Many Good Books Read in October!

Some months I get lucky with the books I get to read. October was one of those. I was overwhelmed with library books for which I reached the top of the waitlist. Several books had to go back to the library unread, so those remain on my to be read list.

Climbing Over Grit, by Marzeeh Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

Climbing Over Grit
Climbing Over Grit, by Marzeeh Laleh Chini and Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi

I have been following Laleh Chini’s blog, “A Voice from Iran” for quite a while, but I had somehow missed knowing that she was writing a book. When she announced that her book, Climbing Over Grit, was available on preorder, I immediately ordered it. Laleh has a gift for storytelling, so I knew her book would be good.

Little did I know that Laleh’s book was based on some experiences within her own family! The book is written in first-person point-of-view, but I still didn’t catch on that it was written in her mother’s voice until I came to a page well into the book that said something like, “The second daughter was named Laleh.” I gasped out loud! It was then that I couldn’t put the book down. I finished reading it at 4:30 in the morning.

I still cringe to think about some of Laleh’s family members being subjected to arranged child marriage and the abuse that often goes along with that practice.

Fortunately for her readers, Laleh got out of Iran at the age of 16 and came to the United States. She now resides in Canada. He photographs and Iranian folktales she shares in her blog have helped me get a picture of an Iran I didn’t know existed.

Climbing Over Grit is not a pleasant read, but I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the child bride culture of Iran. Her blog can be found at https://avoicefromiran.wordpress.com/.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

The Tattooist of Auschwitz
The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

The main character in The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, will haunt me for a long time. Ludwig “Lale” Sokolov was a Slovakian Jew taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Nazis. He was not a trained tattooist, but he found he could do the work. Anything to stay alive. He had to tattoo the identification numbers on the forearms of the prisoners at Auschwitz and Birkenau for the last two to three years of World War II.

One particular female prisoner named Gita caught his eye, and they began a love story. The promise of being together forever with each other helped keep both of them alive throughout their awful ordeals.

This is a story of courage, love, and man’s inhumanity to man. It is an international bestseller and is based on a true story. His position of some level of trust affords Lale the opportunity to come in possession of some money and jewels that were taken from other Jews upon their arrival at the concentration camps. He used those items in exchange for food for his fellow prisoners.

The author interviewed Lale and his descendants in order to weave Lale and Gita’s story into this work of fiction. Their story of suffering, courage, and love will stay with me for a long time. Even those of you who don’t normally read historical fiction might find this novel appealing.

Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini; illustrated by Dan Williams

My October 8, 2018 blog post, Words of Khaled Hosseini  was about his new children’s book, Sea Prayer. I invite you to read that post in case you missed it earlier.

I will not go into the details of Sea Prayer today, since I explored the book’s theme in that earlier blog post. Although it is a book for juveniles, I highly recommend it to people of all ages – to anyone old enough to have an understanding of what a refugee is.

The Devil and Webster, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I mention this book because the premise sounded promising. I tried two or three times to read it, but I just couldn’t get into it. I decided to list it today because it just might appeal to some of you. It is literary satire, so maybe I just don’t get the satire or didn’t read enough of it to catch on. The book has many five-star reviews. People seem to really like it or not like it at all. I read the first 25 percent of the book.

Lying in Wait, by Liz Nugent

Lying in Wait, by Liz Nugent
Lying in Wait, by Liz Nugent

After reading A.J. Finn’s recommendation for Liz Nugent’s Lying in Wait, I checked it out of the library. I had enjoyed Mr. Finn’s novel, The Woman in the Window, so his recommendation carried a lot of weight. I was not disappointed in this psychological thriller.

The first chapter of Lying in Wait is from the point-of-view of Lydia and opens with the following sentence:  “My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” That got my attention, so I kept reading.

Part I of the novel takes place in 1980. Each chapter was from the point-of-view of one of the characters, and the emphasis was on how Annie Doyle’s parents and sister responded to her unexpected disappearance. It is near the end of Part I when the reader finds out why Lydia’s husband killed Annie.

Part II follows each character as they continue to deal with the situation in 1985. You have Annie’s sister still demanding answers from the police over her missing sister, while Lydia and her son deal with the secret of Annie’s murder. To get into the details, I would have to reveal too much of the storyline, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, there are some interesting interactions between some of the characters.

Part III jumps to 2016 to pull together all the loose ends, and the ending might surprise you.

