4 Other Books I Read in April 2021

I read more books than usual last month. Today’s post is about the four books I read that were not historical fiction. If you missed my blog last Monday about the five historical novels I read in April, here’s the link to it: 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.

Let’s jump right in!

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

I’m not sure how this 2018 book escaped my attention for three years. I’m just glad I stumbled upon it recently.

Edited by Deborah G. Plant with a foreword by Alice Walker, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is author and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s account of her numerous conversations with a man who was on the last slave ship from Africa to the United States.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Bringing slaves into the United States was made illegal in 1808; however, the trade was not completely stopped just by making a law. In 1859, two brothers originally from Maine and their business partner originally from Nova Scotia, illegally transported 130 African slaves from the coast of Nigeria to Mobile, Alabama on board a ship named Clotilde.  Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is the story of a 19-year-old man who was on that last slave ship to come to the United States.

The man’s name was Kossola, but his American name was Cudgo Lewis. Zora Neale Hurston found out about him, and a benefactor made it financially possible for her to go to Alabama for an extended time in order to meet Kossola and form a relationship of trust with him in order to hear and record his life story.

Kossola’s story of life in Africa, his capture, and his Middle Passage transport to Alabama is bone chilling. The details of how he was captured by the army of the king of Dahomey aligns with the historical record of that ruthless African king and his blood thirsty army of women and men.

What an amazing gift Ms. Hurston left for us! We are fortunate that Kossola lived long enough that Ms. Hurston was able to visit him a number of times over a three-month period in 1927 and put his words on paper. Publishers wanted Ms. Hurston to “correct” Kossola’s words to proper English, but she stood her ground and insisted that his words by pronunciation be preserved in the book.

I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I wrote two weeks ago (Censorship and Reader Sensitivities) and how appropriate I think it was for history’s sake for Kossola’s words to be recorded exactly how he said them.

There is an extensive appendix in the book. Included in it are a couple of children’s games from Africa, parables that are original with Kossola (from his own life experience), and various Bible stories told in Kossola’s own words.

There is also an extensive Afterword in the book about Ms. Hurston’s research and some debate about her motives and accuracy.  It seems that Kossola had become known as the last surviving slave from the last slave ship to America and there were others who wished to interview him. It was Zora Neale Hurston who was most successful in gaining his trust and recording his story. Ms. Hurston is remembered for his illustrious career as a social scientist, but she was just getting started in 1927.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

I got on the waitlist for Cicely Tyson’s memoir the minute I heard about it. The book was on order by the public library, so I had to wait a while for it. In the meantime, Ms. Tyson died at the age of 96. I’d been a fan of hers since her performance in the movie, Sounder, in 1972. I was blown away by her portrayal of Miss Janie Pittman in the TV film, The Autobiography of Miss Janie Pittman.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

Just As I Am was an interesting read. I learned about Ms. Tyson’s childhood in East Harlem, New York, and how her parents doted on her. She was their middle child, but she was born with a heart murmur that caused the doctor to predict she wouldn’t live more than three months. No wonder they treated her like a princess.

But there was a dark side to Ms. Tyson’s childhood. Her father was a womanizer. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian. Her parents had violent fights and Ms. Tyson was often caught in the middle.

Ms. Tyson had a sixth sense. Even as a child, she knew some events that were going to happen in the future because she could smell it (as was the case of a fire) or sense it in another way. Her mother was also blessed with a sixth sense, so the fact that Cicely had the gift was no big deal.

Early in the book, Ms. Tyson wrote about racial discrimination and our common humanity. It really struck a chord with me because I was reading that chapter the morning after the Zoom meeting of a group I’m in during which we had discussed racial prejudice and our common humanity. I couldn’t wait to tell the others in the group about the first chapter in Just As I Am.

She writes about what a rude awakening it was for her one day when she witnessed her mother and a group of other Black women on the street in New York City being looked up and down and evaluated by white people seeking a domestic laborer. It hit her as being no different from the way slaves were treated on the auction block a century earlier, and it made an impact on her life that she never forgot.

The 1920s and 1930s were her childhood and youth decades. What an interesting era! Although the Roaring 20s became the Great Depression in the 1930s, most people of color in the United States didn’t enjoy the abundance of the Wall Street in the 20s. And they had always been at an economic disadvantage, so the Great Depression wasn’t too much worse than what they were already experiencing.

It was in 1934 that the Federal Housing Administration instituted the practice of redlining to prohibit people of color from purchasing homes in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. On the other hand, that era produced Black writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. It was the age of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance.

On the flipside were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from which the United States is stilling feeling ramifications and probably always will. That horrible experiment on Blacks today makes many people of color afraid to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

As you see, I could go on and on with examples of the backdrop of Ms. Tyson’s childhood, but perhaps you’d rather read the book for yourself.

Throughout the book, Ms. Tyson gives God credit for leading her. She speaks of an unflinching faith in God that sustained her from childhood until her last days. Events that others might have called coincidences, Ms. Tyson recognized as the hand of God working out her life’s journey. That’s how her modeling career came about, and that’s how her acting career fell into place without her even knowing that’s what she was meant to do.

This was an entertaining and enlightening read about a woman I have long appreciated as an actress without knowing anything about her background.

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

This most recent novel by Laleh Chini is about war and one young woman’s experience in Poland during World War II. It is written in person from that woman’s point-of-view. Hanna Przybylski reminisces about the lovely and peaceful city squares and bustling marketplaces in Warsaw of her growing-up years in the 1920s. Her mother was an artist. When her mother has a second child, a girl named Lena, when Hanna is 11 years old, they think their family and their lives are complete. The Great War was over and life is good.

