The Other Five Books I Read in February

Last Monday I blogged about five of the ten books I read last month. Today I’m sharing my thoughts about the other five books I read in February. Four of them are nonfiction. Any month I get to read ten books is a good month!

George Washington’s Secret Six:  The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

George Washington’s Secret Six, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

I really liked this book! I was intrigued by the title. Although I always liked studying American history and minored in history in college, this book was full of information I’d either forgotten or never knew.

I’m going to show my ignorance here. The chapter about Benedict Arnold was especially enlightening. We all (I hope!) learned in elementary school that he was a traitor during the American Revolution. I realized when I started reading the chapter about him that that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know what he did to betray America. If you don’t know the story, I suggest you read this book or do other research on your own. You might be surprised what you learn. Or, maybe I’m the only one who didn’t learn this bit of history.

It saddened me to learn that one of the six American spies was a woman whose name is lost to history. She is only remembered today as Number 355. Each of the spies had a three digit number, just like James Bond of 007 fame! Number 355 was found out by the British and taken prisoner on a ship in New York harbor. It isn’t known if she survived her ordeal as a prisoner of war.

Why are the contributions made by women swept under the rug and not mentioned in history books? I know the answer. I’m just throwing the question out in frustration for you to ponder.

In the Woods, by Tana French

In the Woods, by Tana French

I kept seeing publicity for and reviews for Tana French’s new book, The Witch Elm, and I realized I’d never read any of her books. Instead of starting with her latest, I decided to read In the Woods, which is the first book in her Dublin Murder Squad Series. It was published in 2007, and is set in the Dublin, Ireland area in 1984 and 2004.

The book begins in 1984 with the disappearance of two children and the survival of one of their companions. Then the story shifts to 2004 to Detective Bob Ryan, who sees too many similarities between his experience as that survivor and the mystery of a missing 12-year-old girl.

Bob Ryan keeps his past a secret as he and fellow-detective Cassie Maddox try to solve the girl’s disappearance. Ryan hopes in the process they will also solve the mystery of his own experience as a young boy.

That said, I did not finish reading In the Woods. The premise held such promise, but one-third of the way into the book I lost interest in the conversations the characters had that did not seem to move the story along. I wanted to like the book and read the rest of the series. But alas, there were too many other books calling my name.

Building a Story Brand:  Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

This book caught my attention because it had “Story Brand” in the title, but I almost didn’t read it since it had “Customers” in the subtitle.  Everywhere the book said, “customer,” I mentally substituted “reader.” That worked pretty well in most cases.

I was unable to download an image of the book for my blog post today.

Here are a few takeaways from the book:

“The fact is, pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things.”

“The reality is we aren’t just in a race to get our products to market; we’re also in a race to communicate why our customers need those products in their lives.” (In other words, my challenge is not only getting my novel published, I must also get across to potential readers why they will benefit from reading my book.)

“The first mistake brands make is they fail to focus on the aspects of their offer that will help people survive and thrive.” (In other words, how will reading my novel help the reader thrive? Oh my!)

“The second mistake brands make is they cause their customers to burn too many calories in an effort to understand their offer.” (In other words, I need to be able to “pitch” my novel is as few words as possible.)

“In a story, audiences must always know who the hero is, what the hero wants, who the hero has to defeat to get what they want, what tragic thing will happen if the hero doesn’t win, and what wonderful thing will happen if they do.” (I knew that about stories, but I didn’t know the same was true in retail.)

“If you confuse, you lose.” (Just because I know what I’m trying to say or write doesn’t mean anyone else understands it.)

Becoming, by Michele Obama

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

This was a book that I listened to. It was read by Michelle Robinson Obama, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her talk about her growing up years, college years, working so hard to excel in law school, meeting Barack Obama, working in a big law firm and coming to the realization that she was not going to be fulfilled by practicing law, finding a new career path, the struggles of trying so long to have children before Malia and Sasha finally came along, being under a microscope while living in the White House, and how much it hurt when people told lies about her husband and herself.

I know some people do not like Michelle Obama, and I don’t understand why. They might have a better opinion about her if they read – or better yet, listened to – Becoming. I enjoyed every bit of it!

Red Notice:  A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder

Red Notice, by Bill Browder

This book was recommended by one of my loyal blog readers, Alison. (She has a keen sense of humor and often reveals it in her blog, “A Pierman Sister” — https://piermanparis.com/.)

Many of the details of how venture investing works were beyond my interest or understanding, but I couldn’t seem to stop reading it.

