Three Other Books I Read in March 2019

I had so much I wanted to say about the books I read last month, I had to divide my thoughts between two blog posts. Last Monday I wrote about three of the books I read in March [https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/01/this-is-not-an-april-fools-day-joke/], so today I write about the other three books.

Jacksonland:  President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep

Jacksonland, by Steve Inskeep

I can’t remember how I became aware of this book, and I don’t remember what I expected it to be. What it turned out to be was a real eye opener! I consider myself a bit of a student of history, but I had never read the details of how Andrew Jackson speculated on land and grabbed it up by the tens of thousands of acres as a result of the inside track he enjoyed.

The main things I knew about Andrew Jackson were:

  • He was born near the North Carolina – South Carolina border, so both states claim him as theirs;
  • His father died just days before he was born;
  • He was delivered by his Aunt Sarah Hutchinson Lessley, who just happened to be my 5th-great-grandmother;
  • He became famous for his service in the Battle of New Orleans;
  • He was the 7th President of the United States of America;
  • His image appears on the United States $20 bill; and
  • He is blamed for the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” as he forced them off their ancestral lands in western North Carolina and northern Georgia and into a grim and often fatal march to the Oklahoma Territory.

The more I learn about Andrew Jackson, the more I wonder why North and South Carolina fight over him. Let’s just let Tennessee have him, since that’s where he chose to build his estate called The Hermitage. The more I learn about him, the more I wish my ggggg-grandmother had delivered a president of better character. I don’t blame her, though. Her sister, Jean Jackson was in need of a midwife.

What I learned by reading Jacksonland:  President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep was that President Jackson not only forced the Native Americans off their lands throughout the Southeast, but afterwards he personally gained financially from purchasing thousands of acres of those lands. So did his friends and his wife’s nephew. That’s just the half of it.

Ignorance is bliss. I almost wish I hadn’t read the book.

No, I’m glad I did. I wish I’d known about all this thievery and fraud earlier. It’s amazing the details that are not included or are just mentioned in passing in history textbooks!

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

I listened to this historical novel on CD. It is based on the women who live(d) on the island of Jeju off the coast of Korea. The book covers nearly 100 years of life and changes on the island, from the 1930s, through Japanese colonialism, through World War II and the Korean War, to the 21st century.

On Jeju, women learn from a young age how to dive deep into the ocean to harvest certain fish and other sea life. They can hold their breath longer than any other people in the world. They are known as haenyeo. The women do this dangerous work, and their husbands raise their children.

This is a story of friendship and betrayal against a back drop of war and military occupation. I was mesmerized by The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See.

Due to spending so much time deep in the water, the haenyeo have hearing loss. For this reason, the older women speak loudly. It took me a while to get accustomed to the varying volume of this book on CD, as the narrator went above and beyond the call of duty in demonstrating how much louder the women spoke compared to the other characters. For that reason, it’s not the best choice if you like to listen to a book at bedtime or with ear buds. You, too, could suffer hearing loss!

Jackie Tales:  The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them, by Jackie Torrence

Jackie Tales, by Jackie Torrence

You might recall that I referenced this book in my March 12, 2019 blog post, “Two For Tuesday:  Two Books Written by Women of Color” (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/03/12/twofortuesday-two-books-written-by-women-of-color/.)

I also referenced The Importance of Pot Liquor, by Jackie Torrence in my blog post on February 19, 2019: “ Two for Tuesday:  Two Books that Remind Me of Someone.” Here’s the link to that post: https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/02/19/two-for-tuesday-two-books-that-remind-me-of-someone/ .

Jackie Torrence was a master storyteller and a reference librarian in High Point, North Carolina. This book includes 16 folk tales along with Ms. Torrence’s stage directions and sidebar comments for each story. I’d never in my life considered being a storyteller until I read this book. I don’t know that this is something I’ll pursue, but the book is so inspiring that it made me entertain the idea!

Even if you just want to be able to read stories to your children or grandchildren with more enthusiasm, facial expression, and use of your hands in a demonstrable way, you can benefit from this book. An alternative title for the book could have been, “The Many Faces of Jackie Torrence” because there are numerous up-close photographs of her extraordinarily expressive face as she told the stories.

In Jackie Tales:  The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them, Ms. Torrence explains what makes a good Jack Tale and what makes a good story. She writes about adjusting stories depending upon the age of her audience and how to (and how not to) hold children’s attention.