Everything starts to unravel when Lena is a toddler and their mother dies. When the father remarries just three months after the mother’s death, Hanna’s life spirals downward. When Hanna is 16 years old, Germany started bombing Warsaw. World War II is beginning and will further disrupt Hanna’s life. What I’ve shared just covers the first 17% of the book.

What will become of Hanna and Lena? Will Hanna become responsible for more children than Lena? Will they flee Poland for a safer place? Will there be people to help them along the way? Will their father care what his daughters do? Did he and his second wife have children? Will Hanna survive World War II?

You’ll have to read The Endless Sunset to find out. The book is enriched by illustrations by Nihuel Navarro, whose website can be found at nihu.artstation.com.

Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), by John Russell Bartlett

I was expecting this book to take the form of a dictionary; however, the majority of it is narrative.

Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett

Near the end of this book there is a short section about some words that were “charged upon us as Americanism” but they are actually derived from English provinces. Examples are expect for suspect, reckon for think, and guess for suppose. These “Americanisms” come from Kent and Derbyshire in England.

The book continues with some words that were apparently Americanisms when the book was written in 1848, but they don’t make sense to me today. Among them are clever for good natured; desk for pulpit; and improve for occupy, or employ.

The book pays its respects to the clergy for starting and continuing to use solemnize for to make serious. Other Americanisms the writer didn’t appreciate at all included transpire for happen, and temper in the sense of passion or irritation.

Jumping on “educated men, and particularly … the clergy,” the writer bemoans the evolution of some nouns into verbs such as to fellowship, to eventuate, to doxologize, to happify, and to donate.

The author would, no doubt, be horrified at the evolution of American English since 1848. This book is proof that American English is forever changing. The words in common usage in 1848 that grated on the nerves of the dictionary author, have for the most part fallen by the wayside today.

By far, my favorite “new” word after reading this dictionary is happify!

Since my last blog post

I continue to have good books to read – in fact, more than I have time to read. I’m also doing some scrapbooking.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. Try to get caught reading, since May is Get Caught Reading Month!

If you don’t have a hobby, find one. It will enrich your life.

Note: In addition to being “Get Caught Reading Month,” May is Short Story Month.

Note: This is Reading is Fun Week.

Janet

4 Books I Read in February 2021

Thank you for your patience, if you’ve been eagerly awaiting an extra week to find out what I read last month. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read my blog post from last Monday, #OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation & Why They Had to Be Replaced.

Without further explanation, I’ll launch right into my impressions of four of the eight books I read in February.


The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner

I listened to this novel. It was mesmerizing. It is told from the point-of-view of an American woman, Elise, whose father immigrated from Germany. Due to lies a neighbor boy told about her father during World War II, she (as a teen) and her parents were scooped up and sent to a family internment camp in Texas. Her best friend there was an American teenage girl of Japanese descent.

I was immediately drawn into the story as the book starts with Elise as an older woman suffering from dementia. More than perhaps anything else I’ve read, the author put me inside the body of this woman who knew she was losing her memory but refused to give in to the disease. She even had a name for her memory-deficient self — Agnes.

Her coping skills were quite impressive. Elise got on a plane to track down her long-loss internment camp friend so they would reconnect before she completely lost her memory. I was right there with her on her physical journey, and then the book took me on a trip through their experiences in the internment camp.

I was unaware of this family internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. After giving the reader an idea of what life was like in the camp – where German- and Japanese-Americans were held captive until they could be sent to their ancestral countries in exchange for Americans who had been caught behind enemy lines when the war started, the novel takes you on Elise’s journey as she and her family spend the last year of the war living in Germany. It then follows Elise’s life after the war and ends by jumping back to the beginning of the book in Los Angeles in 2010 on her trip to look for her long-lost Japanese-American friend, Mariko Inoue.

It was a lovely story to listen to. It was well-written and I found myself pulling for Elise from the first page to the last page. I found myself listening to it at bedtime and struggling to stay awake long enough to listen to just one more chapter. If you’re an avid reader, you know what I mean.

If you want to know more about the Crystal City, Texas internment camp, Jan Jarboe Russell has written a nonfiction book about it, The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.


Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Soroosh, by Laleh Chini

Laleh Chini is a blogger I follow. Soroosh is Laleh’s new novel. In the beginning, Soroosh is a 10-year-old boy who has to become the man of the house and find a way to support his mother and younger siblings. Living in the port city of Abadan, Iran — home to an enormous refinery — Soroosh’s mother is between the proverbial rock and a hard place as she isn’t allowed to work or go into public places alone since she’s a woman in a Muslim country.

Soroosh takes his new role very seriously and starts brainstorming to figure out a way to earn money to support the family. He starts by purchasing handmade Persian rugs one at a time from a woman and sitting by the side of the street to sell them. He is industrious and a good salesperson.

Mid-way through the book, Soroosh is a young adult and has continued to work hard to provide for his s extended family. I don’t want to give the plot away, so I won’t give more story details. Always eager to step out of his comfort zone, Soroosh is constantly looking for a way to expand his business interests so he can help others – whether that is providing jobs or bringing in enough income that he and his wife can do charity work.

Although Soroosh and his family face many challenges and sad events, it is an uplifting story of what persons of strong faith can do when they work hard, remember their meager beginnings, and look for ways to give back to society.

Ms. Chini is an excellent storyteller, which comes through in this novel. She writes in a way that enables the reader to visualize the scenes she describes. Written in first-person, it reads like a memoir as it follows Soroosh for decades of his life. I’m impressed at Ms. Chini’s ability to write a novel in English, as it was a second language for her. She also brings in some history and historic sites as Soroosh travels for his business endeavors, as Iran has such a rich and long history.


Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but I’m so glad I did. It is the kind of novel that’s hard to put down. The characters are developed well and I really wanted both of the main characters to find happiness and what they were looking for.

A young Cherokee man, Cowney Sequoyah, and a young Cherokee woman, Essie Stamper, get jobs working at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, during World War II. The resort had been taken over by the US Government and housed foreign diplomats and their families.

Even As We Breathe is the story of the pull the Qualla Boundary has on Cowney and Essie. (The Qualla Boundary is the land trust in North Carolina that the descendants of the Cherokee people who hid out in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma in 1838 live on.) Even as they yearn to get away from Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, they are drawn to it. The story shines a light on the white world’s prejudice against Cherokee Indians in the World War II era.

(Before you get upset that I use the term “Indian” instead of the politically-correct term “Native American,” when I did the research for my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I learned that, since the term Native American can be used to describe anyone born in America, the North American Indian Women’s Association recommends using the term American Indians. Therefore, I use the word Indian in this blog post and I used it in my vintage postcard book referenced herein.)

There are many, many layers to this story. Cowney’s club foot prevents his being able to serve in the US military during the war, which is a constant guilt he must deal with. There are family secrets that unfold throughout the book. His Uncle Bud plays heavily in Cowney’s life – and not in a good way.

The young daughter of one of the diplomats disappears. Through a series of bad decisions made by Cowney, Essie, and one of the US soldiers on duty at the Grove Park Inn – and the fact that Cowney is a Cherokee Indian and, thereby, is immediately suspect – things go badly for Cowney.

I hope I’ve given you enough information to make you want to read the book and not enough details to spoil it for you. Perhaps I especially enjoyed this book since I live in North Carolina and have visited Cherokee and Asheville many times, but I think you’ll like it, too.

The author, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and holds degrees from Yale and the College of William and Mary.

Below is a postcard of the Grove Park Inn that I included in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, published by Arcadia Publishing. If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, and Asheville, my book is available on Amazon and from the publisher.

A portion of a linen vintage postcard of Grove Park Inn.

Since I was on the waitlist at the public library for The Last Year of the War and Even As We Breathe for quite some time, it was coincidental that I read them at the same time and both were set against the backdrop of internment during World War II. Another Cherokee connection was in Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson, which I read in January. (See my February 8, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in January 2021.) My favorite part of that book was the section about Cherokee translator Marie Junaluska.


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

I can’t say enough about the way Erik Larson writes nonfiction books. He has a way of bringing history alive and holding me spellbound. Granted, I’m a bit of a history buff, but I think many of you would enjoy this book even if you don’t think you would.

The Lusitania was an ocean liner of the Cunard Cruise Line out of England. Ignoring the danger all British ships – military and otherwise – faced from German U-boats in 1915 (during World War I, of course), the Lusitania sailed out of New York City toward Liverpool, England, with more than 1,900 people on board.

Mr. Larson researched the backgrounds of the people who sailed on that voyage of the Lusitania and shares with us tidbits of their lives and why some were going to England. He weaves into the book the hot potato issue of the day: Were cruise ships fair game for German U-boats?

Germany maintained that they were fair game because they were probably carrying munitions as well as passengers.

Tension grows chapter-by-chapter as we alternate between seeing the war and enemy ships from the perspective of the captain of U-Boat 20 and from the perspective of passengers on and the captain of the Lusitania.

I found listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania to be a painless way to learn details about its fateful voyage as well as more than I’d known before about German U-boats and torpedoes. The book goes beyond the sinking of the Lusitania as US President Woodrow Wilson hesitated to enter the war. In fact, it was two years after the sinking of the ocean liner before US troops arrived in England to help “the mother country” out of its dire situation.

Since my last blog post

I’ve had more books vying for my attention than I had time to read or listen to them. At the same time, I’m getting the first 50 pages of my manuscript for my historical novel The Doubloon (or perhaps The Spanish Coin) ready for a professional critique. It’s time to take the plunge!

Spring is in the air here in North Carolina. The daffodils are blooming. They’ve been the harbinger of spring my entire life. I can still remember running into the house clutching a fistful of daffodils and announcing to my mother, “The daffodils are blooming! The daffodils are blooming!” I suppose I’ve had Seasonal Affective Disorder all my life. They just didn’t have a name for it until recent years.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read this week. Maybe one of the books I wrote about today will catch your eye.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

I hope you stay safe and well. I’ll get my second Covid shot before my next blog post. I’m excited about that and the promise it brings. I’ll keep wearing a mask and maintain social distancing as long as necessary, though. I hope you can get vaccinated soon.

Janet

Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez

I read five books in September, but Code Talker, by Chester Nez made such an impression me that I decided to just write about it today. I’ll blog about the other books I read last month in next week’s blog post.

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila is a wonderful book! It is a memoir written by one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The irony is that a language the US Government tried to eradicate ended up saving the US in World War II.

Navajo “Right Way Balance”

Early on in the book we’re told that Mr. Nez was a staunch believer in the traditional ways and beliefs of the Navajos. In the core of those beliefs is the “Right Way Balance” which calls for a balance between individuals and between the individual and the world.

Even though the United States government tried to take the Navajo culture and language out of him from an early age, his family ingrained in him the language and all aspects of their culture and heritage. Although the United States government and policies inflicted on the Navajos and other native peoples should have made him bitter, after December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he was eager to join the Marines and fight for his country.

