The Thirteenth Tale

 

 Diane Setterfield

3.7 (out of 4 rating)

British author, Ms. Vida Winter, has asked Margaret Lea to write her biography. Ms. Winter, who has written over 50 novels, having them translated into many languages, given many interviews over the years, (none true), has decided she wants to have her biography written. Many years ago, a young man came to interview her stating, "Tell me the Truth!". Of course she didn't, but she never forgot that man and those words. Margaret Lea only wrote one article that was published and it was about siblings. That is the reason she is chosen. Ms. Winter has a story that she believes only Margaret can write. Ms. Winter cannot write any more, but this story has one last character who wants her story told. It will be her last story and it will be true. 'The Thirteenth Tale' contains all the elements to make this novel a true historical gothic. It is a story of ruins, darkness, twists and turns, the psyche of people who have lived through tragedies, strangers, and secrets; very well written. We had a great discussion.

The American Plague

The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History

Molly Caldwell Crosby

3.8

This was an incredible book on the history of the yellow fever. Ms. Crosby concentrates on Memphis, Tennessee,1878, to start her story of those infected and how it came to our country. During the Civil War, two thirds of the soldiers that died, died from the plague. Napoleon sold Louisiana to the USA because of the yellow fever. Scientists fought amongst each other as to how yellow fever spread. Three scientists, one was Walter Reed, went to Havana, Cuba, to discover and experiment the true cause. Scientists volunteered themselves to contract yellow fever. Although the cause is found, it is not yet cured and is still active today. You will also learn little tidbits and phrases that we have heard of all our lives but did not know where they came from, such as: How did the KKK begin? What was the Flying Dutchman? Why did we start calling the parlor, living room? Where did the word cemetery derive from? Who was Walter Reed? and last but not least, Will you ever look at a mosquito the same way again? This is Ms. Cosby's first book and is written so that it flows like a story, not a history book. She is an excellent writer and I hope we hear more from her. Books like this and "River of Doubt" are not only educational, but very fascinating into the history of our country that we on our own know little or nothing about. We need more books like this. After reading this book, a member went to Memphis and decided to go on a tour of the yellow fever according to the book. When she asked business' where things were, they didn't know and knew nothing about the fever or the author. The author still lives there.

The Welsh Girl

 

Peter HO Davies

3

Ester is a seventeen year old Welsh girl. Living in her native hometown of Cilgwyn, she helps her father with the sheep and works at the local tavern. They have also taken in a British evacuee, Jim, to raise until it is safe for him to return home. In the meantime, it is D-day and Karsten surrenders his troop of Germans to the British. It was either surrender or die. Throughout the book, he wonders if he was a coward or right to save himself and the other men. Back in Wales, British men are building a POW Camp in Cilgwyn. The workers visit the tavern often and Ester becomes infatuated with one of the workers, Colin. After the prisoners come to camp, Jim and the boys spend many days outside of the fence taunting them. Ester hears the noise and goes down the hill to the camp. Karsten notices her and calls out to her in English. That connection sets up what happens during the rest of the book. As a sidebar to this story, the author throws in another storyline. A man named Rotheram, who is half German and half Jewish, becomes a translator for the Political Intelligence Division to sit in on interrogations. He goes to Wales to interrogate Rudolf Hess, a deputy fuhrer to Hitler. Hess was being held on charges of war crime. He was in Wales to await trial. It is another means that the author uses to relate how a person doesn't know where he belongs because of his heritage. We used the readers guide found online and realized there were many themes flowing throughout the book. One of our members came from southern England and had evacuees stay at her house. She said it was exactly like the book described.

Rise and Shine

 

Anna Quindlen

1.3

Meghan Fitzmaurice is a famous morning talk show host. She lives a glamorous life with her husband, Evan, and son, Leo. Her sister, Bridget, is a social worker in the Bronx and has been a second mother to Leo. When Meghan thinks she is off the air, she calls her guest a name. Thus, the book goes on. We expected more from the author who wrote, "Black and Blue", which was made into a TV movie of the week. We were casting the characters for this movie as we had just read the outline.