If you have an appreciation for the art of storytelling, you will enjoy this book. Look for a copy in used bookstore and online at used bookstores or consortiums such as Advanced Book Exchange.

I read one story each night before going to bed, and I hated to see the book end. It’s one I’ll definitely reread and enjoy just as much the second and third times.

Since my last blog post

I had the pleasure of attending Anna Jean Mayhew’s reading and book signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte on Thursday night. What an enjoyable evening it was as she read from and talked about her latest historical novel, Tomorrow’s Bread. More on that in my blog post on Monday, April 15.

I’ve had a net gain of 8,325 words to my The Doubloon manuscript, bringing my current word count to 30,325. I get to start on Chapter 8 today. I can’t wait!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I started reading The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander yesterday afternoon. After reading Mr. Alexander’s earlier novels, The Magdalen Girls in 2017 and The Taster last year, I was eager to read his recently-released novel, The Irishman’s Daughter. He writes extraordinary historical fiction.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“Two Books with Flowery Language.”  Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog. Here’s a link to her April 1, 2019 blog post in which she listed all the #TwoForTuesday prompts for the month of April: https://educatednegra.blog/2019/04/01/april-two-for-tuesday-prompts/.

Thank you for reading 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

Have you read any of the three books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

What are you reading, and would you recommend it?

Janet

Reading and Writing in February 2018

In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I expressed a need to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. I gave you an embarrassing writing progress report in my February 5, 2018 blog post (Reading and Writing in January 2018). February was productive, but not in word count.

My goal was to write 6,000 words in the rewrite of my novel in February. That just didn’t happen, but I nearly finished the character profiles and settled on the location and the theme. That might not sound like much, but it wasn’t easy. More on that later.

Writing Goal for March:  Finish writing the scenic plot outline

My reading in February

Although I read six books in February, my “want to read” list had a net gain of ­­16. Like I wrote on February 5, this trend is unsustainable. With so many good books being written, though, I don’t know how to reduce my list. In my younger adult days I didn’t make time to read fiction, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

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The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy

This was Ms. Duffy’s debut novel. It was published in 2017 and was recommended by my friend, Karen. Set in Maine, The Salt House follows each member of a grieving family the summer after the toddler in the family died unexpectedly. Each chapter is written from the point-of-view of a different family member. The father, the mother, and the two surviving daughters each handle their grief in their own way in this well-written novel. Grief can pull a family apart or pull them closer together. It can even erupt in violence.

The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

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The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

This debut novel by A.J. Finn hit the bestseller lists and hasn’t slowed down in popularity. This psychological thriller will keep you guessing. It will even make you doubt what you think you see, think you hear, and think you know. In the process, it is a study in agoraphobia.

The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman

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The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman

This is a novel about a woman with ALS and the items in her hope chest – items collected as far back as early childhood. Ill now with a terminal illness, she looks at each item and remembers what each one means and why she kept it. This was the book read by the Rocky River Readers Club in February.

Incidentally, The Hope Chest was written by Wade Rouse who adopted the pen name “Viola Shipman” to honor the memory of his grandmother.

Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers           

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Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers

This book was instrumental in getting me back to work on my novel. I wrote an entire blog post about it on February 19, 2018 (Using Samurai Techniques in Writing), so I won’t repeat my thoughts on the book here. Please read that earlier blog post, though, and see if it sounds like this book could help you.

In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende

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In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende

I gave In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende, five stars in my review on Goodreads.com. In the Midst of Winter weaves together the lives of strangers. Each of the protagonists have unfortunate backgrounds. They discover common ground and form a bond while getting deeper and deeper in covering up a murder.

Ms. Allende did a brilliant job gradually bringing in backstory that included revolution in Chile, human trafficking in the USA, the horrors many Latinos face as they desperately try to cross into the USA, and life in the shadows for people who have come to the USA illegally.

Many others on Goodreads.com have given this novel three stars, saying they were disappointed with it. Maybe it’s the history buff in me that prompted me to give it five stars.

In his November 21, 2017 review in The Washington Post, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/its-a-snowy-day-in-brooklyn-and-theres-love-in-the-air–and-a-body-in-the-trunk/2017/11/21/bb8643d0-cda2-11e7-81bc-c55a220c8cbe_story.html?utm_term=.3b398baedf24) Ron Charles wrote the following:

“The emotional range of Isabel Allende’s new novel is stretched so wide that it’s a miracle the book’s spine doesn’t break. We’re used to dark comedies, the ironic mingling of humor and despair, but In the Midst of Winter is a light tragedy, an off-kilter mix of sweetness and bleakness held together only by Allende’s dulcet voice.”