As a rule, I don’t like novels in which chapters alternate between various characters’ points-of-view, but this format worked for Lying in Wait. I want to read more of Liz Nugent’s books. She has won many awards for her writing in her native Ireland and, apparently, has a cult-like following.

My Dear Hamilton:  A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

My Dear Hamilton
My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

This historical novel told from the point-of-view of Eliza Schuyler, wife of Alexander Hamilton is a long but enjoyable read. At 642 pages, it’s the longest book I’ve read in quite a while. I must say I learned some things about Alexander Hamilton, and I learned a great many things about his wife. I really knew nothing about her before reading the book.

That said, it is a work of historical fiction, so most of Eliza’s feelings and emotions throughout the book fall into the fiction category. I appreciated the authors’ extensive notes at the end of the book where they told what was true, what was fiction, and what was adjusted chronologically to make the book work. I also appreciated the fact that they included in the book that Eliza grew up on a plantation that had slaves in the state of New York. Many people are not aware that some people outside The South owned slaves in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

It’s about time the women who helped found our nation got a little credit.

Since my last blog post

I attended the memorial service for a true American hero, Seville Schofield Funk, Sr. He served in the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Italy during World War II. In the line of service he sustained a broken ankle and went back into battle after a brief recovery. Later, he was shot in the left shoulder and returned to battle. Later, he was shot in the right shoulder and yet again returned to the front lines. I was honored to have known this unassuming man. When I go to my polling place to vote tomorrow, it will be because Mr. Funk and others like him have preserved my freedom to vote by their unselfish military service.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

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. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Have you read any good books lately? Have you read any of the books I read last month? If so, what did you think of them?

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 his first novel, I had to keep reminding myself that V.S.Alexander’s The Taster was a work of fiction. He 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

Can an Individual Make a Concerted Effort?

Can an individual make a concerted effort? I can hear what many of you are thinking:  Who cares?

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Who cares? Right?

I’m attempting to be a writer, so it’s my business to ponder such things. After reading three different times recently about someone making a concerted effort, it hit me that it just didn’t sound right.

“Concerted” comes from “in concert.” Can an individual be in concert with himself?

What did Google say?

I went to my friend, Google, to see what I could find on the subject. Grammarians say an individual cannot make a concerted effort because it takes more than one person to work in concert. Less picky people who took the time to comment online said a person can make a concerted effort if they put all they have into the effort. In other words, all their concentration, physical strength, mental capabilities, etc. can work in concert.

I’m not convinced. “He made a concerted effort” just doesn’t sound quite right to me.

I can hear what you’re thinking again:  Janet has too much time on her hands. No wonder she can’t finish writing her novel!

You’re right, but writers do have to consider such minute issues as they strive to choose exactly the right words.

Since my last blog post

Thank you, Ann G., Ann A., Cheryl, and David for signing up for my mailing list!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Several new people “liked” my January 29, 2018 blog post – the one about my wrinkled 65-year-old face – “Left in the dryer too long” including someone who sells wrinkle cream. I should have seen that coming.

I finished reading A.J. Finn’s debut psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window. If you like that genre, I highly recommend it.

I also finished reading The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy. I liked it, too. It’s about a family dealing with grief after the unexpected death of their toddler.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still reading Fighting to Win:  Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by fellow blogger David J. Rogers. I’m taking lots of notes, David, and the book has already helped me get some things accomplished that had been hanging over my head for a long time. I’m getting a lot out of this book!

I haven’t given up on finishing Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. I’m just having trouble getting to it and into it. I’ve started reading The Hope Chest, by Viola Shipman, for Rocky River Readers Book Club.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. (I hope I do, too!)

If you’d still like to sign up for my newsletter, please fill out the form below. I promise not to burden your inbox with a bunch of e-mails. I’m told I need to have a following before I get my novel published and that I need to send occasional newsletters to interested parties. Right now, I don’t have anything to put in a newsletter.

Thanks!

Janet

Reading and Writing in January 2018

January is over, so it’s time for me to “fess up” about how I spent the month. Perhaps a better way to say that is “what I accomplished.” In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I felt I needed to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. For January, I set a modest goal of adding 2,000 to the scenic plot outline for my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

My writing

For starters, I failed miserably on reaching my 2,000-word goal. What I did, though, was brainstorm about story location. I continue to wrestle with what direction to take in re-writing my historical novel manuscript. The working title remains The Spanish Coin.