Good Harbor

 

Anita Diamant

1.5

Kathleen Levine, a resident of Glouster on Cape Ann, MA., has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her sister and best friend, Pat, died fifteen years earlier of the same disease. Joyce Tabachnik, a magazine writer, has used her royalties from her first published romance novel to purchase a second home in Glouster. Joyce is at a point in her life where she is unhappy in her marriage. Her twelve year old daughter, Nina, is entering her rebellious teen years. Both women are feeling very alone and vunerable when they meet at Temple. A friendship is slowly formed through out the summer months during their walks together on Good Harbor Beach. As they get closer, they are able to confide and share their past and present. This book shows the importance of women friendships. One cannot compare Ms. Diamont's first book, "The Red Tent", with her second. The writing style and story telling are very different. We questioned her need for a specific plot line each woman had. We found it negated the book. 

Eat, Pray, Love

 

Elizabeth Gilbert

2

Suffering from depression, questioning her life and wants, Liz decides to leave and divorce her husband. She enters into a relationship with David, (but that isn't working), so she decides to take a year absence from her job at GQ-with pay as long as she writes about her year's journey. Liz would spend time; in Italy learning Italian, in India studying meditation at a yoga ashram, and in Indonesia trying to balance the two. She writes with humor and interesting factoids. She also reminded me of Virginia Woolf but not in a good way. She writes as if in a stream of conscienceness and one sentence could be the entire paragraph. I found this distracting. By the time she went to India, her writing appeared to be more structured. For those who have never meditated, it may be hard to understand the levels one goes through in meditation. It truly can be a mind opening experience.

Tomorrow to be Brave

 

Susan Travers with Wendy Holden

3.6

Susan Travers was the only woman to serve in the French Foreign Legion earning the Military Medal and the Legion d'Honneur. She was born into an upper class English family, where she yearned for her father's approval and her mother's love. Susan moved from England to Cannes with her family when she was a young girl. In her teen's, she attended boarding school in Florence, Italy. She became quite the socialite after school ended until WWII broke out.  Her father had taught her how to drive at a young age, not typical of most females, so she decided to enter the Legion as a driver. She first had to volunteer as a nurse in the French Red Cross. Eventually, she would become the personal driver of Colonel Koenig through the historic battle at Bir Hakeim in Libya. Her story takes you through her life in the Legion starting in Finland, then on to Northern Africa, Southern Italy, Indonesia, then back to Tunisia. It is not only a story of war, but also of love for a man who would never be her's. Ms. Holden did a wonderful job with research, description, and giving voice to Ms. Travers life. It is a part of history we would have never known otherwise. A must read.

The World to Come

 

Dara Horn

3.5

Ben Ziskind attends an art exhibit of Chagall's paintings. He recognizes the small painting "Over Vitebsk", as one that hung on the wall of his childhood home. Convinced it was taken from his family wrongfully, he steals it. The novel is a testament of Jewish history starting in Russia circa 1920. Chagall and his novelist friend, Der Nister, teach at an orphanage. Chagall asks one of the orphan's, Boris, for his painting. Boris wants a trade. Chagall gives him "Over Vitebsk". The story then continues, weaving into different timelines in the lives of Ben, his twin sister- Sara, parents-Rosalie and Daniel, their parents, and other characters that become important in their lives. There are words-themes-which are continued throughout every storyline. A complex book filled with love, loss, pain, horror, betrayal, war, death, birth, art, literature, history,and family.

All the Numbers

 

 

JudyMerrill Larsen

Author Visit

2.9

Brothers Daniel and James are playing with friends in a lake when a Jet Ski swerves into them. This is a nightmare no mother wants to imagine. Ellen, the boys mom, must now come to grips with the tragedy of losing James and trying to stay strong for Daniel. The scenes in the hospital are heart wrenching. When Ellen and Daniel try to get on with their lives, trying to keep a routine of family life alive in the home, they both find it difficult. Ellen not only has her job as a teacher, but she is determined to find justice for her son's death. She meets Bob, a lawyer, who helps to bring the young man, who was the driver of the jet ski, to trial. Ellen also is having a hard time managing her relationships with her parents, friends, and her ex-husband.

