2009

The Nine:

Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
Jeffrey Toobin

3.75

Toobin’s book covers the history of the US Supreme Court from the summer of 1991 through the spring of 2007.  The two major themes are: 1) the push and pull between the conservatives and the liberals on the court and 2) the evolution of the judicial opinions of most of the justices, particularly O’Connor and Kennedy. None of us realized the pivotal role that Sandra Day O’Connor played in some of the most critical Court decisions of our time – affirmative action, abortion rights, executive powers.  Time after time, she cast the deciding 5th majority vote to preserve these rights. You would think that a book about the Supreme Court would be on the dry and boring side, but not this book!  As one of our book club members put it, the book often reads like a novel, complete with suspense, character development and personal rivalries.  Toobin does an outstanding job of bringing each Justice to life with personal details. For instance, none of us knew that Clarence Thomas socializes at RV campgrounds and NASCAR tracks, where few people recognize him. We had a wide-ranging and often spirited discussion as we reflected on some of the controversial issues of our time: Roe vs Wade, Bush vs Gore, Gitmo, the Harriet Miers nomination, prayer in school, the Clarence Thomas nomination, the Terry Schiavo case, gay rights. We rated this book a 3.75 for its writing style as well as its timely information on the branch of government that few of us know much about.

 

The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett

3.75

Tom Builder is a mason. When work is stopped on the house he is building, he sets forth with his wife and family to find work. His dream is to build a cathedral. Thus begins his journey. Prior Phillip is the head monk at a small monastery. He goes to Kingsbridge and his journey as the new Prior of Kingsbridge begins. The two inevitably meet. Without giving anything away, this story of early 1100's England, politics between Kings, Lords, and Bishops, along with a cast of wonderful and horrid characters, make a 1000 page book read as if it was only 300. This is a must read. What a wonderful education of the time period.

Loving Frank Nancy Horan

3.33

Frank Lloyd Wright is hired to design and build a home for Edwin Chene, and his wife, Mamah. Mamah and Frank enjoy each others company and conversation. Thus begins their affair that leads to the destruction of both families.This fictional book is based on facts. Horan creates an intimate picture into Mamah's life and her relationship with Frank. After reading this book, I became more interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and his life after the affair. Another book, "The Women", has recently been published by T.C. Boyle. This is about Frank's other women.

The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

James McBride

3.2

In this memoir of Ruth (Rachel Dwajra Zyliska) McBride Jordan, Mc Bride writes of his family; one of twelve siblings, a white, Jewish mother who will not admit she is white, and his father, black Baptist minister who dies before James is born. Her story, as told to James, is written along side his. It wasn't until he was an adult that he learned the truth about his mother. This is a story of a very strong, determined mother who made sure all of her twelve children received a good education leading to professional degrees.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time

 

Grag Mortenson

David Oliver Relin

3.25

In 1993, Greg Mortenson failed in his attempt to climb K2, the world's second largest mountain, in the Karakoram Range, Pakistan. On his way down the mountain, he became lost and found himself in the village of Korphe, being nursed back to health by Chief Ali. To thank the village, he promised to return and build a school. He did not break his promise. This book is his story, as told to and researched by Relin, of the following years, his struggle, triumphs, and rewards to have built numerous schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He believes that the educaton of children, especially girls, is what will bring peace and an end to terrorism in the Middle East. This book is very educational as to what is going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the Taliban. Greg Mortenson has been nominated for the Nobel Prize this year. He deserves it. If you are interested in purchasing this book, please go to www.threecupsoftea. Money from the purchase of this book will benefit more schools. This is a must read.

The Devil in the White City
Erik Larson

3.75

This is a book with two stories. One is the Chicago World"s Fair, 1892, and the men who created it. The second is of Henry H. Holmes, serial killer. Larson does an amazing job weaving two true separate stories into one book.

Daniel Burnham and his partner, John Root, Chicago's leading architects, were chosen to design the Chicago's World Fair. It was Burnham's responsibility to acquire other national architects, labor, and money to build the Fair in less than three years so that it could open in October to celebrate Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World. The book explains all the work and hardship that was needed to pull this off. The story describes not only the politics behind the project, but that of construction, weather, economy and industrialization. The Fair brought many important people and characters to Chicago, including Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. It also was the beginning of many foods and inventions that we still have today: Juicy Fruit Gum, Cracker Jacks, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Shredded Wheat, AC electricity to light our homes and streets, and where would a carnival be today without a Midway and a ferris wheel.

Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor from the East Coast, moves to Chicago after leaving his wife. He purchases a drug store then builds a hotel across the street for the upcoming Fair. Larson delves into Holmes past from his early childhood to that of a young man. Holmes was a psychotic, satanic, charming man who lured many young women into his life and to their brutal deaths. His house of horrors was built by men he would fire to not only avoid having to pay them, but so that they would not be suspicious of what he was doing. He owed many people and businesses money yet he could manipulate them out of collecting what was their due.This was the United States Jack the Ripper.

