2010

The Leisure Seeker Michael Zadoorian

3.

Ella decides against the advice of her doctor and grown children, to take one last hurrah cross country from their home in Detroit, Michigan to Disneyland, California. They are going to drive there via Route 66 and travel in their leisure van. The thing is, Ella is dying from cancer and there are no more treatments that will cure her.  John has alzheimers. He is still able to drive and Ella can navigate. The children do not realize they are gone until Ella and John are well on there way. They drive as far as they can each day, stopping by old tourist traps along the somewhat scenic route. At night they puill into a campsite and view family slides on the side of the camper from vacations and times past. John remembers these times well. It is his short term memory that he is struggling with. Ella at times is very short with him, angry at him and his disease. She is in terrible pain and has to medicate herself throughout the day in order to function. This is a love story that is funny and heartbreaking at the same time. 

We had a wonderful discussion about this book. We could all relate to Ella and John, the fact that our parents are aging, that we are aging. Many of us have gone through or are going through illnesses with our own parents or our spouses. The outcome does not change. It is how you live your life that matters.

The Master

Colm Toibin

2.5

This novel is actually a biography of the author Henry James during his life from 1895-1899. Through the book, we travel with Henry from his home in England, to his getaways to France and Italy. He tells of growing up in Newport, Rhode Island in a well off family. He describes his father's illness and that of his sister, Alice and cousin Minny,(both women died young), and the Civil War. Two of his brothers fought in the war. Henry found a way to avoid fighting. Henry writes his novels based on stories his friends have told or, for instance, fictionalized a life Minny would have had if she had lived. Henry enjoyed his solitude. He was invited to and attended many evening parties but was always eager to leave so he could go home and write or read. His sexuality was questioned as he had friendships and attractions towards other men. There is no evidence though that proves he acted upon his thoughts and feelings. He did have a close relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, but seemed to step back when he felt the relationship was getting too close or too public.

The novel was very insightful  to the life of Henry James and his writing/thought process. However, it did take time to get into the book. The first 100-150 pages read very slow.

 

This Boy's Life A Memoir Tobias Wolff

3.25

Toby, or Jack, as he liked to be called, lived with his mother, Rosemary. His brother, Geoffrey, lived with his father. Jack and his mother fled from Florida when he was 10. His mother was escaping an abusive relationship. Their destination was Utah, but after another abusive relationship there, they went to Seattle, Wa. Rosemary was urged by her housemates to settle down and find a man to marry. She needed a husband and Jack definitely needed a father. He ran off with friends, lied, cheated, and stole. Rosemary met Dwight who lived two hours away in a very small camptown called Chinook. Dwight was a widow with three children of his own. Jack went to live with Dwight before the marriage. Dwight was very hard on Jack yet whenever his mother asked him about his living situation, Dwight, the town, Jack said everything was fine. His mother said she wouldn't marry Dwight if Jack didn't want her to but Jack wanted a family. Dwight was also a drinker and a mean drunk. He made Jack take over a paper route and give Dwight all the money. Jack thought Dwight was saving it for him but that was not the case. Dwight had Jack join the boy scouts but refused to fill out the forms for Jack to become an eagle scout. Jack did not do well in school and would get into trouble. He called his brother Geoffrey who was now in college. Jack told him that Dwight had hit him and he had to get out. Geoffrey talked with him about applying to prep schools. Jack lied saying he had good grades and seemed to be a good candidate to be accepted under a scholarship. To hide the truth. Jack had a friend steal school stationary so he could write reference letters and change his grades. This would change his future and that of his mother.

Wolff writes with a great style of storytelling. It is simplistic yet you can feel and sense what he was going through. He does not portray himself as someone to feel sorry for or pity. He just went through his day, everyday, dealing with whatever was to happen to him. He made plans and when they didn't work, moved on. A true story of self reliance.

Sin in the Second City

Madams, Ministers, Playboys, And The Battle for America's Soul

Karen Abbott

3

In the Levee District of South Chicago, circa 1900-1911, Ada and Minna Simms/Everleigh ran the most elite brothel in the city, possibly the country. They catered to high end clientele including actors, politicians, foreign dignataries, and millionaires. They had many rooms decorated with expensive art, gold, and mirrors. They took very good care of their girls providing them with health care, money, and beautiful clothing. They offered good wine and food to their clients. They did not deal with pimps or white slave traders, unlike other brothels in the district. The Cast of Characters at the beginning of the book reads like a well written play: The Madams of the District, The Lords of the Levee, The Ministers, and The Politicians. It is an amazing look into the world of prostitution, vice, shakedowns, blackmail, law, and The Mann Act, which made it against the law to traffic women across the state line for illegal purposes and white slavery.

What is amazing is that still to this day, women and children are being sold into slavery. 

Deaths on Pleasant Street

The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Doctor Hyde.

