3.5 of the 5.5 Books I Read in August 2019

Did you have as much fun reading in August as I did? I read some entertaining historical fiction and a couple of books that were not pleasant to read but needed to be read. Today’s blog post is about three-and-a-half of the five-and-a-half books I read last month. I’ll blog about the other two next week.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok

I took a break from historical fiction to read Searching for Sylvie, by Jean Kwok. Otherwise, I’ve sort of been swimming in a sea of World War I and World War II novels.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the secrets held within a family. The title comes from the main plot line of one sister leaving the United States to go to The Netherlands to look for her missing sister. One of them was raised in America by her biological parents. The other one is raised in The Netherlands by a loving grandmother and spiteful aunt.

Several characters are introduced who knew one of both of the sisters. Lots of surprises are revealed as the story unfolds and the sister who grew up in America is determined to find her lost sister who was last seen in The Netherlands.

My hat’s off to the author, Jean Kwok, for keeping all the saucers spinning on sticks until all is revealed in the end. (Those of you who grew up watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” on TV on Sunday nights will get my analogy.)

The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen

After reading The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen last year, I was eager to read her next standalone novel, The Victory Garden. This British author, who now lives in the United States, has written a great many books. She has written books in four different series and won numerous awards.

I haven’t read any of her serial books, but I really enjoyed The Tuscan Child (see my March 26, 2018 blog, ­­­https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/26/some-march-reading/) and The Victory Garden.

#HistoricalNovel The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen
The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen

A historical mystery set in England during World War I, The Victory Garden takes us into the lives of several young women from various economic backgrounds who join the Women’s Land Army. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I was immediately delighted to learn something new. With virtually all the young men off fighting the war, England was in dire need of able-bodied women to voluntarily join the Women’s Land Army and work on farms. Otherwise, there would be no food.

The book follows several of those young women but focuses on Emily Bryce, who was from an upper class family. Her parents were embarrassed for her to work on farms, but she turned 21 and was determined to do her part for the war effort and find her own way in the world.

Along the way, Emily makes some surprising friendships. You will cheer for her and grieve with her. You won’t soon forget her.

Oh – another thing I learned was how class-conscious the British were in the 1910s.

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

This is Colson Whitehead’s second novel. I enjoyed reading his debut novel, The Underground Railroad, a couple of years ago. Here’s a link to my March 3, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/03/what-i-read-in-february-2017/, if you want to read what I had to say about that book.

Mr. Whitehead’s inspiration for writing The Nickel Boys was the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. A The Tampa Bay Times’ investigative reporter blew the lid off that school horrible history in the early 2010s.

#HistoricalFiction The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys is divided into three parts. The first part is about the life of an African American teen named Elwood before he got sent to the reform school for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elwood worked and studied hard and was on the verge of going to college when his life turned upside down.

The second part of the book gives the somewhat gory details of Elwood’s life at the Nickel Academy. Turner is his best friend there. The white boys were segregated from the black boys. None of the boys were treated well, but the black boys caught the brunt of the beatings, torture, and “disappearances.”

The third part jumps ahead to life after reform school with some backstory of things that happened there. A lot of Part Three seemed disjointed to me but made more sense the longer I read.

Perhaps I was just on horrible reform school details overload by the time I got to Part Three, but it just didn’t hold my attention like the first two parts did. I persevered, though, and the last pages were good. I’m glad I finished reading it. I don’t want to give too much away, but Part Three includes the details of an escape Elwood and Turner made. It did not go well for one of them.

There was a reform (or “training”) school for boys about ten miles from where I lived as a child. It was run by the State of North Carolina, and some of the employees, house parents, and teachers at the school were people I saw every Sunday at church. I couldn’t help but think about the Stonewall Jackson Training School as I read The Nickel.

I hope to goodness it wasn’t operated like The Nickel – or the reform school the book is based on. Many of the boys at Jackson Training School were orphans and not juvenile delinquents. They learned farming, woodworking, and other trades that enabled them to get jobs when they completed their time there.

Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini, is a historical novel set in 1930s Germany.

#HistoricalNovel Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

I listened to half of Resistance Women but didn’t feel motivated to listen to the second half. I have a hunch there would have been a different outcome if I’d been reading the physical book. I wanted to like this book.

