so I try to include at least one in each post.

But I digress.

Story’s inspiration

When fall came, my mother started looking for homemade chow-chow to buy. She liked to eat it along with turnip and mustard greens and black-eyed peas. That memory of my mother inspired me to write the following short story. Since it’s fewer than 1,000 words, it qualifies as flash fiction – which is something I didn’t think I was capable of writing!

The following story is pure fiction. I never knew either of my grandmothers. All names are fictitious. It’s all a bit of surprise to me. I never dreamed I’d write a story about chow-chow!

A Short Story/Flash Fiction:  “In Search of Grandma’s Chow-Chow”

Millie walked up and down the rows of tents at the farmers’ market. Her eyes quickly scanned each stall for canned homemade chow-chow. A stroke had left her mother unable to speak or write. The chow-chow recipe, which had been Millie’s grandmother’s, was trapped in her mother’s head, unable to get out.

She thought if she could find someone else’s chow-chow that tasted like her mother’s, maybe she could get the recipe. Nothing would please her more than to duplicate the special condiment that her mother liked so much.

Millie visited every farmer’s market, country store, and produce stand she found. She’d bought enough chow-chow and pickle relish in the last five years to sink a ship. Every time she came home with another jar of chow-chow, her mother’s eyes danced in anticipation.

“Maybe this will be the one, Mama,” Millie said one day as she held up the jar of chow-chow she’d bought that afternoon. Her mother smiled a lopsided smile and nodded in silence.

The next day Millie cooked pinto beans and cornbread. The latest jar of chow-chow was given a place of honor in the center of the table.

“Oh no. Not more chow-chow!” 14-year-old Darrell said. “I don’t think I can face it anymore.”

“You don’t have to eat it,” Millie said. “Just humor me and your grandmother, okay?”

Millie spooned a big helping of beans on her mother’s plate with a wedge of cornbread on the side. Then, with great fanfare, she topped the beans with a spoonful of chow-chow and put the plate in front of her mother. Millie waited expectantly, almost praying this would be “the one.”

Yet again, her mother struggled to get a spoonful of beans and chow-chow to her crooked mouth. After a few seconds of deliberate chewing, and with all eyes on her, she shook her head.

Millie slumped in her chair and let out an audible sigh. “I never thought it would be so hard to find chow-chow like Mama used to make.”

“Don’t give up,” Millie’s husband, John, said. “Maybe the next jar will be the charm.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Millie said. “I can’t give up now. Let’s drive to the mountains this Sunday to see the fall leaves. I bet I’ll find lots of good chow-chow up there.”

“It’s worth a try,” John said. “The trip might do us all good.”

The next Sunday, Millie packed a picnic lunch. The family went to the early worship service at their church before heading for the Blue Ridge Mountains. They stopped at every country store and produce stand by the side of the road. Millie left each one armed with at least one jar of chow-chow and a carefully written note giving the name and address of the person who made it.

At the last place they stopped, the shop keeper handed her a pre-printed piece of paper. “Here’s the name of the lady who made it,” he said. She folded it up without reading it and put it in the bag with the chow-chow.

The next morning, Millie lined up the new jars of chow-chow on the kitchen counter. She studied each one. She selected the jar she would open that night. When the family gathered for supper, all eyes fell on Millie’s mother. Darrell suggested that his father include in the evening’s blessing a plea asking God to let this be the last jar of chow-chow his mother would have to buy.

“God has better things to do with his time than worry about chow-chow,” John said. Darrell couldn’t help but wonder if his father secretly prayed for God to make this jar be “the one.”

Millie put a plate of greens and black-eyed peas in front of her mother and smiled. Her mother tasted the beans and chow-chow. A broad smile filled her face and she gave a slow but deliberate nod of her head.

“Eureka!” Millie shouted. She jumped up and gave her mother a big hug. Then she rushed to the kitchen counter and unfolded the note that accompanied that jar of chow-chow.

“Drum roll!” Darrell said.

“And the winner is . . .” John said.

“Marjorie Holbrooks of Shady Creek!” Millie said.

After supper, Millie took her cell phone out of her pocket and called the number on the piece of paper. “Mrs. Holbrooks?” Millie asked when a woman answered the phone. “You don’t know me, but I bought a jar of your chow-chow yesterday. It tastes just like what my mother and grandmother used to make. I wondered if you could give me the recipe.”

Mrs. Holbrooks told Millie that it was an old family recipe but she’d be happy to e-mail it to her.  Millie told Mrs. Holbrooks that it seemed like more than a coincidence that her chow-chow tasted just like the one that had been passed down in her family, too. They each named their mothers’ maiden names and grandmothers’ names only to discover a connection.

When Millie got off the phone she couldn’t wait to tell her mother about the conversation. “Guess what! Marjorie Holbrooks is the granddaughter of your Grandma Bradley’s cousin Rachel. She’s sending me the recipe tonight. It’s been passed down in her branch of the family, too.”

Millie’s mother smiled and a tear rolled down her cheek. She mouthed the words, “Small world. Thank you.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finished reading The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash last night and started reading The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain. I’m listening to A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles as I can find the time. Too bad I can’t read one book and listen to another one at the same time!

The Rocky River Readers Book Club will discuss Signs in the Blood, by Vicki Lane tonight. I read it a few years ago and immediately became a fan of this North Carolina writer. If you’re looking for good southern Appalachian Mountain fiction, I suggest you read this book. It is the first in a series by Vicki Lane.

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

Janet