Mr. Nez tells about his childhood. He tells that his mother was one of the Navajo forced to march 350 miles from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. That was after they’d been burned out and forced to surrender to Kit Carson and taken to Fort Defiance.

Mr. Nez writes about the Great Livestock Massacre, which he witnessed. That incident alone, should have made him hate the United States government. It was the gruesome slaughter of millions of sheep and cattle belonging to the Navajo.

When he was forced to go off to boarding school, a missionary told the school administrators that his name was Chester Nez. He was no longer allowed to use his clan’s name. He tells about being made to learn English and to speak only that language at school. This was seen as an insult and a punishment at the time; however, without a fluency in both languages, he couldn’t have become a Code Talker. All the Navajo Code Talkers had to be fluent in both languages in order for the project to work.

The Unbreakable Code

There were skeptics, but time after time the Code Talkers proved their inestimable value in the United States’ war effort against Japan. The outcome of the war in the Pacific theatre was very much in question the Navajo Code Talkers arrived on the scene. They went through intensive training in complete secrecy from their fellow Marines and the public. Developing the code was totally up to those 29 men.

The Japanese had been able to break every code the US military had tried. The situation was becoming desperate. The Battle of Savo Island was the worst defeat in the history of the US Navy. The Marines on Guadalcanal figured they were next. They felt like sitting ducks. But the Navajo Code Talkers arrived with the 1st Marine Division and the prospects for the US began to change for the good.

Mr. Nez tells about the old “Shackle” code, which “was written in English, encoded via a coding machine, and sent. Then the receiving end decoded the message, again via machine, and wrote it out in English. It took an hour to transmit and receive the test messages. When the same messages were transmitted and received in Navajo – with the men themselves acting as coding machines – it took only forty seconds for the information to be transmitted accurately.”

The above quote minimizes the complexity of the Navajo Code, but I hope you will read this book and find out the intricacies of how the code was developed. The training for the code talkers was intense. It was astounding how complicated, accurate, and fast the Navajo Code worked. It, no doubt, saved the lives of thousands of American military personnel.

All Over the Pacific

Mr. Nez’s book follows his service on New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, back to Guadalcanal for additional training for the planned assault on Guam, then on to Guam, Peleliu (a battle that General Roy Geiger called the worst battle of the South Pacific), Angaur (where some Navajo Code Talkers were loaned to the Army), then “back to the bloodbath on Peleliu,” and then back to Guadalcanal to train for Iwo Jima.

The description of the maze of underground tunnels filled with Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima filled Mr. Nez with dread, but the surprise of his life came when his name was called. He was informed that he had “made his points.” Marines were “awarded points for each island invaded and wrested back from the Japanese.” He had earned more than enough points to be sent home.

After the War

Returning to the US was another bit of a culture shock for Mr. Nez. He was a proud Marine and war veteran when he returned to the US in 1945 but, because he was a Native American, he wasn’t granted the right to vote in New Mexico until 1948.

He was sworn to secrecy about what he had done in the war. He was sworn to secrecy about the Navajo Code Talkers. His family would have been so proud of what he had done in the war, but he could not tell them. By the end of World War II, 400 Navajos had served as Code Talkers. Thirteen of them were killed in action.

The last third of the book is about Mr. Nez’s life after World War II, including the nightmares he had about Japanese soldiers and what finally made them stop. The Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary is printed in the book’s appendix.

Information about the Navajo Code was declassified in 1968. The military decided they wouldn’t need to use it again. At last, the Code Talkers were free to talk about what they did in World War II.

Since my last blog post

Formatting my Harrisburg, Did You Know? collection of local history newspaper columns was intimidating, but I’ve been surprised at how smoothly it’s going. I’m adding photographs today. I can’t wait to have the e-book ready to publish! Then, I’ll work on the paperback edition!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I suggest you try to find a copy of Code Talker, by Chester Nez.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog. We all have busy schedules, so I appreciate the time you took today to read this blog post.

Please wear a mask out of respect for others during this Covid-19 pandemic. You could be contagious and not know it.

Janet

The Other Books I Read in December 2019

Today’s blog post is a follow-up to last Monday’s post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/01/06/three-books-i-read-in-december-2019/. I hope within the six books I read in December, I’ve sparked an interest in you to read at least one of them. Reading is one of the joys of my life, and I enjoy sharing the books I read with my blog readers.


A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the jumping back and forth from one decade to another confusing.

I hope all Arab families aren’t like this one with the emotional and physical abuse of women being carried on from each generation to the next. The book left me feeling like all Arab men beat their wives and no Arab men want their wives or daughters to be educated or think for themselves. In that respect, it was a very depressing book.

In an interview at the end of the book, Ms. Rum talks about her fear that the book will further the stereotype of Arab men as wife beaters, but she felt compelled to write from her own experience. My brain tells me that all Arab families aren’t like the one she described in her book, but it could easily leave that impression. I don’t want to stereotype Arabs or any other group of people, so I’ll try to take the book at face value as just an example. No ethnic group has a monopoly on domestic abuse.

Aside from the jumping back and forth in time, the writing was excellent and it held my attention once I got into my mind the year in which each chapter took place. The beginning of each chapter pulled me out of the story and I had to stop reading and mentally adjust to the generation being written about. Since nothing changed from one generation to the next, though, I suppose the year and generation didn’t matter.

All that said, though, I do recommend the book.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Like The Baker’s Secret, I’ve been meaning to read Beneath a Scarlet Sky for more than a year. I was initially drawn to the book by it’s brilliant red cover. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the book did not disappoint.