The main things I took away from Resistance Women were the numerous examples of the insidious way Adolph Hitler took over Germany in the 1930s. Each one sent off an alarm bell in my head for parallels in the United States of America today.

If not for any other reason, for that alone it was well-worth the ten hours I devoted to listening to the first half of the novel. I’ll give it another chance in printed form.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I look forward to reading more good books this month.

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

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

What have you read recently that you’d recommend to the rest of us?

Janet

Some March Reading

I usually wait until the first Monday of the next month to blog about books I read this month, but I’ve read so many good books in March I decided to split them up between today’s blog and my April 2, 2018 blog post.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

After reading Kristin Hannah’s best-selling novel, The Nightingale, last year, I eagerly awaited the release of The Great Alone. What a masterpiece! I don’t want to spoil the story for you if you haven’t read it.

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The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

I’ll just state the basic description – that it is the story of a troubled Vietnam War veteran and POW survivor who took his wife and daughter to Alaska to escape the craziness he saw in life in the lower 48 states.

Ill-prepared for life in the wilds of Alaska, things went from bad to worse for the family. Domestic abuse is a thread that weaves throughout the novel. Can love outlast the horrors this family lives with?

The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

This historical novel alternated between World War II and 1973. After the death of her father, 25-year-old Joanna travels from London to a remote village in Tuscany where her father’s fighter plane was shot down in 1944.

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The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen

Since her father’s death, Joanna has found an undeliverable and returned-to-send letter he wrote to an Italian woman named Sofia. In the letter, he references “our beautiful baby boy” who is hidden away where no one but he and Sofia can find him.

Joanna had no knowledge of this woman named Sofia until discovering the letter in her father’s belongings after his death. Who was Sofia, and is “our beautiful baby boy” a half-brother Joanna knows nothing about?

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

This historical novel was a difficult read for me because the subject matter was so bleak, violent, and sad; however, I’m glad I read it. I learned a great deal of history.

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White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

White Chrysanthemum is about man’s inhumanity to man – or more specifically, man’s inhumanity to woman. The novel was inspired by the plight of Korean girls and young women who were abducted by the occupying Japanese soldiers during World War II. The girls and young women were physically- and sexually-abused and were forced to be “comfort women” for the Japanese soldiers.

This is also a story of the human spirit and what it is able to endure due to the innate will to live. It is also about the love two sisters share for each other and how they long to be reunited.

It is not for the faint of heart, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the early- to mid-20th century history of Korean-Japanese relations. As recently as 2015, the treatment of Korean girls and women by Japanese soldiers from the late 1930s through the Second World War was being swept under the rug.

In 2015, the governments of Japan and South Korea agreed “to remove the Statue of Peace [in Seoul] and never speak of the ‘comfort women’ again” according to the timeline in the back of Mary Lynn Bracht’s book. Thanks to her novel, a whole new generation will learn about his piece of history.

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, by Anu Partanen

I checked this book out because the title intrigued me. The author grew up in Finland but moved to the USA as a young adult. This book is her perspective on the social and governmental differences between the two countries.

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The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, by Anu Partanen

The prologue was interesting in that Ms. Partanen expressed her surprise in finding that Americans are less free and independent than the people of her home country. Her opinion is that

  1. the fact that most Americans’ health care is dependent upon their employer, we in the USA are tied to our jobs;
  2. Americans are sometimes forced to stay in unhappy marriages because the income tax laws are written to reward couples filing jointly;
  3. the tax laws in America encourage young adults to depend upon their parents for paying for college and supporting them financially in other ways past the age of 18; and
  4. the policies of the US government saddle parents with too much expense in the raising of children and saddle too many middle-age adults with the financial burden of caring for their elderly parents.

 

Ms. Partanen boiled all this down to what she calls The Nordic Theory of Love.

My brief summary doesn’t do justice to this 450-page book, but maybe I have piqued your interest. I enjoyed a couple of days’ break from reading depressing World War II novels, but about halfway through Ms. Partanen’s book I decided I’d rather read fiction. Some short stories and novels were vying for my attention.

Since my last blog post

I’ve worked on letters to send to 40 bookstores to encourage them to place spring orders for my 2014 vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I’ve done a lot of reading, and I’ve studied book marketing and writing in deep point-of-view.

Until my next blog post

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I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline. Perhaps you’ll want to read one of the books I wrote about today.

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

Janet