6 Books I Read in March 2021

I didn’t think March could match February in the books I got to read, but I was wrong. Good books just keep being published, and I’m having a wonderful time reading them.


The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah

What a wonderful historical novel! In my opinion, The Four Winds is even better than Ms. Hannah’s 2015 novel, The Nightingale.

The Four Winds plunges the reader into the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression and never lets go. It’s been decades since I read The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, but The Four Winds put me in the dust, grit, and terror of that time even more than the Steinbeck classic. Maybe that has something to do with my age when I read each book, but somehow The Four Winds made a stronger impact on me.

This novel follows Elsa, a young woman starved for love. She throws caution to the wind, for once in her life, and it turns out to have dire consequences. I don’t want to give the story away, so I’ll just say it follows Elsa through the Dust Bowl in Texas and a desperate journey to California in hopes of a better and a healthier life. The book illustrates the difficult lives of migrant workers and how promises and dangers of unionization in the 1930s. There are strong secondary characters in the book.

I blogged about The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah in my June 2, 2017 blog post, You Need to Read These Books! and The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah in my March 26, 2018 blog post, Some March Reading, in case you want to know what I thought about them.


Daylight, by David Baldacci

Does Atlee Pine find her sister?
Daylight, by David Baldacci

If you’ve been following David Baldacci’s Atlee Pine series, you’ll love this book. This novel reveals many details about Atlee’s parents and childhood. She continues to search for her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted from their bedroom when they were six years old. Her journey takes her into some very dark places and danger lurks at every turn.

Will Atlee find Mercy in Daylight? You need to read it for yourself to find out! This is Baldacci at his best.


52 Small Changes for the Mind, by Brett Blumenthal

52 Small Changes for the Mind, by Brett Blumenthal

This is a self-help book that probably should be read a week at a time over 52 weeks, but I had checked it out from the library. I read it over several days and took notes so I can slowly absorb the points it makes that I can benefit from. Many of the recommendations are things I’m already doing, but several really stepped on my toes and got my attention.

Here are a few examples from the book:

Week 9 – “Kick indecision.” Don’t waste time trying to make the perfect choice.

Week 14 – “Silence your inner critic.”

Week 15 – “Go beyond your comfort zone.”

Week 27 – “Minimize screen time.” (I thought this just applied to teens and young adults who spend too much time on their cell phones, but this segment made me realize that I’m guilty of spending too much time on the computer and using my tablet.

Week 39 – Recognize your fears and confront them.

Week 49 – “Deal with [your] demons.”

There are helpful tools and resources at the back of the book.


Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende

The Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende

This turned out to be a surprisingly short book. I checked it out as an MP3 from the public library and listened to the entire book in an afternoon.

Ms. Allende begins the book with some experiences from her childhood and life in several countries, but the bulk of the book is about the status of women throughout the world.

She addresses all manner of abuses women endure at the hands of men and sometimes at the hands of other women. She writes about how tradition perpetuates the practice of female mutilation in parts of the world, how women are invisible in some regions due to Islamic law and practice, and how female babies are not valued and are sometimes killed in some cultures and countries simply due to their gender. She addresses human trafficking. She writes about how women the world over must struggle for every inch of progress they make in the business world.

Ms. Allende established The Isabel Allende Foundation in 1996 to pay homage to her daughter, Paula, who died at the age of 29 in 1992. The foundation works for the empowerment of girls and women through nonprofits in Chile and the San Francisco Bay Area. To read more about the foundation, go to https://isabelallende.org.


In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

I think I’ve read all of Erik Larson’s books now, until Thunderstruck is released later this year. Yes, I’m on the waitlist for it at the public library.

My earlier attempt to read In the Garden of Beasts didn’t work out. I just couldn’t get into the book. Although the premise of this book should be equally as gripping as his other books, even the second time around it didn’t hold my interest quite as well as Isaac’s Storm (Three Books Read in December 2020) or Dead Wake: The Last Crossing the Lusitania (4 Books I Read in February 2021.)

In the Garden of Beasts is the story of William Edward Dodd, US Ambassador to Berlin from 1933 until 1937, during the rise of Adoph Hitler. His mid-20s daughter, Martha – who is estranged from her husband — accompanies him and becomes quite a liability as she soaks in the nightlife of the city and forms a romantic relationship with a Russian.

Dodd was a professor, a thrifty, unassuming man – much the opposite of his daughter. He was the butt of jokes among his peers in Berlin because he insisted on driving his old car and wearing the clothes he’d worn as a professor back in the Midwest. Martha inherited none of her father’s personality traits.