Based on the lives of real individuals who lived in Italy during World War II, this story gradually drew me in. Once I was “in,” I was “all in.” It is a story of espionage and reminds us that people who are spies aren’t necessarily ones we would readily assume were in that line of work. It is a story of people getting caught up in espionage even against their wills or life plans. It is a story of loyalty among friends and family, and the secrets that had to be kept for the greater good.

This was a book I hated to finish. Fortunately, the author included details at the end of the book that inform us of what happened to each of the characters after the war ended. I really appreciated how the author tied of all the loose ends, since these were real people.

If you’re looking for a World War II-era book to read that delves into the day in and day out lives of regular people, this is the book for you.


When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Aside from The Guardians and A Woman is No Man, all the books I read in December were ones that had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, received a lot of good publicity when it was published in 2016. I didn’t read it then, but it was one of those book titles that nagged at me.

After bouncing around in several areas of study, Kalanithi is drawn to the field of medicine and neurosurgery in particular. He determines that there is more to medical science than facts. He discovers that relationships matter and that there is an important human aspect to medicine.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of his life and career. It is a gripping story of his feelings and physical hurdles as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book was published after his death.

Although not an entirely upbeat book, it is a touching story of love, dedication, and the human spirit striving to overcome the worst of circumstances.


Since my last blog post

I read a blog post that offered advice about how to have a successful blog. (Success in blogging seems to be having thousands of readers and followers.) As I’ve read many times before, this post said I need to find my niche and blog only about that. It said I shouldn’t blog about this and that. Since I’m not an expert on any subject, though, for the foreseeable future I’ll continue to write about the books I read, history, and the things I learn about the art and craft of writing.

Thank you for sticking with me in spite of the fact that I don’t have a “successful” blog. If I hit on a topic occasionally that a few people find interesting, I’ll consider that my blog is successful. I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci, and have started listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. The introduction was intriguing. It will be interesting to see how I like the book. That probably depends upon how graphic the murder and madness are!

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always eager to know what you are reading. Feel free to share the titles of the books you’ve been reading and your thoughts about them.

Janet

#OnThisDay: The Battle of the Bulge began

Today is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes region of Belgium in the European Theatre of World War II.

In my short blog post I will not attempt to give an in-depth analysis of the Battle of the Bulge. That would be ridiculous, impossible, and well beyond my abilities. I will merely highlight a few facts and pay tribute to my Uncle Rozzelle, who participated as a member of the United States Army in that awful winter battle.

Also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, it was the last major offensive campaign by Germany on the Western Front during World War II. Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it “the greatest American battle of the war.”

The Boston Globe reported last Wednesday https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/12/11/wwii-veterans-head-belgium-commemorate-anniversary-battle-bulge/LwtvSgw7iBx0jhTAWgJAbI/story.html that 17 World War II veterans from across the United States had flown out of Boston for France that day in order to participate in the 75th anniversary ceremonies. Their itinerary includes the dedication of a monument plate at the Bastogne War Museum in Belgium in memory of those who were killed in the Battle of the Bulge.

Battle of the Bulge Statistics

The Battle of the Bulge was fought along an 80-mile front from southern Belgium, through the Ardennes Forest to the middle of Luxembourg. Some 600,000 Germans, 500,000 American, and 55,000 British troops took part in the battle, which lasted until January 25, 1945.

Casualties were high in the battle. The Allies suffered 20,876 killed, 42, 893 wounded, and 23,554 captured or missing. German losses were equally high, with 15,652 killed, 41,600 wounded, and 27,582 captured or missing.

Environmental Conditions of the Battle

Photo by Viktor Omy on Unsplash

Casualty figures don’t provide the whole picture, though. Conditions on the battlefield were extreme and physically and mentally trying. There was an average of eight inches of snow on the ground and the average temperature was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit/-7 Celsius.

Bad weather grounded US planes at the beginning of the battle, giving Germany an early advantage in addition to the edge the Nazis had due to the surprise launch of the attack in the pre-dawn hours on December 16, 1944.

The Ardennes Forest is a mix of deciduous trees such as oak, poplar, willow, acacia, and birch.

Source of the Battle’s Name

The Germans pushed through the Allies’ defensive line, creating a wedge or “bulge” in the Allied position in the Ardennes forest area.

Most Famous Quote from the Battle

General Anthony Clement McAuliffe was the acting commander of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division troops that were defending the city of Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. When the Germans asked if the Americans wanted to surrender, Gen. McAuliffe is quoted as responding, “Nuts!”

Outcome of the Battle

Germany lost men and materiel in numbers from which it was unable to recover.

Significance of the Battle of the Bulge

It is believed that the Battle of the Bulge brought an end to World War II in Europe faster than it would have happened otherwise. It was the last major Nazi offensive of World War II and Germany’s last attempt to push the Allies out of mainland Europe.

A few words about Uncle Rozzelle

After this somewhat sterile statistical description of the Battle of the Bulge, I’ll now attempt to put a human face on it.

I never heard my Uncle Rozzelle talk about his experiences in World War II. My mother recalled that the main thing he ever talked about was being so very cold in a wet foxhole during the Battle of the Bulge. He ended up in a hospital in France and was then transferred to a hospital in England.

When I think about the Battle of the Bulge, the image I have in my head is my 29-year-old Uncle Rozzelle almost freezing to death in a foxhole.

Janet

Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month

In my first blog post each month I usually write about the books I read the previous month. This month is no different. I’ve read and enjoyed many historical novels this year. My second favorite genre is thrillers. In September I got to read two newly released historical thrillers. I hope you’ll find at least one book in the following list that you’d like to read.