Giles Fowler

3.3

In the late 1800's, Colonlel Thomas Swope made his money in mining and moved to the Kansas City area in Missouri. His brother and sister-in-law, Maggie Swope, lived in Independence, MO., which at that time, was the large city and County seat. He bought a large parcel of farm land, sold it off into smaller parcels and made his fortune. This area became downtown Kansas City. He donated a large parcel to the city to become a park, Swope Park.

After the death of Maggie's husband, Col. Swope lived in the Swope mansion along with his cousin Hunton Moss, 62, and Maggie's children. Her oldest daughter, Francis, married Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde, against the family's wishes. Hyde had had questionable relationships previously with two divorced women whom he had borrowed money and not paid back. Maggie eventually welcomed him into the family after Hyde cared for her son, Thomas, after an accident.

On September 18, Hyde purchases cyanide capsules from the drug store. On October 1, 1909, Colonel Hunton Moss, age 62, dies of a brain hemorrhage. He was one of the executor's of Col. Swope's estate, and Hyde wants to be the new executor. He hears of Swope wanting to change his will so that more of his money would go to the poor of Kansas City and not his nieces and nephews. Swope planned on changing his will the following week. October 3, Col. Swope feels ill and Hyde gives him a capsule, saying it will help his stomach, having had gastric problems in the past. Within minutes, Swope has convulsions and is dead by the end of the day. By end November, another Swope family member is dead and many ill. Is this all circumstance or did Dr. Hyde murder and attempt murder on other family members for a larger piece of the inheritance?

The author, a previous KC Star reporter, does an amazing job recounting the saga of the Swope family. His extensive research and accurate depiction of facts puts you in the jury box.

 

The Good Soldiers David Finkel

4

In January 2007, President Bush announced a new strategy to win the war in Iraq. It was known as "The Surge". Battalion 2-16 was deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas to fight in Iraq for 15 months. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, this unit, the infantry Rangers went into Iraq to bring peace and order to their country. They tried to improve the water systems, sewers, and overall lives of the Iraqi people. The goal was to bring democracy to the nation. Instead, they were met with EFP'S,(explosively formed penetrators), IED's,(improvised explosive device), and hostile Iraqi terrorists. These young men from the battalion were right out of high school, college, newly married, single, fathers, came from all walks of life. They arrived positive, fearless, strong, and left disheartened, suffering from PTSD, injured, or in body bags.

David Finkel, a reporter for The Washington Post, lived along side these men for months reporting what he saw. He starts off each chapter with a quotation from President Bush about the status of the war at the time. He takes you right there on the front line, going through homes, buildings, and down the road when a bomb goes off right in front of you blowing up the humvee with your friends. You can visually see, smell, and feel the emotions and terror our young soldiers experienced. This is the real war. Finkel's writing pulls you in. This is not his story as he does not place himself in the story at all. This is the soldiers story from beginning to the end when they come home. this is a must read.

Embers Sandor Marai

3.6

Konrad and Henrik, "The General", met as boys in military school in Hungary. The General lived in a family castle and came from money. Konrad was poor and his parents sacrificed to pay for his schooling. The boys became inseparable. Konrad introduced his childhood friend, Krisztina, to Henrik. Henrik and Krisztina eventually married and the 3 remained good friends, until the 'hunt'. 41 years later, Konrad sends a letter of arrival to Henrik, saying he is in town.They meet for dinner that evening. In preparation of the dinner, Henrik has the castle, down to the dinner table, prepared as it was the night of their last dinner. At the table and for the continuation of the evening, the book is written as a monologue. Henrik tells his life story since that last fateful night, and asks questions, without having Konrad answer. This is his closure, though sad, that it seems 3 lives were changed horribly through escape and silence.

The Little Book Selden Edwards

3.25

Wheeler Burden is a famous American college baseballl player, rock star, and author, who wakes up to find himself in Vienna. It is the end of the 19th century, and the city is full of artists, philosophers and musicians. It is the time of Mahler, Klimt and Freud, and the youth of the city are part of a social, artistic and intellectual revolution. The hatred toward Jews is climaxing and a young boy, named Adolph Hitler is 9 years old. Wheeler knows all about this era and the sites of Vienna because of his prep school mentor, Arnauld Esterhazy (known as The Haze), whose memoir he edited and published. He steals some clothes and money and sets off to see the city. But that theft leads to an incredible chain of events that plays out over almost the next 100 years and then circles in on itself starting all over again.

In Vienna, Wheeler comes to meet his war-hero father who died when he was just a small boy. The two, Wheeler and Dilly Burden, agree not to interfere in history, (as Dilly has time traveled to Vienna as well), but Wheeler falls in love with the beautiful Bostonian writer Eleanor Putnam. The biggest problem with their affair is that she is his own grandmother. This incest, though explained away by Edwards, is  still uncomfortable and hard to digest. Whole sections of narration read like Freudian therapy sessions, which isn't surprising since Freud (along with Mahler, Hitler and other famous Austrians) is an important figure in the story. 

Time travel can be confusing and tricky but the journal Wheeler started on his arrival in Vienna, will help him and his family throughout his lifetime.