This is a nonfiction book, meticulously researched, as are all of Erik Larson’s books. I learned a lot from the book. It was interesting to get a glimpse of the rising of the Third Reich from the perspective of an American living in Berlin.

 


The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only

Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell

FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
The Train to Crystal City, by Jan Jarboe Russell

You may recall that in my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Books I Read in February 2021, one the books I wrote about was the novel The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner.

As soon as news broke that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, the lives of all Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent were at risk. The FBI started arresting the men for no reason other than their ancestry.

I learned a lot from this book. One thing I hadn’t known about was the Asian Exclusion Act, passed in 1924, which made it illegal for Japanese immigrants to become US citizens.

Here’s a quote from pages 28-29 of the book about the steps President Franklin D. Roosevelt took to create a vehicle through which a hostage exchange program could be put into place in the event the United States entered World War II:

“On September 1, 1939, the day German tanks, infantry, and cavalry invaded Poland with 1.5 million troops, Roosevelt created a highly secretive division within the Department of State called the Special Division. He ordered this division to identify American civilians… who were currently in Japan and Germany and who would be in danger when the United States joined the war…. More than 100,000 American civilians were in harm’s way. A few months later, Roosevelt authorized the Special War Problems Division to find Japanese and Germans in America and in Latin America who could be used as hostages in exchange for the more valuable of the Americans…. In 1940, [FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover installed the first group of FBI agents in Latin America. Based on the FBI reports, Roosevelt was convinced that Germans and Japanese in Latin America were a direct threat to hemispheric security.”

In addition, FDR formed an agreement with Peru that paved the way for 1,800 Japanese Peruvians with no ties to the U.S. to be brought to internment camps in Texas and other states. Pressure was put on other Latin American countries to do the same. All except Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil complied and deported Germans. Those three nations had internment camps of their own.

The men held in the internment camps were given an ultimatum. If they wanted to be reunited with their families — and these reunions had to take place inside the camp at Crystal City, Texas – they had to sign papers stating that they would relocate to their ancestral home country after the war. Imagine living for decades in the United States and then having to relocate to Germany or Japan as soon as World War II was over. Families were forced to make unimaginable choices in order to stay together.

I could go on and on, but perhaps I’ve given you enough detail that you will want to read the book for yourself. It was a real eye opener for me!


Until my next blog post

How is D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Month going for you? I hope you have one or more good books to read this month.

Spend some time enjoying a hobby this week.

Keep wearing a mask, even if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, so we can get back to doing all the things we like to do – like seeing relatives we haven’t seen in almost 18 months.

Note: National Library Week in the USA started yesterday. Support your local public library!

Janet

You Need to Read These Books!

I had another good month of reading in May. I’m on a roll for 2017! If I were a faster reader, I could devour more books. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy as many as I can.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

I’m running out of superlatives for the books I’ve read this year. I kept hearing about A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, so I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. It’s a popular book, so it took a while for my name to gravitate to the top of the list.

a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_lg

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At times outrageously funny and at times heartwarming and touching, it held my interest from start to finish. Ove is a 59-year-old man. I could see my father, my brother, and even myself in him. I could see myself in his late wife when he recalled how it drove him up the wall because she delighted in planning the details of a trip to the extreme. That’s me! Thank goodness I have a sense of humor! Poor Ove is at odds with the world and having trouble keeping up with the modern world. For the most part, he’s not even trying to keep up.

The author, Fredrik Backman, is from Sweden, where his books have gained much acclaim. I am amazed at how well the humor in this book translated so well from Swedish into English. Although I don’t speak or read Swedish, I don’t believe the book lost anything in the translation. I look forward to reading Mr. Backman’s other books.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day was approaching when I was reading this book, or maybe the sentence would have struck me like a ton of bricks any time of the year. Ms. Picoult has an uncommon gift when it comes to writing. Her books tackle some of the most heart-wrenching issues of our day, and she has a wonderful way with words.

small-great-things-hc-400w

I featured the following sentence in my Being the Balloon blog post on May 5, 2017:

“What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”   – from Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

The context of that sentence is that Ruth, the protagonist who is a seasoned labor and delivery nurse, a mother, and the widow of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan, reacts to the death of her mother with, “What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”

I highly recommend Small Great Things. In it, Ms. Picoult takes on the issue of race in America, and she has an uncanny talent for getting inside the skin of individuals from one end of that spectrum to the other in Small Great Things. The line that I focused on from the book in my blog on May 5 speaks to the humanity of us all.