This is the story of the author’s experience in the world of high finance in eastern Russia. What I know about high finance could easily fit on the head of a pin. I’ve never really needed to know the details of high finance. I don’t move in those circles. Nevertheless, the book is intriguing and sheds some timely light on current USA-Russia interactions.

Red Notice gives insightful background about how Russia transitioned from communism to capitalism and why capitalism doesn’t work in Russia the same way it works in America. There is a different mindset in Russia after decades of communist rule and thought.

I’ll share a few quotes from this political thriller:

“It bears mentioning that in Russia there is no respect for the individual and his or her rights. People can be sacrificed for the needs of the state, used as shields, trading chips, or even simple fodder. If necessary, anyone can disappear.”

“The moral is simple:  when it comes to money, Russians will gladly – gleefully, even – sacrifice their own success to screw their neighbor.”

“The major downside to what I was doing was that I was seriously disrespecting a Russian oligarch in public, and in Russia that had often led to lethal results in the past. The imagination is a horrible thing when it’s preoccupied with exactly how someone might try to kill you.”

Seizing an opportunity that was too good to pass up, Mr. Browder founded what was to become the largest investment fund in Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union. Quoting from Goodreads.com:  “But when he exposed the corrupt oligarchs who were robbing the companies in which he was investing, Vladimir Putin turned on him and, in 2005, had him expelled from Russia.”

Mr. Browder’s offices in Moscow were raided in 2007. His attorney was arrested and eventually murdered by prison guards in 2009. Mr. Browder wrote this book in an effort to bring justice for his deceased lawyer and to expose what takes place in Russian business dealings right up to Vladimir Putin.

This book should give us pause.

Since my last blog post

Two days this past week, no one from the United States has looked at my blog. What’s with that?

Carolyn W. and her team at WordPress.com continued to work on the problem I was having with the “like” buttons on other people’s blogs. They didn’t stop until they’d figured out that it was a browser issue. Now instead of using Firefox, I must use Chrome. Kuddos to WordPress.com’s support chat for getting to the bottom of this!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ll finish reading The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber today. I’ve enjoyed it. It is set in what is now Capitol Reef National Park in Utah – a place I had the pleasure of visiting in 2002.

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

Look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow:  Two Books Written by Women of Color. Thank you for providing the writing prompt, Rae, in “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog.

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 five 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

FYI, Other WordPress Bloggers

In case you’re having a problem with “Like” button: After two days (or more) of not being able to leave a “Like” on other people’s blogs, I finally asked the kind support staff at WordPress what I was doing wrong.

Someone answered me right away on Chat and said they’re making some changes to the code that governs the “Like” button, so that service has been and will be erratic for a while.

Janet

“On a third-floor ledge, threatening”

“On a third-floor ledge, threatening”

Do I have your attention? Good! That’s the purpose of a hook in a novel. I made a note of this one when I read Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich in 2015:

“Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault.” – Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

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Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

After reading that opening sentence, you have to keep reading. The next sentence clarifies things a tad for any reader who has not read any of Ms. Evanovich’s previous 21 Stephanie Plum novels:  “My name is Stephanie Plum and I work as a bounty hunter for my bail bondsman cousin Vinnie.”

I read Janet Evanovich when I want something light and amusing to read. She did a good day’s (years’?) work when she came up with the characters in her Stephanie Plum series. Great character development!

Fans of the Stephanie Plum series know there is a story to follow that hook, no doubt filled with numerous missteps by Stephanie and probably at least one blown-up car. The opening sentence introduces Ginny Scoot to you and tells you she is in dire straits. You wonder what has happened to push her to the edge. What in the world did Stephanie Plum do to cause this crisis?

A good hook grabs you. It gives you just enough information that your curiosity is piqued and you are compelled to keep reading. The first sentence doesn’t have to carry the whole load; however, if the reader isn’t hooked by the bottom of the first page, chances are he or she won’t read the second page. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer!

Since my last blog post

I was fortunate to find one copy of The Carolina Backcountry On The Eve Of The Revolution:  The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, edited by Richard J. Hooker in circulation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library System. It has been useful in my research for the historical novel I’m writing.

More letters have been sent to independent bookstore owners to encourage them to place orders for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, as spring is finally approaching in western North Carolina.

I’ve continued to hone my new skill of creating graphics for Pinterest using www.Canva.com. In fact, someone at www.Canva.com saw my last blog post and contacted me. She was complimentary of my blog but requested that I give the whole URL (www.Canva.com) instead of “Canva.com” as I had in my blog. I corrected that in last week’s blog post.

