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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Earlier this year, I impatiently looked forward to the next novel by Wiley Cash. So you can imagine my excitement to hear that he would be the keynote speaker at the NC Writers Network 2017 Fall Conference. The fact that his next book would be published right before the conference made it even more of a reason not to miss his keynote address. I really enjoyed the conference, learned a lot, and met some amazing writers. I ordered "The Last Ballad" from my local bookstore, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest. We all need to support our local bookstores. They are so valuable and important to our communities. Wiley Cash was kind enough to sign it and I was thrilled to hear his address to the conference, a win-win. 

The novel portrays the life of Ella Mae Wiggins based on true accounts of her life. Ella Mae was a special woman who was ahead of her time. She fought for many rights including the right to be home with her children when they were sick and to make a fair wage in her job at the local mill. She was not a radical communist as some parts of society portrayed her at the time of the Loray Mill strike which took place in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929. The fact that I, a native North Carolinian, have never heard of this strike and social unrest in the early 1900's seems unbelievable to me. No state likes to advertise their messy history, so these type of events seem to be swept under the table of history and not widely discussed.

Ella Mae was a poor young woman working in Tennessee with her parents when they both died and left her with no one at the age of 16. With a small amount of money in her pocket, she drew the interest of a swindler who took her money and her virginity. After she became pregnant they moved to find work at the textile mills in South Carolina. Struggling with her loss and uneducated she found work in several mills, but was left alone to provide for herself and her children. Living in a shack, working 70 hours a week at her job, she took a chance and went to hear a union organizer. From there she would become one of the most influential people in the struggle to organize the workers, both white and black. She wrote and performed songs, organized her fellow workers and attended rallies. The mill owners and their minions did not like the largely Northern group of union organizers who came down South to stir up trouble and they fought hard to put down the organizer's ideas by using fists, clubs, guns and other ruthless tactics. 

Ella Mae's story, while true, is a fictional account written by the wonderful storyteller, Wiley Cash. His novel, as usual, provide a vivid picture of life in North Carolina when this was taking place. You can feel Ella Mae's pain and we mourn along with her losses. You can't go wrong reading any of Wiley Cash's books. The stories they tell and characters you meet will stay with you long after the last page is turned. A solid 5 stars!  





Thursday, January 11, 2018

Patty Pick for 3/2/17 is "Hillbilly Elegy" by JD Vance

I had read a lot about this book on different forums and it was high on my to-read list. At our annual Book Club dinner in December we do a book exchange, and after much finagling I was able to "steal" away with this book! Yeah! Of course, one of the first things I had to do was look up the word, elegy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "elegy" is defined as "a sad poem or song, a poem or song that expresses sorrow for someone who is dead." Not to assume what JD Vance, meant by his title, but he definitely seems to be singing the blues where his hillbilly heritage is concerned. The sad fact that some of them make it out of the poverty-stricken Kentucky area that where they grew up, but they continue to struggle to find their way. The system and society are not set up to help them in many ways. People are not looking for handouts - someone to do it for them, but they are looking for a hand to make the transition plain to them, a pathway to make the hard work they put into this life a little better for the next generation. 

What I thought I would be reading was his childhood and how he made it out of poverty to become a successful something in life - author? He did become a successful Harvard-educated lawyer. What I did not expect is the harsh realities of his childhood and the struggle of his family to maintain and take advantage of the opportunities they worked hard to obtain. What I did not expect was to read some of the very same examples that I have in my own family to some degree. What I did not expect was to relate to the reality of the effects of your family life has on future generations. What I did get was a wonderful dose of Southern family life in the rawest possible form. I did read harsh situations that he and his family found themselves in, many after "making" it out of one of the poorest areas in the South. What I did find was some of my own family's stories woven into his book. If you are from the South, you will get this easily.

The South is a unique place in this world and I would not trade being born and growing up
here for anything in this world. I thought my family was always middle-class until I went
to high school and then saw some of my friend's homes and how they lived. I did not know
all the society niceties that I wished I had been taught, and my family sometimes struggled. I did watch my sister turn from a smart, kind person into someone who lost her way. Was it in her genes? I don't know, but I do know that we are all influenced by our family - our wonderful, loving, dysfunctional family. And we all have one - that took 
years for me to figure out. We all have the crazy uncle who throws snakes out of the yard 
and across the road to rid the yard of the huge creature. We also have memories to cherish, like those warm, bright Sunday afternoons at our grandma's house, making homemade ice cream with the aunts, uncles and cousins.  