Historical novel progress

In January I settled on a location for the story. At least, I hope I will not change from this latest locale. I did some 1700s research on the place and worked on the story’s timeline. Location plays an important role in historical fiction. The era for the novel is the 1760’s, which is a decade earlier than my original plan.

Spanish Coin location reveal

Curious about the story’s setting?  The Camden District of South Carolina. Choosing a location for the story has freed me to proceed with the outline.

Goal for February

I tend to write detailed outlines, so I’ll go out on a limb and set a goal of 6,000 words for February.

My reading

I got my concentration back and had fun reading in January. I read what I wanted to read instead of tying myself down to any particular reading challenge.

That said, I picked up the rules for the 2018 reading challenges for the public libraries in Harrisburg and Mint Hill (I couldn’t help myself!), but I don’t plan to let them dictate what I read. With 500+ books on my “want to read” list, though, I might meet those two challenges without really trying. Incidentally, even though I read seven books in January, my “want to read” list had a net gain of 39. I realize this is not sustainable. I would have to be a speed reader and live to be a centenarian to finish my ever-growing list.

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

The book title says it all. I took note of the suggested change for each week. This week seems like a good week to start, since I didn’t begin in January. This week’s small change:  Drink enough water to stay hydrated. I’m told I should drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. Since I normally drink less than half that amount, this constitutes more than a “small” change for me.

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

This latest John Grisham novel took a little different tack from his earlier books in that The Rooster Bar is about a group of law school dropouts practicing law without licenses. I found it to be more humorous than other Grisham novels I’ve read, but it was still full of suspense.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

I blogged about this book on January 22, 2018, so I direct you to that blog post if you missed it: (Works That Last.)

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan

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The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

I’ve been reading so many novels the last couple of years that I’d forgotten how long nonfiction book titles tend to be. Or maybe it’s just the three I read in January.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. Living in North Carolina, I have toured the Biltmore House four times. The first time was on a sixth grade field trip. Motion sickness on the bus as it wound around the endless curves on old US-74 east of Asheville is my main memory from that day, but I digress.

My other visits to the Biltmore Estate have been very enjoyable. Reading this book made me want to plan another trip to Asheville and tour the mansion again. It is a delightful book.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel was inspired by the shocking history of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the first half of the 20th century. It is a gripping story and is expertly written. It is not a happy read, but I highly recommend this book.

The King of Lies, by John Hart

This was the January book choice of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. The novel is set in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I was familiar with some of the streets and buildings referenced in the book. It’s fun sometimes to read a book set in a location you have visited.

I though Mr. Hart could have omitted some of the “woe is me” theme in the first third of the book. The narrator’s whining about the wealthy people in this small town got old after a while. If you’ll hang in there, though, you’ll probably get so involved in trying to identify the killer that you’ll get to the point you can’t put the book down. You’ll think several times that you’ve figured out the villain’s identity but, chances are, you haven’t.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

This novel has been on my “to read” list for several years, so I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally read it. It is set in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Nightwoods is a tale about a woman who unexpectedly “inherits” her deceased sister’s twin boy and girl. The children give their aunt/new mother a challenge every day – and then her late sister’s widowed husband/killer comes to try to get the large sum of money he thinks the children took with them. The children are wild and uncommunicative. Add to that the fact that the aunt has no idea why her ne’er do well ex-brother-in-law has suddenly shown an interest in his children and has come to hunt them down.

What about December?

I just remembered that I never did blog about the books I read in December. They were a mixed bag of novels:  The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich; and The Secret, Book and Scone Society, by Ellery Adams.

David Ignatius’s political thrillers never disappoint me. The Quantum Spy was no exception.

The last two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich disappointed me. I used to eagerly await her annual next installment of these funny novels, but “Twenty-Three” and “Twenty-Four” were too predictable.

The Ellery Adams novel is an entertaining read about four women who want to form a friendship, but each one is required to reveal a secret about herself before they can truly trust one another.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by my fellow-blogger David J. Rogers; The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy, which was recommended by my friend Karen; Beartown, by Frekrik Backman, which is the February pick for The Apostrophe S Coffee Chat online book community; and The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn. That’s about one book too many for me to read at the same time, but they are different enough that I’m not getting the story lines confused.

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

If you subscribed to my mailing list last week, you renewed my faith in mankind. Thank you, Vicki, Colby, Katrina, and Glen!

In case you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you have another opportunity to do so using the fill-in form below. I appreciate it!

Janet