2004

Caramelo

 

Sandra Cisneros

3.34 (out of 4 rating)

A story full of truths, history, and imaginative story telling when needed. Celaya Reyes, tells the story of her Hispanic family beginning with her annual summer trips to Mexico to visit her Grandparents from her hometown of Chicago. She is the youngest and only daughter of seven children in the Reyes family, excluding the uncles,aunts and cousins. The story begins with Soledad, the Grandmother and her life. There are many historical references of the wars in Mexico along with interesting facts of Hispanic entertainers who became quite famous. As the story unfolds, past and present mix together. At times, the Grandmother is telling her story to Celaya and making things up as she goes along to make things more interesting, but Celaya adds her own storytelling. It is a family story of many generations, interactions amongst the relatives, and that of the Hispanic community, whether you live in Mexico or the United States, past or present. It is also the coming of age story of Celaya. A multi-layered read.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

 

Carson McCullers

2.25

I was not able to attend the discussion for this book and it was a small group so I can't really review it the way I would like. Through research of the author, it was autobiographical and the author as an adult did not have a pleasant life, ending with a stroke in her twenties. It would be worth researching her for your discussion of this book. Although the jacket says the book centers around the main character, Mick Kelly, a 14 year old adolescent and her kinship with John Singer, the deaf mute and the other misfit characters around her, I would disagree. I felt John Singer was the main character and it was the others who went to him to talk as he just listened to their problems and life. He himself was disturbed in his private life separate from those of the others. A movie was made from this book which would be interesting to see.

Gulliver's Travels

 

Jonathan Swift 3 We all think of Gulliver's Travels being a children's story about a giant in a land of little people. There are four parts to this story that goes way beyond the child's story mentioned above. Swift wrote Gulliver from 1721-1725, writing Part 3 last. When it was first published, parts of the original transcript were omitted by the publisher out of fear from the government and it wasn't until ten years later, that the original book was published. Swift was a very political and religious man who wrote Gulliver as a satire of the times. Knowing the history of the times, gives great insight as to what the book is really about. His view of the human race is one to contemplate. It may seem hard to read through at times, but when you think of how it applies socially, politically, the advancement of science at the times, you realize how much truth there is to what he is saying and how many hidden satirical remarks he is making. This is another book where you need to research the author so that you can relate his actual life and upbringing as to the way he writes Gulliver and his relationship with people. The best edition to read is the Penguin Classics which gives an introduction and notes throughout the book to explain the words or phrasing of the times. Spark Notes and Cliff Notes may help too.

Girl With A Pearl Earring

 

Tracy Chevalier

3

This book is based on the actual painting by Johannes Vermeer, a 17th century painter from Delft, Holland. Vermeer's paintings are of those of his local surroundings and the people around him. The book gave us great insight into his world along with the process of being an artist. The novel is about Griet, a servant maid who comes to live with Vermeer's family at the age of 16. One of her assignments, besides taking care of the many children and household chores, is to clean Vermeer's studio, yet leaving every thing in place so that it will always remain the same when he is painting his subject. Griet becomes immersed in her work and Vermeer's and at one point makes a subtle change in the area he is painting which he approves. She soon becomes his assistant, mixing his paints by grinding bones, pigments, and realizing where the color actually comes from when mixed with linseed oil. It is also an educational process when you read how a painting begins with one color and as color is gradually added over time, a 'picture' actually emerges. I think what we enjoyed most about the book was the process of an artist along with the description Chevalier writes of the city, market, people, etc. Of course, there are other characters, social, and religious issues that contribute to the storyline. It is a simple, quick read which makes the above a good read. But, as far as character development, things are stated, skipped over, questionable, and left to the reader to imagine what they want It is a story of fiction and it is unknown who the girl actually is in the painting.

One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd

 

Jim Fergus

2.5

This book is based on the premise that President Grant was going to trade 1000 white women for 1000 horses in order for the Native American Indians to breed with the white American women to become one people. Of course, it never happened, but this is the story of "what if". There are a mixture of white women who volunteer for their own various reasons and they all have their own stories and personalities. It is a story of fiction but the names of actual generals, army posts, Indian chiefs, battles etc. are true. The bibliography in the back of the book lists many sources for the factual parts of the book. There were numerous Indian tribes with very different cultures, traditions, and customs. Some were very peaceful as others weren't. It was a really interesting book, leaving you wanting to know more information about the different tribes, people, and historical events. To me, any book that leaves you wanting to know more about the subject, has done its job. It is another reminder of the travesty of the Native American plight in the late 1800's. If you read this book, you may want to check out other books about the Cheyenne Indians to see pictures of the actual Indians in the book. Our hostess found a couple of wonderful books in the children section in the library.