I loved my childhood. I had two of the most wonderful parents ever to walk on this earth. Sure we could have used more money and I wanted more "things" at some years in my steps on adulthood, but I was loved and well taken care of. JD Vance had to fend for himself and deal with a no-nonsense, gun-toting grandma and a drug addict mother, but he made it. He also had some wonderful people around him, his sister for one. They became a tight team that just kept each other together when they needed to.

Success is what you decide it is and sometimes it is hard to comes to term with your own
family. But you only get one and you better cherish those moments while you have them.
Maybe JD didn't have a lot of money but the story of his life to this point is inspiring and
sad at the same time. There are people out there who still struggle to find their way.
It took me years to have any self-confidence and all most 40 years to start writing again. Be proud of yourself and embrace the kooky and calm members of your family - you only
get one family. They can all teach you something  and they are all irreplaceable in this world.

Don't walk to the bookstore or your on-line portal, RUN for this book. A big, huge READ!!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Best Books I Read in 2017 & Books I Can't Wait to Read in 2018!

The following are some of the best books I read in 2017. They are from different genres and authors. They are by no means a complete list. The books that I have on my list for 2018 are also a small faction of the ones I want to read. But what I want to read and actually have time to read are always two different things. Here's wishing you all the best reading year in 2018 and let me know which ones you read and how you like them. 
Happy New Year! And be Present in your life. 

2017
The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
If the Creek Don't Rise by Leah Weiss
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Redemption Road by John Hart
The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
Little Black Lies by Sandra Block
The Choices We Make by Karma Brown
Flight Patterns by Karen White
When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

2018
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn
The Optimist's Guide to Letting Go by Amy E Reichert
Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K Runyan
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson
No Place I'd Rather Be by Cathy Lamb
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Still Me by Jojo Moyes
Sunburn by Laura Lippman
All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My One Word Resolution for 2018 is Present!

To be Present in my life may seem like a no-brainer for a resolution, but I know from
a lot of personal experience that we often let everything get in the way of our enjoyment of our life. So while I will probably struggle sometimes to let myself enjoy everything, I am going to try my best to really be present in the moment and live every minute of my life to the fullest in 2018. My life is pretty awesome, so why I let things that I cannot control ruin it for me, is beyond my comprehension anyway. 

Worry is my middle name. I can let it ruin parts and too often the whole day. I can think, analyze, dissect, and thoroughly pull apart certain aspects of my day and life while  totally overthinking the situation. This will lead me to worry about the things that I have no control over and miss pieces of my life that are wonderful and memorable. I know that's such a trite thing to say - Be Present in the Moments of Your life! David Thoreau had it right, 

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.
Henry David Thoreau

And even though I will probably struggle with this resolution, I am determined to try. And to try something with your whole being, is really all you can do in life. Be present, try your best,  and oft times we reach the prize we were aiming for. My goals are to relish the ride, finish my manuscript, publish a short story, love my family and by all means - enjoy the Present! And while I didn't meet my goals for this year, that's okay. Look at what I did accomplish this year and going forward I will enjoy every minute of my life and my time with those that I love.  


What is your resolution? Do you make a resolution/goal for the next year? Look forward to hearing from some of you and to hearing your goals and/or resolutions. Happy New Year!
Let's make 2018 a wonderful year with lots of family, love, being present and books!




Friday, December 8, 2017

The Holiday Season

The Holidays bring about some of our best memories of our lives, but they can also be stressful. They can also make you realize that you are missing someone special to you that is no longer in your life for one reason or another. The Holiday season can often be a time we look hard at where we are with our lives and determine what we are thankful for and where we are going the next year, literally and mentally.  We can get bogged down in the small or large tragedies that crisscross our lives and the terrifying events that are going on in the world. They all have a huge effect on our psyche. But when you are least expecting it, something will happen to reassure you that all is right with the world. It can be a nice gesture by a total stranger, the touching surprise your spouse springs on you, or the kind thank you from your very own child.