The author was a guest at our book club. She began by telling us of her writing process. She made many changes to the book before she began submitting it to publishers, as authors often do. She submitted her manuscript on her own with no luck. In the summer, she attended the Iowa Writers Worshop. While there she made a connection to an agent in NYC. Her book was picked up quickly. She came up with the idea for this story one summer when she was at the lake with her two sons. A jet ski came to close and she wondered, "What would happen if...?". She has had many comments from grieving parents saying that she had written true to what they had gone through. You may contact the author for your bookclub through this link:  www.judymerrilllarsen.com. She is available for phone chats.

The Bonesetter's Daughter

 

Amy Tan

3.6

Ruth Young is a ghost writer for self help books. While looking in a drawer in her office, she finds papers her mother, LuLing, gave her to read several years ago. Her mother had told her that she had also been writing a book about her own life  The papers are in Chinese. Ruth never read them. Now she has noticed changes in her mother's behavior. Ruth takes LuLing to the Dr's. and discovers her mother is in early stages of Alzheimers. Ruth begins to read the papers but is unable to translate them. In the days ahead, she discovers in her mother's home, more papers. She hires someone to translate them and learns the real story of her mother's life beginning in China.

A truely classic story of life in China during the time of the Peking Man, relationships between mothers and daughters, survival, and the uncovering of many secrets and ghosts. 

The Ex Files

 

Victoria Christopher Murray

05

Take four women and four ways to lose your husband/lover, give each woman their own chapters throughout the book as they congregate intermittenly with each other at a prayer service just for them, and you have this book. The premise was there, unfortunately, the writing was not. The author admits in interviews as having an agenda when writing her Christian based stories. If her agenda is homophobic, anti-media, sterotyped characters, she succeeded. That isn't saying much. There is nothing Christian about her viewpoints. The surprising factor of the night was that we had a great discussion. One the author would not  want to hear.

 
The Glass Castle

A Memoir

 

Jeanette Walls

3.6 (out of 4 rating)

A mesmerizing memoir of a woman's ability to succeed in life, despite a tragic upbringing. I am sure Ms. Walls wouldn't say it was tragic, but as you read, she, along with her siblings, fought for survival. Her father, a brilliant man who taught her about nature, geology, and life, also was an alcoholic. He stole her money for liquor and had her dance with men one summer when she was a teenager to make money in a bar. Her mother was intelligent and very creative. She read, wrote, and painted. She was an "excitement addict", which meant she was always looking for a new adventure. She was not a mother who cared for her children, but would rather have them go hungry and be dirty, so she could paint. I believe she was also manic-bipolar by the descriptions of her moods and actions. The parents were nomadic, as they "skeedaddled" across country. They finally went back to West Virginia to their father's home town, living in a leaky shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity. The children were left to fend for themselves and Jeanette became an avid reader and absorbed life and opportunities for herself and her siblings. She writes lovingly of her parents throughout the book, even when she realizes their neglect as she grows up. The entire family ends up in NYC, the children moving there first, one by one,with the parents following but deciding they want to live on the streets, homeless. From the first chapter, sentence, you will not want to put this book down. I give it a 4.

The Lobster Chronicles

 

Linda Greenlaw

1.85

Ms. Greenlaw spent 17 years at sea as a swordfish captain of her own boat. She played herself in the movie, "The Perfect Storm". After 17 years, she decides to return to her family's island, Isle Au Haut, off the coast of Maine, to become a lobsterman. She is looking to settle down, own a house, find a husband, and have children. The book is a chronicle of her season as a lobsterman. You will learn all there is to boating, baiting, trapping, and hopefully catching lobsters. There are also the politics of a tiny Island and the people who live there. We would have liked to have read more about some of the characters, but had to remind ourselves that this was a chronicle of a person's daily life, not a novel.