 

 

 

 
   
Half Broke Horses Jeannette Walls

3.2

Jeannette Walls, author of 'The Glass Castle', wanted to write a story about her mother, Rosemary Smith Walls. Her mother told her to write about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, because she was more interesting. Through Lily, we learn why Rosemary wanted to live a nomadic lifestyle and raise her children the same way.

Lily was 6 when she was helping her father break horses. She had to work on the ranch. She was able later to attend catholic school but after a year, her father pulled her out because he had spent her tuition money. She left home at 15 to accept a teaching job in Arizona that didn't require a degree. From there she traveled to Chicago, married, divorced, and worked as a maid to earn money for college. She returned to Arizona and raced horses to earn more money when she met Jim Casey, her future husband. They married, worked a ranch, and had two children; Jim Jr. and Rosemary. She continued to teach in various locations from one room schoolhouses to a high school in Phoenix. Rosemary loved the ranch and the abilty to roam and be a free spirit like her mother. But, she didn't care for the education system. Life was her education. She met and married Rex Walls , Jeannette's father. She was herself a half broke horse. 'The Glass Castle' picks up their life. 

This book is considered fiction. Ms. Walls used the family history and stories to write the book but because she had to embellish in order to make it a story, it is a novel.

 

MOO Jane Smiley

2.75

MOO University could be any Midwestern University. In fact, the main character of the book is the University itself and the faculty and students are the supporting cast.

The students are referred to as customers. Here Smiley includes the all too common four female roomates who are very different from each other but have to learn to get along, at least for the first semester. Then there are also the male roomates, same thing. The faculty ranges from: the Dean, the secretary, (who knows more than her boss of the workings of the University and has more control than she should), the Department heads, and Professors vying for tenure.

At the center of the University is a building referred to as 'Old Meats". It is no longer used except it now houses a Landrace boar named Earl Butz. Only the owner, Dr. Bo, and his caretaker, Bob, know of his existence. His purpose in life is to see what happens if a hog is allowed to eat at will for all of is natural lifespan.

The politics of a University are very evident. Professors are expected to publish, serve on commitees, write grants, and raise funds for their individual departments. Money from State Government and Corporations for research are imperative to keep the University afloat. The results when they are withdrawn or cutback can result in larger class size, dropped classes and programs.

There are so many characters in this book you may want to write them down and keep track of their occupation and relationship with one another.  One chapter is titled " Who's in Bed With Whom?". This book is actually a very good book for discussion. It is one of those books that needs to be discussed instead of just letting it sit in your head. We all wondered what Ms. Smiley's own university thought of this book. She did leave her post the following year.

 

The Help
Kathryn Stockett

3.9

When Skeeter graduated from college she applied for only one job, to be an editor for Harper & Row in New York City. The senior editor wrote back admiring her ambition, but told her to get a job for experience. In the meantime, continue to write but write down things that disturb her, particularly if they don't bother anyone else. Skeeter applies for a job at the Jackson Journal and is hired to take over the column of Miss Myrna, a cleaning advice column. Quite ironic for someone who has never had to clean.

Skeeter lives in Jackson, Mississippi and the year is 1962. She was raised on her family's cotton plantation and was raised by Constantine, the black maid. This was very common in the South for the white families to have black domestics taking care of the house and raising the children. Skeeter, 23, is still friends with Hilly and Elizabeth, two women she has known from childhood. They are both now married and all three belong to the Junior League. Elizabeth allows Skeeter to ask Elizabeth's maid, Abileen, the cleaning questions for her column. Abileen agrees to help her. The three women get together, along with Hilly's mother to play bridge. Hilly is having a problem with her mother's maid, Minny, who is very outspoken. Hilly also is accusing Minny of starving her mother and stealing from her. Hilly believes that blacks are disease carrying, dirty people who shouldn't share the same bathroom or anything else for that matter. But, this has been a way of life in the South for many many years. It being 1962 and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, some things are changing. When Hilly starts a campaign to install separate bathrooms outside of the main homes for the black domestics, Skeeter really starts to realize the unjust that the maids are being subject to. They can love and raise your children, but they can't use your bathroom. This is what disturbs Skeeter.

Skeeter talks with Abileen to hear her story of being a black maid. She sends it to Elaine Stein, the editor at Harper & Row. Ms. Stein says it is a good start but that she needs 11 more stories.  This is a very dangerous and scary thing for blacks to be doing, speaking out against their white employers. Abileen and Skeeter have to convince the other maids to come on board to tell their stories.

The book is written in three voices: Abileen, who has raised 17 children but has lost her only son when he was 17. Minnie, the best cook in Jackson, Mississippi, but doesn't know better to keep her thoughts to herself so she keeps losing jobs. Skeeter, who wants to get away from her controlling mother, to become a writer and move to New York City. 

Ms. Stockett did an amazing job capturing the voices of Abileen and Minny. She based the book on her own experiences with her maid growing up, Demetri, and the way of life at the time. This is her first novel and I believe this book will be timeless. This is the second time I have read the book and I could read it again. We all loved this book.