In the Midst of Winter was translated from Spanish to English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.

The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

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The Taster, by V.S. Alexander

I read V.S. Alexander’s debut novel, The Magdalen Girls last March and got my name on the wait list at the public library for his second book, The Taster, as soon as it appeared “on order” on the electronic card catalog. (See my April 1, 2017 blog post, The Authors I Read in March, if you want to read my thoughts on The Magdalen Girls.)

As with Alexander’s first novel, I had to keep reminding myself that The Taster was a work of fiction. Alexander writes so convincingly that I felt as if I were reading an eyewitness account.

The Taster is the story of a young woman in need of a job and living in Hitler’s Germany. The job she got was not a job she wanted. She was selected to be a food and drink taster for Adolph Hitler. Hitler was mortified of being poisoned, so all his food and drink had to be tasted in advance by a replaceable woman. If a taster died, she could be replaced. Hitler, of course, did not see himself as replaceable.

Since my last blog post

I have received helpful feedback from friends in Australia, Scotland, and Belgium after they read my February 26, 2018 post, Hook in Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods. Thank you, Chris, Iain, and Beth!

Chris Andrews immediately recognized my blunder in summing up the theme of my work-in-progress, The Spanish Coin, in one word. Thank you Chris, for pulling me out of the ditch and putting me back on track!

Thank you, Ann, for signing up for my planned future newsletters.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah and Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews. This is a collection of four sci-fi short stories by my Australian writer friend. For those of us in the USA, Chris’s e-book is available on Amazon.com.

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Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews

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The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

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

If you have not yet signed up for my planned future author newsletters, please take a minute to fill out the form below. I promise my newsletters will be few and far between and your email address will not be used by anyone but me. Thanks!

Janet

The Authors I Read in March

Today is the first day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge. The challenge is for a blogger to blog on 26 specific days in the month of April. If that weren’t enough, there is a big caveat:  Each day’s blog must be based on the next letter of the English alphabet in chronological order. Therefore, today’s blog has to have something to do with the letter “A.”

2017 A to Z Challenge Badge
Blogging from A to Z Challenge Badge 2017

Since my first blog each month is about the books I read in the preceding month, I’ve tweaked my usual post title to read, “The Authors I Read in March” instead of the usual, “What I Read in March.” Without further ado, let’s get to those authors and their books. I had a rewarding month of reading in March!

Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America

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One of the categories I included in my 2017 Reading Challenge was to read a book that might change my mind. Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson definitely fit the bill. Reading this nonfiction book still haunts me four weeks later. Page after page, it drove home to me how those of us who are white in America take for granted our white privilege. It even goes farther than that. For the most part, we aren’t even aware of our white privilege.

An example is that, as a small child, I was told by my parents that if I ever got separated from them out in public to look for a police officer. I was told that police officers were my friend. A police officer would always help me. It has taken me to middle age to recognize that children of color in America are not told that. Their parents and grandparents have not been able to trust law enforcement officers, so they cannot be told to automatically trust such people in authority.

If I am driving and see a police car in my rear view mirror, my eyes immediately drop to the speedometer even if I’m fairly certain I’m not speeding. For a split second, I’m afraid I might be doing something wrong. “Afraid” is probably too strong a word. It’s just a fraction of a second when I think I might get a speeding ticket, but with a glance at the dial on the dashboard I’m reassured that I’m not breaking any laws and I am perfectly safe. It is impossible for me to put myself in skin of a darker shade than my Scots-Irish heritage gave me. The emotions a person of color must feel when being approached by a police officer is something I cannot identify with because I am Caucasian.

These are just two examples. The roots of this problem run deep into the foundations of our country. Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson made me think about these issues in more depth than I had otherwise been forced to think about them. Just by being born with white skin in America has given me privileges that I have been oblivious to all my life. It is that white privilege itself that has made my oblivion possible.

It’s not enough for me to be aware of my white privilege. It is my responsibility to work for social justice.