On Beauty

 

Zadie Smith

2.3

An interesting look into two families with different beliefs, politics, views, family lifestyle, but how similar they are. Howard Belsey, a white Englishman Professor goes to America to teach at a University in New England. He is married to an African American woman from the South. Monty Kipps, a black Englishman, is invited to bring his family to the same University to teach. Monty and Howard are enemies as they have opposite views on politics as well as Rembrandt Art, which is what Howard teaches at the University. Monty and Howard have both published on this subject and disagree. There are the differences in the family dynamics of each household with the children who are in their teens or in college. Through circumstances, some members of each family become involved with the other. There are many characters that interweave within each other. The end results with the fact that as different as Monty and Howard seem in the beginning, they are alike in some ways. The families can be compared at a parallel level. One criticism was that it seemed to be too long, yet the author thanks the editor, "without whom this book would be longer and worse." I actually struggled writing this review. I guess you'll just have to read it for yourself.

The Stone Diaries

 

Carol Shields

3.4

1995 Pulitzer Prize Winner Daisy Stone Goodwill was born in Manitoba, Canada in 1905 while her mother laid dying on the kitchen floor. Her mother Mercy, being a large woman, did not seem to know she was pregnant. Her loving and devoted husband Cuyler, allows the neighbor's wife, Clarentine, to take Daisy away and raise her as her own. In the meantime, Cuyler, a limestone cutter, builds a tower over his wife's grave to honor her, which becomes a must see sight of interest. Cuyler then accepts a job in Indiana, Clarentine dies, and Cuyler retrieves Daisy, at the age of 11, to raise her. His life and personality throughout the years has changed and grown. Daisy meets her 2 best friends and will remain friends until the end. Her first marriage ends before it even gets started, you'll laugh out loud when it does, and she returns to what is comfortable to her, Clarentine's youngest son Barker, who also helped raise Daisy, but is much older than her. They marry, have children, and life continues with its ups and downs, life and death. Although it is a story of just one woman with a rocky start in life, it is timeless to any woman. Who are we? Are we a wife, mother, friend, daughter etc.? The one time Daisy really feels like she is her own person, it is snatched away. The book reads in Daisy's voice and then changes to others, so you are not sure who is telling the story, but it is very well told.

The Painted Veil

 

W Somerset Maugham

2.9

You think you may know a person. But, someone else may know the same person in an entirely different way. This is the premise of "The Painted Veil". Kitty has turned down many suitors, but now her younger sister is engaged. In hopes to marry and be gone before the wedding, Kitty says yes when Walter Fane asks her to wed. Walter is a bacteriologist and works for the Government. Kitty does not know Walter well because he has always been very silent around her. He does not keep in conversation and appears very aloof and shy. But, he is very much in love with Kitty. Walter needs to leave England for Hong Kong. Kitty eagerly wants to leave, they marry and move. Once in Hong Kong, Kitty meets Assistant Colonial Secretary Charlie Townsend, falls madly in love with him, and the saga begins. Throughout the book, you will find that each person has more than one side to them. It is just a matter of who is allowed to see the side the person wants to reveal to the other person. This book was written based on people Maugham actually knew, changing their names. The location was Hong Kong, but the author was forced to change the location to Tching-Yen after the first printing. In later publications, he changed it back to Hong Kong. There is a sonnet by Shelley that starts out with, "Lift not the painted veil which those who live...... In the poem, "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, the last line reads, "The dog it was that died." This will make sense when you read the book.

Cat's Cradle

 

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

2.75

The narrator, John, starts out to write the book, "The Day the World Ended". He begins by interviewing people about what they remember the day the atom bomb was dropped. He contacts Newt Hoenikker, son of Felix, the physicist who helped create the atom bomb. He asks Newt what his father was doing the day the bomb was dropped. Newt remembers his father playing with a piece of string, then bending down to Newt to show him how to make a cat's cradle. This freaks Newt out because his father had never played with him before or paid any attention whatsoever to anyone in the family. John follows his quest into the life of Felix and his children. He discovers on Felix's dearth bed, each child is given a piece of ice-nine, which will turn any water into a solid form. John also discovers a new religion called Bokononism.The main point being that a group of people who may not know each other are connected by a karass, a group who unknowingly work together to do God's will. There are other terms in this religion to explain one anthers interactions and how they affect the world. The journey brings all three siblings together on an island called, San Lorenzo. There, Bokononism is forbidden yet practiced by all. The discovery of ice-nine and the results concludes here. There are more characters involved and the religion of Bokononism. This was a classic science fiction book by Vonnegut Jr. and required ready in many classes. Check out the author's biography before discussing this book.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