In a nutshell, Small Great Things is about an African-American nurse in Connecticut who is barred from caring for the newborn infant of a white supremacist couple. Author Jodi Picoult masterfully writes from the point-of-view of the nurse, the white-supremacist father, and the white lawyer who defends the nurse. There is an explosive trial during which all kinds of raw emotions erupt. I think we all can learn some life lessons by reading and pondering Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult!

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

I kept hearing good things about this book, which had been translated into English from its original German. I finally got it from the public library, but with too many other books to read and a lot I was trying to learn about the craft or writing. Therefore, I only got 40% of the book read before I had to return it to the library for the next person on the wait list. I will definitely check it out again so I can finish it.

index

The Hidden Life of Trees:  How They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World might not appeal to everyone, but I thought it was very interesting. That might be because I grew up and again live out in the country. My parents instilled an appreciation and respect for trees in us. We have a variety of trees in our yard – dogwood, pine, ash, poplar, cedar, several varieties of oak, mulberry, sycamore, black walnut, sweet gum, holly, persimmon, and maple.

I thought I knew a lot about trees until I started reading Peter Wohlleben’s book. I now know that there’s a whole world out there I can’t see or hear. The book explains how certain tree species work together and how other tree species work against one another. It talks about how trees pump water out of the ground. It talks a lot about fungi and how fungal networks underground help trees in numerous ways. It really is quite fascinating!

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I highly recommend The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. It is a historical novel about two sisters in France during the German occupation in World War II. The sisters cope with the occupation and resulting cruelties of war very differently.

Nightingale-PB-658

One sister joins the French Resistance and risks her life helping shot down Allied airmen across the Pyrennes and into Spain. The other sister’s nerves and wits are pushed to the limits as two German officers are billeted in her home. The book was inspired by a 19-year-old Belgian woman, Andrée De Jongh, who created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France.

This book will pull on all your emotions. When the characters are cold and hungry – which was most of the time – you will feel cold and hungry, although I’m certain that I truly can’t imagine the level of hunger or fear the people who lived through the ordeal actually endured.

When we study World War II or hear stories about it, the emphasis is almost always on the battles. The Nightingale gives a paints a picture of life on the home front in France. It was this month’s book for discussion by Rocky River Readers Book Club. Everyone at our meeting had only praise for the book – how much it taught us and how well-written it was.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

This historical novel is Yaa Gyasi’s debut as a fiction writer. It is different from any novel I’ve ever read. It is set in Africa. As part of my 2017 Reading Challenge I wanted to read a book set on each of the continents this year, so I was drawn to this novel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish reading it before it was due at the public library.

9781101971062

Each chapter is about a different member of this family. It is about family ties and the horrible conditions in the slave trade. It puts a human face on slavery – a subject we tend to think of in terms of numbers and not the families that were torn apart in Africa. If I get a chance, I’d like to check this book out again.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

Like Homegoing and The Hidden Life of Trees, I didn’t get to finish reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane before it had to be returned to the library. I couldn’t renew any of the three books because there were people on the wait list. The part of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane that I got read was fascinating in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese. I had no idea!

51nbXr3ZbXL._SY346_

The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation.

There is a ray of hope, though, because the girl’s teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I have come to the conclusion this week that I am trying to read too many books and not spending enough time on my writing. My goal in June is to strike a happy medium.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I’m writing bios of my characters in the “new and improved” The Spanish Coin.

Janet

A Different Perspective on Storytelling

I read a guest blog post by storyteller E.M. Welsh on May 8, 2017. It was posted on Kristen Kieffer’s Well-Storied.com blog [https://www.well-storied.com] and addressed writer’s ego. I was interested in the topic, so I read the entire blog post. The post prompted me to go to Ms. Welsh’s website. I signed up for her weekly e-mails because what she had written gave me a different perspective on storytelling.

A-Different-Perspective

Quoting from an e-mail I received from E.M. Welsh a few minutes later:

“You might think you know what a “storyteller” is, but over at emwelsh.com we have a different idea about the definition, and that idea is the core of my website.

“A storyteller is someone who loves storytelling in all forms. This means not just novel writing, like what Kristen [Kieffer] teaches, but screenwriting, playwriting, and even video game writing as well.

Ms. Welsh continued, “Because of this love of all mediums, the storyteller always thinks in terms of what they can do to tell the best story possible, not to do what is considered comfortable. So, if that means writing a screenplay instead of a novel, even though they’re more familiar with prose, they’ll do it if it means telling a better story.”

I must admit that, although I wrote two historical plays for my church’s 250th anniversary in 2001, since then I have thought of myself as an aspiring novelist. Ms. Welsh’s e-mail statements and additional information on her website and in her free downloadables made me stop and consider how limiting that mindset (the “aspiring novelist” one) can be.

In a nutshell

Ms. Welsh’s theory is that the story dictates the format. I had never looked at it that way, so it is interesting and enlightening to consider. What this boils down to is the fact that the story is the important thing. Not the writer, but the story.

The story tells the writer whether it is a novel, a screenplay, a play, or a video game.

Looking at a story from this perspective is both challenging and freeing for a writer.

Am I writing because I want to be a writer, or am I writing because I am a writer?

In other words, am I in love with the dream of what it would be like to see my name as author of a book, or am I compelled to write because that is what I am driven to do?

Kristen Kieffer and E.M. Welsh warn us not to let ego get in the way of writing.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finished reading The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (excellent!) and am currently reading Homegoing, by Yaa  Gyasi.

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

Janet

Extreme Abbreviation

 

overwhelmed

Today I’m giving you a glimpse of what I deal with on a daily basis while I attempt to be a writer. No one told me I would have days like this back in 2001 when I took that fiction writing course.

Bots

I received an e-mail from LinkedIn. It mentioned “productivity bots.” I Googled that, since I didn’t know what it was. In addition to being the larva of the botfly, a bot can be an app that performs an automated task. I even heard bots mentioned in a recent U.S. Senate hearing. They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!

ROI

On May 9 I received an e-mail from Hootsuite’s Global Webinar Team. The headline was, “Prove the ROI of Your Social Strategy Tuesday, May 23, 2017 11am PT/2pm ET.” Nowhere did the e-mail explain what ROI is, so I “Googled” it and learned that ROI is Return on Investment.

I suppose anyone who didn’t already know that didn’t need to register for the webinar. Or perhaps I should register. Maybe I would learn how my minimal financial investment in social media is translating into readers and followers. Or maybe not.

Lead Gen Tips

Someone followed me on Twitter. His profile said he offers “lead gen tips.” I had to Google that, too, because I didn’t have clue what it meant. Since my search brought up 10,800,000 results, I must be the last person on Earth to know that “lead gen tips” is short for “lead generation tips.” With that knowledge, I knew a little more than I had before, but not much.

The “lead gen tips” Google results had titles that contained words and phrases such as “The Best,” “A Complete Guide,” “30 Actionable,” and “63 Lead Generation Strategies.”

That last one came from a person or company called Marketing Wizdom. I don’t know about you, but I’m leery of people who deliberately misspell words in a company’s name or elsewhere. I became aware of the dangers in this years ago when my sister was a literacy tutor. It’s inconsiderate to people who are struggling to learn English or who are learning to read to misspell words. But I digress.

Other search results included the following:  “30 … Tips & Tricks,” “32 Clever,” “Best… Tips and Tricks,” “4 Tips,” “5 … Tips,” and “10 Tips.”

That was just on the first screen. I stopped there.

I couldn’t help but notice that all the websites listed above got the memo but the last one. That was the memo saying you’ll get more hits if you don’t put “10” in your blog post title.

When I got to the bottom of the screen, I noticed that one of the “Searches related to lead gen tips” was “lead generation definition.” Now we’re getting somewhere! I clicked on that and the definition that appeared in the little box on the screen stated, “the action or process of identifying and cultivating potential customers for a business’s products or services.” Okay. Now I understand “lead gen tips.”

Extreme Abbreviation

Something else I understand is that I will never be able to keep up with today’s business and computer jargon. I’ll keep trying, though. Just like taking shorthand in high school (yes, I’m that old!) ruined my handwriting, I’m afraid texting has resulted in extreme abbreviation in all forms of communication. (Is “extreme abbreviation” a term, or did I just coin it?)

If you liked today’s blog post, I invite you to read my May 9, 2017 post, What is a Conversion Habit and Do I Need One?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, for Monday’s book club meeting while I’m trying to finish reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. I’m also reading World of Toil and Strife, by Peter N. Moore, for research purposes. I’m also still reading The Source, by James A. Michener, when I have time. At this rate, it will take me a year to read the entire book!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and don’t have to spend as much time as I do using search engines to translate abbreviations and jargon.

Janet

P.S.  I think all the images I’ve included in my blog posts until today were photographs I had taken. I discovered a free stock photo website, Unsplash.com, a couple of days ago. Today’s image is from that site and was taken by Pim Chu of Thailand.