One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

2019 #thriller by #Baldacci
One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

I decided to read David Baldacci’s latest thriller, One Good Deed, because it’s been quite a while since I read one of his books. This was a good one for me to choose, because Baldacci introduces a new protagonist in this novel. Aloysius Archer is a World War II veteran and has just been released from prison after serving a term for a crime he did not comment.

Archer is a good-hearted man who, for various reasons, continues to make bad decisions throughout the book. His heart is always in the right place, though, so the reader forgives him for those poor choices and pulls for him to come out on top and not end up in prison again. He befriends a detective, Irving Shaw, who immediately sees the traits in Archer that would make him a good detective.

There are a few murders and a couple of people disappear along the way, but Archer never gives up on finding the truth – even when it means he must accept the fact that he is easily suckered in by a pretty face. It’s a real page-turner that I read in one weekend. Those of you who know it sometimes takes me two months to read a book will appreciate what a high compliment that is for One Good Deed.

Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

Two sisters. One baby. An impossible choice.
Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

I listened to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer on CD. It was a dark story about how one sister dealt with her sister’s drug addiction. It is a timely subject, and the book demonstrates how very difficult tough love is.

For me, the book repeatedly brought to mind a case of drug addiction in my family and how one lethal overdose can leave a family in a dark pit that is perhaps impossible to climb out of. The subject matter wasn’t pleasant to read, but the bonds of family were well demonstrated.

The storyline of this novel includes the birth of an innocent baby. The infant has to go through painful withdrawal before it can become healthy enough to thrive.

Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

A secret kept by #teens.
Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

I really wanted to like this novel, but it was just too much work for me. The story is told from 10 points-of-view. I couldn’t keep that many main characters straight in my mind.

The plot line might appeal more to a young adult audience because it revolves around some mistakes made by a group of teens and the secret they have to live with.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

A #thriller about #NaziSympathizers in the US in #1939.
The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

The Fifth Column is Andrew Gross’ latest thriller. The name of the novel comes from “the fifth column” meaning a group inside a larger group that supports an outside group or country. In this instance, the Fifth Column was the Nazi-sympathizers in the United States as World War II raged in Europe.

Mr. Gross takes you back to February of 1939 when more than 20,000 Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in khaki uniforms and waving Nazi flags gathered for a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I hadn’t known about that, so I learned something right off the bat from the book’s introduction.

This novel tells the story of America’s hesitancy to get involved in World War II. Memories of “The Great War”/”The War to End All Wars”/World War I were still fresh from just a decade before. Some saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs as socialism. The much-celebrated American pilot Charles Lindbergh voiced pro-Nazi opinions. Germany was bombing London and stories of the abuse and murder of Jews in Europe were spreading across the Atlantic. Jews in New York City were being harassed. Families could go to Nazi-sponsored camps in New Jersey and on Long Island where children were taught the Nazi salute and Nazi doctrine. It was a time when people increasingly didn’t know whom they could trust.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross rests on that background. It is a story brought to life by the author. The protagonist, Charlie Mossman, gets in over his head when he stands up for a Jewish bar owner when a group of Nazi thugs come into his establishment to make fun of him. Someone is killed and Charlie goes to prison.

When Charlie comes home from prison, his wife has created a new life for herself. Charlie soon becomes suspicious that his wife and young daughter’s neighbors in the apartment building are German spies. He goes to great lengths to find evidence to support his hunch.

The plot thickens after Charlie has a chance meeting with Noelle, a graduate student from France. Noelle says she knows people who can help Charlie. This seems too good to be true. Is it?

Although the plot unfolds in a predictable way, I enjoyed the book. The CD edition is read by Edoardo Ballerini. I continue to surprise myself by enjoying some audio books.

Since my last blog post

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of attending a birthday party for a man celebrating his 100th birthday. He is a mild-mannered man who fought in World War II and has been active in his church his entire life. He has inspired countless people to get involved in Habitat for Humanity by the example he has set for the last 40 years. It’s not often I am invited to a “Happy 100th Birthday” party! Happy 100th Birthday, Mr. William King McCachren, Sr.!

I continue to work my way through Chris Andrews’ writing “how-to” book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. To read about that book, read my last blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/ and/or visit Mr. Andrews’ website, https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

Late in August, I purchased an online writing course by C.S. Lakin, “Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers.” The link to that course sat on the back burner until several days ago. I think the course and Mr. Andrews’ book will dovetail nicely and help me to be a better fiction writer. I hope to finally start the C.S. Lakin course this week.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali and Layover, by David Bell.

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 are you reading? What have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?

Janet

The 3.5 Books I Read in July 2019

Too many books, too little time! I got more reading done in July than I did in June, although a couple of the books I finished last month were actually started a month or more before. The best part was that I got to read 3.5 historical novels. Although not based in my favorite time period – America’s colonial and revolutionary eras – I was pleased with the novels, and even learned some things from the one I didn’t finish.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

#HistoricalNovel set in #EasternKentucky during the #GreatDepression with #HorsebackLibrarians.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

This historical novel taught me about two aspects of American history with which I was unfamiliar:

            1.    Due to an extremely rare genetic disease, Methemoglobinemia, some people in eastern Kentucky had blue skin; and

             2. Part of the WPA program during The Great Depression paid people (mostly women) to deliver library books and other reading material to isolated individuals in Kentucky.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a fictionalized story of one such “Book Woman.” Cussy had blue skin and was, therefore, an outcast. She loved her job of delivering reading materials to her regular patrons. She rode a mule to do her work.