 

Lewis Carroll

Illustrated by Michael Foreman

3

Many of us read this book as a child and then to our own children. After I read it again for bookclub, I went and looked up study guides and found that there was so much more to the book then just reading it as a children's book. There are many themes in this book. Alice falls down the rabbit hole and her adventures begin. She not only grows in size- small, large, small again, normal, but she grows in wisdom and maturity. Her goal is to reach the garden she sees through the small door. In order to get through the door, she meets many characters who will teach and perplex her throughout her journey. Each character has a purpose or refers to an old truth we may not know. It is a learning experience. Teaching is brought up throughout the book in the form of story telling, playing games, comparing your own education with others, and then not being sure what you really know. During the jury scene, Alice is able to grow up on her own without the help of an outside source as she stands up to the King insisting on justice and true evidence. We see Alice grow from a child to becoming more adult. When she awakens, she tells her sister of her dream. Her sister then dreams or pictures what Alice heard and saw, and sees her sister as someday being a young woman who will have children to hear this story. Carroll was a mathematician. He loved games of all sorts, especially word games and logic puzzles. This is quite evident with his play on words of logic,and the relationship between sense and nonsense. The illustrations in this book by Mr. Foreman, are based on the actual pictures of Alice Liddell. Alice was a child of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. In researching the author, you will find some disturbing things, but do not let that take away from the story itself. 'Through the Looking Glass" continues Alice's adventures into Wonderland.

Water for Elephants

 

Sara Gruen

3.6

Jacob Jankowski is 90 or 93, he doesn't quite remember. He has carried a secret for 70 years and never told a soul. It wouldn't matter now, yet, he still keeps the secret. He now resides in a nursing home. The circus is coming to town this Sunday and as he sits at his table for dinner, a new man has been seated with them. They are talking about the circus and the man says, " I carried water for elephants". Jacob yells, "You did not!". Jacob is taken back to his room, away from the commotion he has started. He needs to be calmed down. His mind slips back into the days of his young 20's: the day he received the news that would change his life forever, the day he left Cornell's Veterinarian School without finishing, the day he jumped a train, only to realize later that it was the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, and the day he first laid eyes on Marlena. This book is wonderfully written with Jacob traveling back and forth from the present to the past. The accuracy of life in a nursing home and circus life in the years of the depression, tells us that the author certainly did her research. She writes of a compelling tale of love between people and love between people and animals. It is also very educational about circus life and the people involved. There were many interesting characters. This is a hard book to put down.

The River of Doubt

 

Candice Millard

3.5

After President Theodore Roosevelt lost his run for Presidency in 1912, he went to South America for speaking engagements and to travel. He selected the people who would travel with him, including his son, Kermit, along with a South American explorer, Colonel Rondon. Once there, he decides not to travel his original plans down another river, but to travel down the River of Doubt, which had never been done before. This would also be the first time the river would be mapped along with all of its tributaries. As you read this book, you are taking your own trip through the Amazon, learning of all the different species of insects, fish, fauna, the Native Tribes, and not only the beauty but the danger of the Amazon. You will also learn of Roosevelt as a man, husband, and father. The author did extensive research writing this book. It has actual pictures taken of the President and all those involved in the trip. It may seem repetitive at times, but that was the way the trip happened. It is a book you will definitely want to read.