Crow Lake

 

Mary Lawson

3

Kate is seven years old when her parents are killed in a car accident. Her oldest brother Luke , then 18, decides to stay at home to keep the family together, while brother Matt finishes high school and baby sister Bo now is raised by the family. The story is told through the voice of Kate as she grows up in a rural community in Canada, the effect and choices her family has to make to stay together and her own disappointment in her own family and life. In the end, grown up, going back to Matt's son's birthday party, she has to come to terms with her own life and that of the others.

The Da Vinci Code

 

Dan Brown

3.2

The Fact page of this book is true, the rest of the book however, is fiction. The Da Vinci Code is a murder mystery, which was a fun and fast read, as many mysteries usually are. What is interesting about this book is that it raises the question of whether or not Jesus Christ may have been married to Mary Magdeline and had a child. It also poses the question of what the Holy Grail actually is. We all found it very thought provoking. Other notes of interest are that if you haven't traveled to France, England, or Italy, the descriptions of the museums and cities are very visual. The science information is also of great interest. In the end, you can believe whatever you want.

Founding Mothers

The Women Who Raised Our Nation

 

Cokie Roberts

2.7

This is the story you do not read about in the history books. As they say," Behind every good man is a good woman", this book is proof. Through much research from documents, personal letters, private journals, we learn how influential, strong, and important these women were. While the men were overseas, in Congress, or off to war, the women were at home raising the children, running the family business, politicking on their own, writing poems and letters to be published, and even working along side the men at the war camps. They boycotted products from the English, advised their husbands about the needs of the people, and fought off the English on their very own property. The only thing about this book is that although it is suppose to be written in chronological order, with each new person the author writes about, she jumps back years and starts over with that person. Many women and people in general, cross paths, so that the book does jump around. When you feel you are getting towards the end of the war, you find yourself back at the beginning. I am sure it was difficult to write about each woman without doing this, but it made for disruptive reading.

the speed of dark

 

elizabeth moon

3.7

This was the best read so far this year in ratings and discussions. We were talking in many conversations at once, which was ironic to what is written on page 244. It was a "United We Read ’ selection and won the 2003 Nebula Award. The story is about Lou Arrandale, a 30 something autistic in the future. In the early 20th century, through genetic research, they find ways to correct autism and come up with new treatments for the young autistic, so their autism isn’t as severe. The older autistic cannot be treated. It is too late for them. A new treatment becomes available through the research company where Lou works to make the young autistic "normal". At first, the upper manager, Mr. Crenshaw, tries to force them all into treatment or they will lose their jobs. Their immediate boss, Mr. Aldrin, finds ways to go behind Mr. Crenshaw’s back to find out how to stop this. It is not only an amazing book about autism, but also brings out many other issues to be discussed; too many to list so have your post-its ready. This book gives you an insight into the life of autistics and how they differ from each other, cope with their disability, and interact with “normal’ people. Since it is a story that takes place in the future, it makes the book believable. It cannot be compared to today’s autistics. We also have a few members in our club with professional experience, who gave credibility to the book. The author is a science fiction writer and also the mother of an adoptive son with autism.

All Quiet on the Western Front

 

Erich Maria Remarque

3.9

Could we get any closer to a 4? This book is a classic, timeless story of war. Written by a German soldier after WW1, it was not written to provide a German aspect of war, but of war as experienced by any soldier of any country. It is very descriptive and sensory in that you can see, feel, and even smell what Paul, the character, is going through. It also describes the camaraderie of fellow soldiers and the importance of such.

A good site for reference is here. The site is a good reference about the author and the book .No matter the year or the war, this book is timeless.

A Fine Balance

 

Rohinton Mistry

3.4

The comment most made by the members of the discussion were that the book "took us completely out of our little world and introduced us to a critically difficult time." The book is set in the 1970's, India, under the rule of Prime Minister Ghandi, where she declares an 'Emergency' to beautify the country. This means cleaning the country and the streets of the lower castes, homeless, beggars, and undesirables. The story centers around two brothers who leave their lower caste as tan hiders to live with family friends in another city in an upper class and become tailors. They wish to return to the village as better people and to better the village. Later, things happen and the one brother now takes his nephew to the city to sew for a woman, Dina, who is a middle woman for a sewing export business. Dina's college friend's son, Maneck, also comes to live with her while he goes to college and helps Dina by paying her rent. Each has their own tragic story. But the real story is what is happening in the country of India under Ghandi's rule. It is horrific. There are many, many characters , but they all have something to add to the story which makes their presence important. The happiest moments are when the four main characters are together in the house for one year. The before, during, and after the one year will disturb, distress, depress, disgust, yet also you will find some love and compassion. It is truly an education and worth the long read.