Last week’s blog post, How Can a Writer Use Pinterest?, has only been liked by four other WordPress.com (or WordPress.org) bloggers, so Pinterest doesn’t appear to be a popular blog topic for me. I have gained several new followers via email, though, so perhaps it was of interest of a few people. I’ll be watching my Pinterest analytics to see if my original graphics get any attention.

I read on www.Goodreads.com that Jennifer Ryan is considering writing a sequel to The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I commented on how much I liked it in my April 1, 2017 blog post, The Authors I Read in March. I look forward to reading the sequel, if it comes to fruition.

Going off topic

The highlights of my week were seeing several birds that make rare appearances in my yard. First came a male scarlet tanager to get a drink of water on Sunday. Two days later, two male indigo buntings, and a rose-breasted grosbeak came to eat. The grosbeak usually stops by our bird feeder every spring, but he’s just passing through. The indigo buntings graze on the ground under the feeder.

Sometimes the rose-breasted grosbeak stays for two or three days, but this year I only saw him once. He feasted for a good 15 minutes before flying away. Other birds came and went, but he was not deterred. This is much different behavior than is displayed by the northern cardinal. The northern cardinal is the most skittish bird I’ve seen. We have them in abundance.

I’ve only seen indigo buntings a few times in my life, but this was only the second time I’d seen a scarlet tanager. I didn’t get any photographs this time, but I found it interesting when I looked back in my photo files that the indigo bunting and rose-breasted grosbeak showed up on the same day in 2007. I photographed them on May 9 that year. It was the first time I’d ever seen either species.

This year they showed up on April 24. Concluding that the two species apparently migrate together, I did a little research. I learned on https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/indigo_bunting (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology) that indigo buntings “migrate at night, using the stars for guidance.” Perhaps it is coincidental that they and the rose-breasted grosbeak both show up in my yard on the same day.

IMG_5092
Male Indigo Bunting, photographed March 9, 2007.

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Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, photographed March 9, 2007.

When I chose the topic for today’s post, I had no idea I would include a segment about birds. I selected the above photo of the grosbeak because it was the best picture I took of him. It just occurred to me that he sort of illustrates the title of this blog post. Okay, use a little imagination. Work with me here!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good place to watch a variety of birds.

I also hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. I’m usually years behind in reading award winners, so I decided to jump right on this one.

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

Feel free to share my blog posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or via email.

Thank you for reading my blog! What birds have you seen recently, and what are you reading?

Janet

6 Things Learned about Google+

In my January 20, 2017 blog post My 2017 Writing Plan of Action, I said that I needed to give Google+ a fair chance. I thought it was one more platform I could use to establish my brand as a writer.

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Photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

When I did the research for my April 22, 2017 blog post S is for Social Media, I learned that being active on Google+ will help people find me on the Google search engine. Actually, I did not learn that. I stated it in my blog post but promptly forgot it. When I remember to, I put my blog posts on Google+.

With today’s blog post in mind, on May 18, 2017 and several times since then, I took another look at my account on Google+ and learned some things:

(1)  Lo and behold, I hadn’t put links to my blog, my website, or my Twitter name in my profile. Duh! That was an easy fix.

(2)  I learned that when my novel gets published, I can only give it one plug on Google+.

(3)  I explored the “communities” on Google+ and joined several: Writers’ Blogs, Read Banned Books,  Writers’ Coffeehouse, and Self-Publishing Your Book. In addition, I’m following WordPress.

  • Writers’ Blogs should be a place where I can post my blogs about writing or reading, and I can find and connect with other writers with blogs. So far, I haven’t made any connections with other writing bloggers through this Google+ community. I’ve seen pictures of cats and a number of blogs about the TV sitcom “Big Bang Theory.” I’m having to look too hard and long to find posts about writing blogs.
  • The WordPress community should be a place where I can learn how to better use my blog and the features of WordPress.com. So far, I haven’t found what I need.
  • Banned Books is where I should be able to discuss banned books with other readers; however, from what I’ve seen so far, most posts are about anything but books – banned or otherwise.
  • Writers’ Coffeehouse is where I should be able to ask questions about the writing process or specific problems I’m having as I rewrite my novel, and join in conversations started by other writers. There seem to be more poetry posts on there than fiction writing, so I’m still not sure this is the place for me.

(4)  There are communities for just about any interest you can think of. If you don’t find one you’re looking for, create it!

(5)  I hate to be negative, but I think Google+ communities are going to be more work for me than they’re worth. It’s just not my cup of tea. (Maybe I shouldn’t post that on Google+.)

(6)  On the positive side, I am following “Writing Tips” by Rob Bignell, Editor on Google+. He seems to put a lot of helpful articles on there to help writers.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth.