Cussy faced many dangers at home and on her book route, and this novel takes you along with her as she continually shows courage in the face of extreme poverty and personal vulnerability as a blue-skinned woman.

The first third or half of the book got a little tedious, as it seemed like most of Cussy’s days were pretty much like all her other days with the occasion father-arranged male visitors who came her way. As I recall, to a man, she found her gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) callers to be disgusting. Her father was desperate to marry her off because he’s promised Cussy’s mother he would.

Spoiler alert:  Her father finally marries her off and it doesn’t begin or end well.

I’m glad I read the book because the story of those Kentucky WPA horseback and mule-riding librarians was something I hadn’t known about. I also didn’t know about Methemoglobinemia. I like books that teach me something. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, is a prime example of how we can learn from good historical fiction.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first book in the Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal. I read the fifth book in the series, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante three years ago. I enjoyed it and have had Ms. MacNeal’s other Maggie Hope novels on my To Be Read List ever since. I wanted to go back and begin with the first book in the series. Now I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

You might recall that Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was one of the books I was reading when I wrote my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/. I was trying to read too many books at the same time, and I didn’t finish this Susan Elia MacNeal novel until July. That’s not a reflection on the book. It’s merely proof that I try to read more books than I can finish in a reasonable length of time.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary takes place in London in 1940. Graduating at the top of her class, Maggie is highly-qualified to be a spy for the British government; however, being female, at first she is relegated to being a typist at No. 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Part of the time Maggie Hope is assigned to decoding at Bletchley Park. Here’s a link to a great four-minute interview with Betty Webb and Joy Aylard who actually worked there during World War II:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dgj2k. The program was part of the BBC’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. (I’m now getting a message saying I can’t watch the clip at my location, but maybe you can where you are. A friend in Belgium sent it to me on Facebook.) If the BBC link doesn’t work, perhaps you can still find it on https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisonWriter/. I posted the video there on July 29, 2019. While you’re there, I invite you to “like” my writer’s Facebook page.

The copy of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary that I read included several pages of author’s notes at the end. It was interesting to learn how Ms. MacNeal wove real people and fictional people into this cohesive story. She also gave some research facts she discovered and what inspired her to write the novel.

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

This is an engaging historical novel set in London during World War II. Many novels have been published over the last several years in conjunction with the 75th anniversaries of various events of that war. I’ve read a number of them, but The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan stands out in my mind.

You might be surprised at who the spies in the story are. You’ll be surprised when some very unlikely people find themselves spying on the British Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Woven throughout is a story of the estrangement between an adult daughter and her mother. There are family secrets that are eventually revealed.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m generally not a fan of listening to a novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.

I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Ryan has in store for us in her next novel. Perhaps you’ve read her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I also gave it five stars. If you want to see what I said about that book, here’s a link to my April 1, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/. ­­­­­­­­­­­­

The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

#HistoricalNovel set in #Ireland during the #PotatoFamine
The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

I’ve mentioned The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander in several of my blog posts including https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/08/three-other-books-i-read-in-march-2019/ on April 8, 2019. I’ve become a fan of V.S. Alexander’s historical novels. It’s just personal preference, but The Irishman’s Daughter didn’t hold my attention like Alexander’s first two novels, The Magdalen Girls (2017) and The Taster (2018.)

Alexander does a brilliant job of research and has a talent for sharing research without beating the reader over the head with info dumps.

The Irishman’s Daughter takes place in Ireland during The Great Potato Famine. The father in the story oversees an estate for an absentee landlord. He has two daughters. One dreams of marrying the rich landlord, who is oblivious to the poverty and starvation faced by his tenants. The other daughter is emotionally moved by the dire situation and tries to stretch their little bit of food with as many people as she possibly can. She longs to marry a local farmer.

I must admit that I did not finish reading this book. With other books vying for my attention, this one just didn’t grab me. I’ve read good things about the book, though, so I’ll give it another try when I get a chance.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Traitor, is scheduled for publication on February 25, 2020. Although I didn’t like The Irishman’s Daughter as much as Alexander’s earlier books, I’ll get on the waitlist for The Traitor at the public library as soon as it’s ordered.

To see what I said about The Magdalen Girls and The Taster, please click on these two blog post links:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/ and https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/05/reading-and-writing-in-february-2018/.

Since my last blog post

I finished the online “Building a Writer/Author Platform course taught by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice. Here’s a link to it and other courses, in case you’re interested: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I had good feedback about last Monday’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/29/onthisday-uss-indianapolis/. Therefore, I’ll plan additional #OnThisDay blog posts in the future. Thank you to everyone who left comments or liked it here and on other social media networks.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen and listening to Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read 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 are you reading? Or what did you read in July that you’d recommend? Do you read historical fiction? If not, you’re missing a great reading and learning experience.

Janet

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

More March 2018 Reading

March brought a return of cooler weather than we had in February in North Carolina. It also brought a stack of good books. I blogged about some of them last Monday (Some March Reading), and today I’m blogging about the rest of those that I read last month.

Four Short Stories:  In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting, by Chris Andrews

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Four Short Stories: In Need of Assistance, Saving the Unicorn, Faerie Blues, and Trophy Hunting — by Chris Andrews

Science fiction and fantasy are not my reading genres of choice, but Chris Andrews and I connected with each other in the blogosphere as two struggling writers. (Actually, I’m struggling. I’m not so sure about Chris.) We live in different hemispheres but I have learned a great deal from him about writing. He recently published an e-book of four short stories and I was eager to read them.

“In Need of Assistance” leads off the short story collection. Well written and suspenseful, this person (me) who never reads sci-fi got pulled into the story and thought it ended too soon. In other words, I wanted to know what happened next.

The second story in this e-book is “Saving the Unicorn.” It is about a magician who travels 4,000 years back in time to free the last unicorn…. or is it?

“Faerie Blues” is the third story in Chris’ book. The identity of the faerie is a surprise.

The fourth and last story in the book is “Trophy Hunting.” This story is survival of the fittest with a twist.

Following the four short stories are the first seven chapters of Chris’ novel, Divine Prey, which is due for release in May 2018.

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

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The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

This historical novel was inspired by the creation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II and the top-secret work carried on there in the development of the atomic bomb.

Ms. Beard invented characters from all walks of like and guides the reader to like most of them and identify with them as much as is possible for we who live in a different time. I liked that she included the black people as well as the white people who lived and worked at Oak Ridge because, as much as they had in common, their housing and treatment by the US Army was quite different. It was in the racially segregated South and the book stands as witness to the prejudice and unequal treatment that existed legally at that time.

The author included not only Christians but an atheist and a Jewish physicist. This book’s cast of characters runs the gamut from redneck bigot to the Jewish scientist whose family had surely died in Germany during the War. True to the history of the facility at Oak Ridge, some characters are poorly educated while others are highly educated, but the emphasis is on the everyday people who worked there and did not know what they were working on.

Ms. Beard follows each character and through them she allows the reader to experience World War II on the home front in the USA and through the stress and struggles of the people who worked in complete secrecy at Oak Ridge. She brings to life the inevitable inner conflicts experienced by some of the scientists who worked there and at Los Alamos, New Mexico as they were simultaneously excited by the physics of the atomic bomb and yet horrified by the realities of what the unleashing of such a weapon would mean and the suffering it would cause for thousands of innocent people.

I never had really thought about how conflicted some of those scientists must have felt. I’d also never given much thought to how many thousands of people worked at Oak Ridge and the majority not knowing they were working on developing an atomic bomb until the day the first one was dropped on Hiroshima.

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

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Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

This is a debut novel by Karen Cleveland. It has received rave reviews from highly-respected authors, so I was eager to read this espionage thriller. After having read it, all I can say is, “Wow!”

Written by a former CIA analyst, this novel has a female CIA analyst working in a division studying Russia and looking for Russian sleeper cells in the USA. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I’ll just say her marriage and work ethic are tested to the limit.

This novel will make you wonder who you can trust. It is the story of betrayal on many levels, and it will keep you turning pages and wishing you didn’t have to stop to eat, sleep, or work. If you like to read espionage thrillers, you will love this book.

A Piece of the World, by Kristina Baker Kline

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A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

We’re all familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Kristina’s World.” This historical novel is based on the imaginary life of the woman lying in a semi-prone position in the grass on the hillside below the house in that painting.

The author, who also wrote The Orphan Train, did a beautiful job developing the characters in A Piece of the World. They were so believable, the reader will forget the book is fiction. The woman in the painting, Kristina, becomes increasingly disabled due to an unknown condition affecting her legs. She lives in the grey clapboard house on the hill as depicted in the painting. Unable and unwilling to empathize with their daughter, Kristina’s parents do little to try to get her help.

Drawn to the feel and essence of the old house, Andrew, the son of artist N.C. Wyeth comes and asks if he can paint. He sketches and paints Kristina’s brother, but the brother has little patience for posing so Kristina becomes his most consistent model. He continues his work for years.

Kristina falls in love, but is it with Andrew? I’ll leave that for you to discover if you choose to read the book.

Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

Another Ocean to Cross by Ann Griffin
Another Ocean to Cross, by Ann Griffin

After reading Ann Griffin’s guest blog post on Writers in the Storm about how to or how not to use family history in your fiction (http://writersinthestormblog.com/2017/12/writing-fiction-using-family-history/), I pre-ordered her debut historical novel, Another Ocean to Cross. I followed her blog and she, subsequently, followed mine.

In Another Ocean to Cross, Ann Griffin weaves a compelling story about 18-year-old Renata Lowenthal, a Jewish woman desperate to escape Germany in 1938 as Hitler makes life ever-more tenuous for the Jewish population. Renata is an artist and her gentile boyfriend is in the military. He has to leave Munich, but he is smuggling Renata’s renderings of the Third Reich’s mistreatment of Jews to journalists in Switzerland.

No matter what the world throws at Renata, she meets the challenge.

The descriptions in this book are vivid and draw on all the senses. Being about the Jews who escaped to Egypt, this book enlightened me about an aspect of World War II that I hadn’t known much about.

Renata struggles to convince her parents that it is imperative that they get out of Germany and try to get to Palestine before it’s too late to escape. The tale Ms. Griffin spins will keep you turning the pages of this book and staying up at night to read just one more chapter. I will not give more details because you will want to read this novel and I don’t want to take away any suspense for you. It will take you and Renata to some surprising locations.

Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

In case your eyes have glazed over, I’ll save my comments about this book until next Monday’s blog post.

Since my last blog post

I have continued to read about writing and study areas I need help with. I have worked on my outline for The Spanish Coin, the working title for what I hope will be my first novel.

One of my readers reported difficulty in getting my comments section below to work. If you have trouble with it, too, please send me a message through the contact form/newsletter sign-up sheet below. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.

My blog steadily attracts more readers and followers, which is gratifying. One new reader and follower, Neil, also signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters. Thank you, Neil.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Last Child, by John Hart, so I’ll be ready to read The Hush in a few weeks.

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

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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

If you haven’t already signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please fill out the form below.

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