Christmas always brings me memories of my Dad. He loved Christmas. After he passed, it seemed that he filled my every waking moment and my world was a gray place. While standing in front of the ice cream freezer at my local grocery store, wishing I could share some with him one last time, a very nice, older gentleman excused himself so he "could get some ice cream for his wife." He smiled and wished me a good night. Then for some reason he turned around and started a conversation with me. There must have been something in my demeanor or face that told him I was going through a bad time and he took the moment to notice and care. He managed to make me laugh and before our time together was over, I saw pictures of his beautiful family and heard how successful they all were. The pride in his voice was evident to anyone listening and while he shared their story with me, I felt touched by his love of his family. I realized that being a father never ends and my Dad was just as proud of me even if he was no longer with me day-to-day.


So don't be sad this Holiday when you think of those loved ones you are missing. Remember the times you had with them together and the special traditions you carry on with your own family that you were taught by your parents. When I was little, my Dad would go out in the virgin woods around our house and cut down a fresh pine tree. It was always too large to fit in our house the first time - guess they look smaller in the forest. And sometimes he brought in a critter or two, but never one that caused anything but laughter from us. So this Holiday while I miss my parents, the memories I have of them and the loving kindness they gave me will be passed on to my family. Start new customs for with your family and friends, Pinterest is full of ideas. I wanted to start a new one on Christmas Day where we ate and read all day but my family revolted. Whatever we end up doing will be filled with love and that is the most important part anyway. Next blog post will have my favorite books from 2017 and some good ones coming out in 2018! Wishing you all a very, Merry Christmas filled with love and joy!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Patty pick is The Woman in Cabin 10

The action in this book revolves around on a cruise ship, but not just any cruise ship - an exclusive floating palace. Lo has won the lottery of job assignments. She gets to take part in the first sailing of this gorgeous ship and enjoy all the amenities available. She and nine other lucky travel writers will write an article for their magazines. 

Right before she leaves for the ship, she wakes up in her apartment to a burglar going through her purse. After being locked in her bedroom for the whole night, she is left scared and shaken. Her life is in turmoil. Her boyfriend and Lo are at a crossroads. He wants to move to the United States for a new job. All of these changes and unanswered problems have her rattled and uncertain of what her future holds. 

Off she goes to enjoy a nice, relaxing cruise aboard this one-of-a-kind vessel. As she finally relaxes the first night in her cabin, Lo believes she witnesses a murder in Cabin 10, the cabin beside of hers. She witnesses what she thinks is a dead body being thrown overboard. After searching the cabin with the staff, nothing is found and no one believes her. During the next few days, Lo is given warnings to back off, but she goes forward trying to figure out if she's going crazy or a murder really did happen in Cabin 10. 

This thriller at sea will have you rooting for Lo and searching for answers to this mystery along with her.  Ruth Ware always gives us, the readers, suspense, and more twists and turns than you expect. But will Lo make it back from this cruise? Nothing is certain in this novel and you will not know what is coming next. A thrilling read and a solid 4 Stars!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Patty Pick for 11/2/17 is "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate has another deeply emotional novel based on true stories of illegally taken children. In Memphis during the later days of the Depression until as late as the 1950's, a ruthless operator named Georgia Tann had the whole system in her pocket. She had children stolen from front porches, off the street, and even convinced poor women giving birth that their children had died. With her network of Tennessee Children's Home Society locations, she schemed to place poor children into rich homes for a price. The parents and children did not see the money but Georgia lined her pockets with this blood money paid for by the children. Many of the children did not make it to adoption since the homes were in such poor conditions and there were predators at many turns. 

Rill Foss along her sisters and brother are taken from their houseboat, while their parents were at the hospital giving birth to their next twin set of siblings. After being placed in the home, Rill tries to keep them together and alive, but they are soon torn apart and scattered to different homes or worse. This is their story, but really it is an example of the tales of these children stolen from their families.

In present day South Carolina, Avery Stafford is being groomed to take her father's and family's long-standing place in politics. She seems to have it all with beauty, wealth, power and a gorgeous fiancee. Her grandmother is struggling with Alzheimers and has been moved to an assisted living facility. While visiting her grandmothers house to help, Avery encounters a waiting taxi. She then embarks an a journey to uncover her family's past, the past no one knows. 

This book was one of the best I've read this year! A solid 5 Stars!! The history is riveting and the story lines flow back and forth through time. You will remember this one long after you turn the last page. Our book club had a long and spirited discussion about the choice each character made and the tragedy of the whole time period in history.