This is the way to learn history. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

3.75

The time period is 1946, London, post WWII. Juliet Ashton is an author looking for a new book subject. She receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. He is reading a book by Charles Lamb and finds Juliet's name in the book as the previous owner. He writes to her to inquire if she has any other books by Charles Lamb. Dawsey tells her the circumstances that formed the literary society on the island. Juliet is curious and begins corresponding not only with Dawsey, but members of the society and other inhabitants of the Island. Juliet becomes intrigued with the people and their experiences during the German occupation. She decides to move to Guernsey for further research, thinking that this just may be the book she is meant to write. She not only becomes involved in the lives of the inhabitants, but the experience will change her future forever. Written in epistolary style, we meet over 20 different people.

I know have written this before, but we have read so many books about WWII that I think we must have covered everything by now. Yet, here is another book giving us insight into how devasting the war was on a small Island in the middle of a Channel.

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

4+++++

We rate our books between 1-4. This book rates beyond a 4. It is a must read.

Liesel is 9 years old when she watches her little brother die in their mother's arms. They are on a train to their new foster parents.  Death, the narrator of this story, is on the train to take the brother's soul to eternity. Death is not a bad or evil presence, he has a job to do, which he isn't very fond of, but it has to be done.

After Liesel's brother is buried and as she is leaving the cemetary, she stops to pick up a book the grave digger has dropped. The book, ' The Grave Digger's Handbook', is the first of many that Liesel will steal. Liesel is sent to live with her new foster parents. Her mother can no longer take care of her and her father was taken away by the Germans for supposedly being a Communist. Her new papa, Hans, begins to read the book Liesel has stolen, to Liesel when she wakes up every night from a nightmare. It is also the book he will use to teach her how to read.

Liesel becomes very good friends with a neighbor boy, Rudy. Together, they will share in play, stealing, and being each other's best friend.

Han's past will catch up with him when a young jew named Max comes to live in his basement to hide from the Nazis. Max and Liesel form a friendship through books, stories of everyday life, and one book that will literally save Liesel's life.

Here is a different voice of WWII. We hear from the German people and their horrifying time during the war with: the Nazi police, the youth groups, (which their children must participate),  the air raids and bombings, recruitments into the war, survivers guilt,  and the Jews marching through the streets like cattle and no one allowed to help them. Zusak is a gifted writer using words in a way that our group called poetic. His thematic and sensory descriptions take you swiftly through Liesel's story via Death's voice and observations. One major point in this story is how strong and powerful words are since that is what Hitler used to begin this war. I like what one member said about death, "Nobody gets out alive, it's how you get out that matters."

 

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

a memoir

Susan Jane Gilman

3.1

In 1986, right after college, Susie and Claire decide to travel the world for a year instead of getting jobs. This idea came to them one late night, or early morning,  while sitting in a IHOP and seeing that their paper place mat was a  map of the world. Claire came from money and wanted to make the entire trip authentic as a backpacker by making sure they did not partake of luxuries such as hotels and Americanized restaurants. Susie came from NYC, worked in a bar, and her grandmother helped pay for her trip. Arrivng in China, they were told by the government where they could or could not travel, and what currency of money they were allowed to use. The met: Johnnie, a Chinese native, who said he would show them parts of China they could not see on their own, hoping in the end, Claire and Susie would take him to the American Embassy. Gunter, a tall German, who help the two girls since he knows Mandarin. Cynthia, a young mother traveling with her two sons. And Lisa, a young Chinese woman who owns a small restaurant in a village catering to American food such as banana pancakes. Their travels begin into the unknown shock culture of China. Ms. Gilman takes us deep into the back villages of China, the Great Wall, the variety of young, world wide backpack travelers, and the two girls own personal lives. The last part of the book turns into a mystery thriller. This book livens all the senses to China.

Run Ann Patchett

2.5

Unfortunately, I was out of town when we had this meeting. I also left the book on the plane so I never did get to finish it. There are many reviews online if you would like more information on this book. Sorry.

TheStory of Edgar Sawtelle David Wroblewski

2.5

Edgar Sawtelle lives on a farm in Wisconsin with his parents where they raise a special breed of dog. He and his father, Gar, and mother, Trudy, not only breed, but train the pups until they are eighteen months old. They are then sold at a high price to good homes. Edgar was born mute and communicates with his family and the dogs with their own version of sign language. Gar's brother, Claude, comes back to the farm after a long absence and begins to help out on the farm. Before long,  the sibling rivalry starts up again and the two brothers argue over the past and present. When Gar unexpectedly dies, Edgar asks Claude to come to the farm to help him and his mother with the work. Soon, Edgar resents the relationship between his mother and Claude. After a terrible accident, Edgar runs away from home with the pact of dogs he was given to raise. He eventually returns to prove that Claude did indeed kill his father.

This book was twice as long as it needed to be. Although the descriptions of the dog training, countryside, and living off the land are very interesting, there are plot lines that go on and on. Where was the editor for this? The ending was horrid. I know not every ending has to be good, but I gasped!! This book was written with the outline of Hamlet, down to character, plot and poison.The author was an essay write hence the dog name of Essay. They are links out there that have a line by line comparison. If you need one let me know.

The author actually grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and raised dogs.