Michael Eric Dyson is a sociology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. This is the first one of his books that I’ve read. I wanted to read it after seeing him interviewed by Tavis Smiley on PBS.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir book cover

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan is a 2017 novel that is getting much-deserved praise. I gravitated to it because it is a work of historical fiction. Set in the early days of World War II in England, it is a story of how a group of women found their voices and their strengths after all the able-bodied men in the village were called away to fight the Nazis. Each of the women came about this epiphany in her own way and at her own pace. Subjects such as abortion, black market dealings, and the British class system are among the topics woven into this novel.

A native of Kent, England, author Jennifer Ryan lives in the United States. Her earlier career was as a nonfiction book editor. She wrote The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir in the form of letters and documents, much in the vein of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. Like that 2008 novel, the characters I met in this debut novel by Jennifer Ryan will stay with me for a long time.

The Magdalen Girls

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The next book I read in March was The Magdalen Girls, by V.S. Alexander. It is not the kind of book I would say I enjoyed; however, the story was compelling and I had trouble putting it down. I will be haunted by the characters in this novel. It is a dark tale based on the homes for “wayward girls” in Great Britain in the 1960s and beyond. This story is based specifically in 1964.

The Magdalen Girls paints a painful picture of the nuns who ran this particular convent and “home” (“prison” would be more accurate!) for girls and women deemed too much of a temptation for boys and men. As with any good work of fiction, just when the reader thinks things can’t possibly get worse for 16-year-old Teagan and her fellow “Magdalens,” things get progressively worse until this reader can scarcely stand to turn to the next page. The Mother Superior/Sister Anne is hiding a secret that is tearing her to pieces. Unfortunately, her way of coping with her own demons is to heap abuse upon the girls and young women under her care.

Upon entering the confines of the convent, the girls are stripped of their dignity and their identities. They are assigned new names and are never to refer to themselves or others again by their birth names. The book shines a bright light on the double standard held worldwide that girls and women must always live to a higher standard than boys and men and bear the punishment even when the male is an adult and the female is a minor.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Taster, due out in January, 2018, is about one of the women who had to taste Adolf Hitler’s food in order to ensure that he wasn’t being poisoned. I’ll be on the wait list for it as soon as it shows up in the public library’s catalog. That’s just how good Ms. Alexander’s writing was in The Magdalen Girls. It wasn’t a pleasant read for its subject matter, but the writing was so vivid that I felt like I was imprisoned at the convent along with Teagan, Nora, Lea, and all the others.

Right Behind You

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The next book that rose to the top of my wait list at the public library was Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner. Although this is her seventh and latest (2017) installment in her Quincy and Rainie FBI profiler thrillers series, it is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Gardner. This novel made me want to read more of her books. Perhaps I should go back and read the first book in this series, The Perfect Husband, which was published in 2004.

Right Behind You is the frightening tale of a brother and sister who are separated from each other into numerous foster homes after the murder of their father. The girl is nurtured by loving foster parents, while the boy is not so fortunate. He never receives the psychological care and support he needs as a result of his father’s gruesome death. That propels him onto a path of trouble, violence, and the over-riding guilt of not being able to protect his little sister.

I don’t want to reveal other details of the book, in case you haven’t read it yet but wish to do so.

One of my objectives when I created my 2017 Reading Challenge was to read many authors I had not read before. That’s what prompted me to look for a book by Lisa Gardner. I can recommend her to other readers now. I’ll read more of her novels as time allows. “So many books! So little time!”

Chasing the North Star

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For the March meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club, each member of the group was asked to read any book of their choice written by Robert Morgan. I’ve read a number of novels by this North Carolina author, in addition to Boone:  A Biography, which is a biography of Daniel Boone. For book club, I read Morgan’s latest novel, Chasing the North Star.

A slave on a plantation in South Carolina, Jonah runs away on his 18th birthday. The book follows Jonah and a female runaway slave, Angel, on their dangerous trek north to freedom. At times, the story got slowed down with details of the tree branches encountered as one runs through the woods. That aside, I soon became invested in both Jonah and Angel as I cheered them on and tried to will them to reach Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada.

Robert Morgan will be the guest speaker at the public library in Concord, North Carolina on Saturday, April 22, 2017. It was in preparation for that author event that Rocky River Readers chose to read books by him in March. I look forward to hearing Mr. Morgan talk about his writing.

My next blog post

My next blog post is scheduled for Monday, April 3, and it must have something to do with the letter, “B.”

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading The Heavens May Fall, by Allen Eskens.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet