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