1 Dead in Attic

AFTER KATRINA

 

Chris Rose

2.7

The author is a columnist for "The Times-Picayune" newspaper in New Orleans. He left town with his family as Katrina was heading for New Orleans with his family. His family remained with relatives, while Mr. Rose returned to New Orleans to examine post Katrina,and write for the newspaper of his observations. The paper wasn't actually up and printing or delivering at the time. People relied on the Internet to read his columns. This book is a compilation of his columns. You will really be able to visualize, sense, and even smell the city after "The Thing", which he refers to, hit the New Orleans area. The ordeal took its toll on the author and his family. He first published a small book with this title. He then wanted to publish another book called, "The Purple Upside-Down Car". Since his first book was now recognizable, the two books have been combined. At times you may seem confused as the dates of his columns are not in order, but they are as far as topic. If you really want to know what the effect of a hurricane can do to a large area and its people, this is a must read. Make sure you buy the correct book. Mr. Rose was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary and was awarded a share in the "Times Picayune" staff Pulitzer for Public Service.

The Double Bind*

 

Chris Bohjalian

3

Laurel Estabrook was in her first semester as a sophomore, when one day as she rode her bike through the back roads of Vermont, she was nearly raped. She returns to her home in West Egg, Long Island, to recuperate before returning to Vermont. She starts volunteering at a homeless shelter, then decides to work there full time. The only interest she has of her own is swimming and photography, since she no longer feels safe on her bicycle. It is at the shelter that she meets Bobbie Crocker, a homeless man that claims he was once a professional photographer who took pictures of famous people. After he dies, he leaves behind a box of pictures that Laurel is asked to look through. There she finds a picture of herself the day she was almost raped. She also recognizes pictures of East Egg, across the Sound from her home. She finds pictures of the former Gatsby Mansion. She is determined to find out who Bobbie Crocker really is. This begins her frantic journey into the past. This is a psychological thriller that will have you guessing all the way to the end. The pictures in the book were taken by a real man who at some time became homeless and died in a shelter. The book gives you a real perspective on the plight of the homeless.

*Do not read the ending, readers guide, or let anyone tell you the ending. It will ruin the book for you. Begin reading on page one.

 

So Big

 

Edna Ferber

3.4 (out of 4) - rating

1924 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Selina is an independent, strong, and adventurous young woman, who at the young age of 19, is forced into the work force because of the loss of her father. She finds herself teaching in High Prairie, a farm town outside of Chicago. Having grown up accustomed to finer things, she is now living in a farmhouse without conveniences. Tutoring a widower evenings, she finds herself married to him 6 months later. After a few years, she becomes a widow with a small boy to raise. She is determined to raise her son to be successful and not make the mistakes she made. Being an educated woman, she turns a desolate farm into a prosperous working farm. This does not go over well with the menfolk in the area who believe farm work is not for women, much less her new ways of farming. The story continues as her son goes to college, has a career, then changes it in order to make more money for his success. Selina finds disappointment in him and blames herself. Thirty years later, lessons are learned by both her son and herself. Miss Ferber wrote an incredible small book, only 252 pages, with more details, characters, themes, and layers, than most books written today. She writes of Chicago in its time with all class of people from the poor, the farmers, working class, and the rich. Miss Ferber wrote many novels and plays that later became movies. A must read.

All The Kings Men

 

Robert Penn Warren

3.5

1947 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Although this is a novel, it is said to be loosely based on the life of Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana. There are too many comparisons to suggest otherwise, thus making it an educational and historical look into the life of Huey Long. In fact, Huey Long wrote an autobiography, 'Every Man a King", and was known as the 'Kingfish'. The narrator, Jack Burden, is a journalist and historian, who becomes one of Willie Stark's,(fictional Long's), men. The story is as much about Jack, his family, and life, as it is Willie's Stark beginning from being a farm boy to rise in power of Governor. It is a actually a story of two men, both depending on each other to be told. At times, Penn is repetitive, but the book is very well written with multi- layered themes, philosophical, political, social issues, and great character development.