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

Janet

W is for Wufoo.com

I’m feeling my age today, after going up into the attic on Tuesday. Not a good idea for someone of my age with CFS/ME and fibromyalgia. That said, Wednesday wasn’t a good day for me to try to figure out something new on the computer. There’s really not a good day for me to do that. I should only attempt such tasks when I’m at the top of my game. With no such days on the horizon and needing to blog about something starting with the letter “W,” I forged ahead.

What starts with W?

On the 23rd day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “W.” I’ve struggled over what to write about today. There are so many possibilities, including Why I Write, Writing, Webinars I’ve Attended, Wufoo.com, or the Where Writers Win website.

W is for Wufoo.com

Wednesday was the day I could finally sit down at the computer and try to figure out how Wufoo.com could integrate with MailChimp on WordPress.com so I could have a mailing list. In the event I ever want to announce something to my readers before or without making a public announcement, I need an e-mail mailing list.

Other bloggers have such lists, so how difficult can it be, right?

I spent a couple of hours on Wednesday afternoon working my way through the simple instructions on Wufoo.com trying to set up a way for me to add a sign-up form on my blog for a mailing list. As often happens, the list of “do this and you will see that” suckered me into thinking I could do. I improvised when I “did this and I didn’t see that.” I set up an account. I created a form. I filled in blanks. I wrote little notes to my readers telling them I would never share their information with anyone. I marked the parts of the form that are not optional. I went to WordPress.com and cut and pasted the Wufoo code so it would show up as the third widget down in my blog’s sidebar. I thought I had everything accomplished, but on Wednesday night as I schedule this blog post for 6:50 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, April 27, no such sign-up form has appeared on my blog.

It’s my fault

I in no way blame Wufoo.com for this. It is obviously an error on my part. It has been another frustrating day in the life of someone who is technologically-challenged and just wants to be a writer.

“I’d rather do it myself!”

One day I will have to give up on setting this mailing list up myself, but I will not give up on the mailing list. I’m trying not to bother my niece’s husband with this request. He set up my website, and I’m sure he can do this for me, too. I am reminded that as a very small child, one of my favorite things to say was, “I’d rather do it myself!” Apparently, that’s still true.

A to Z Blog Challenge

I’m delighted to note that there are only three days remaining in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Topics for “Y” and “Z” are still up for grabs, in case anyone has any suggestions for me. I’m looking for words starting with “Y” and “Z” that have something to do with writing for my blog on April 29 and 30, 2017.

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.

Janet

M is for MailChimp

On this the 13th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “M.” (13 letters down, 13 to go!) I had planned to write about my experience in setting up a way for people to subscribe to my e-newsletter. From what I’ve read by other bloggers, MailChimp seems to be the vehicle of choice. My plan was to write about how I had, without assistance, been able to accomplish this.

Best laid plans

Alas! I have failed. Since my blog is about my journey as a writer, I share my successes and my failures. As you can see in the sidebar to the left, my “Subscribe to Janet’s e-Newsletter” widget is not working. This is due to operator error.

I will not be deterred!

I will continue to work on this. As I write this blog post at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), the widget is not clickable. If I get the problem figured out in the next hour or so, I will correct it and perhaps it will be operable by the time this post is published at 6:50 a.m. EDT. (But I doubt it.)

Janet Morrison Books Newsletter

There is no newsletter yet, but I wanted to start developing a mailing list for the day I get my act together enough to write one. So, never fear! You are not going to miss my first newsletter. It has not been written. It might be months or years before I have anything newsworthy to put in a newsletter. It is another one of those things that writers are encouraged to have.

If anyone out there can help me

I will joyfully accept any assistance you are able and willing to offer me. Like I have stated many times before on my blog, I am technologically challenged. I am out of my comfort zone when it comes to all things electronic.

I read about a hack

I read about a hack for getting MailChimp to work on WordPress.com, but it was beyond my capabilities. It involved designing a sign up form on MailChimp, taking a picture of it, cropping the photo, and uploading it into WordPress.com. If I could do all that, I wouldn’t be asking for help in setting it up in the first place!

WordPress.com bloggers

I know you’re out there. Any idea what I’m doing wrong? Any idea what I need to do to get this to work? Feel free to leave advice in the comments section below. (Remember, I need directions in layman’s terms – no technical terms, please.)

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

Disclaimer:  This is in no way an endorsement of MailChimp. Nor is it my intent to present MailChimp in a bad light. I have used MailChimp to subscribe to other writers’ newsletter and the process was seamless. Eventually, I’m sure you will be able to subscribe to my newsletter just as easily.