March

 

Geraldine Brooks

3

2006 Pulitzer Prize Winner. In the novel "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, Mr. March is off to the Civil War to serve as a chaplain to the troops. In The novel, "March", this is his story during that time period. The first half of the book is a narrative by Mr. March of his life before he met Marmee, his wife, and his time after, during the war effort, and fighting for the freedom of slaves. He writes letters home as upbeat as possible, knowing he cannot truly let his family know the true horrors of war and what he is going through. He finds himself teaching on a plantation being leased by a Northern man, supposedly using free slaves. Through the travesties of war, he finds himself injured and in a hospital in Washington, DC where Marmee comes to care for him and take him home. The rest of the book is told by her, what she learns of her husband's past, present, and their future. As abolitionist working with the Underground Railroad, the book shows an interesting view of their cause, helping John Brown, and then Marmee's reaction in Washington. The author based Mr. March loosely on Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott. He was close friends with R.W. Emerson and H.D. Thoreau. Brooks researched his volumes of papers to write this novel. As a bookclub or on your own, you may or may not enjoy the book. It is interesting if you look at it as the other side of "Little Women". But I personally had a problem with Mr. March's character, behavior, and naivety. I found the first half slow and it finally picked up when there was more action and Marmee's voice stepped into the picture.

The Cape Ann

 

Faith Sullivan

3

The Cape Ann is a house that six year old Lark Ann Erhardt and her Mama have picked out of a catalog to buy. At the present time, they live in a railroad depot where Lark's father works. Unfortunately, Lark's father has a gambling problem and continues to lose the family's savings. The place is a small town in Minnesota set during the Depression after World War I. It is an exciting time for Lark as she is learning how to read, attends Catechism classes for her First Holy Communion, and thinks very carefully about confession and sins. She studies with her two friends, both from different social backgrounds and their own different family situations. She also befriends Hilly Stillman, a vet who comes back from the war with the mind of a child. He plays an important role in her life. Lark's extended family has its own problems and she has to learn how to adjust and learn from them. She sees her mother change and grow, which can be confusing for a child at this age. This book will bring back memories of your childhood. It is an enjoyable read.

Middlesex

 

Jeffrey Eugenides

3.8

2003 Pulitzer Prize Winner. An epic tale of its own Greek Odyssey, the story begins in a small Greek village of Bithynios,which was being taken over by the Turks. Desdemona and her brother Lefty, decide to escape and leave for America to be with their cousin Sourmelina. The thing is, they go as husband and wife, as they are in love. Only Sourmelina know they are related. The book is written in three sections. First of Desdemona and Lefty's life. The second is that of their son Milton and his wife, Tessie, daughter of Sourmelina. The third of Callie/Cal, daughter/son of Milton and Tessie. But the true beginning is of the 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome, the result of a recessive mutation that is found in small villages, where incestuous relationships were common. The result of this is a child born with both sexes, a hermaphrodite. When Callie reaches puberty, she realizes that her body is not developing at the rate of a young women. Also, although she has feminine features, she also has manly features and feelings. Her/his journey through the discovery process and acceptance of the syndrome, is very educational. The author tells a story of three generations which includes the story of a hermaphrodite. The narration is written by Cal when he talks of himself in the present and by Callie when she is in the past. Throughout the book, the theme of Greece and the families Greek heritage continues. This is a highly recommended read and very well written.

The Good Earth

 

Pearl S. Buck

3.8

1932 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Pearl Buck spent much of her early years into adulthood growing up in China, as her parents were missionaries. Her story is that of Wang Lung, a farmer, who loves his land and appreciates and respects the good earth which gives back to him the work he puts into it. That is, until the weather destroys what he has and forces him and his family to go south for awhile to earn money to keep his family alive. This book is an education into the Chinese culture of: the farmer, who is ignorant of politics and what goes on beyond his land, the traditional marriage of his wife, O-Lan, who works along side him, provides for his family, and literally keeps them alive and prosperous, yet goes unappreciated, the mistress that many Chinese men have that benefits from any prosperity, the devotion to family and extended family, the importance of sons, and unfortunately, bad luck of daughters., politics, and in the end, greed. It is fortunate for us that Ms. Buck wrote this as Wang Lung because a Chinese man could not or would not be allowed to be able to give us such an insight into the Chinese culture of the time. A timeless classic

Vanishing Acts

 

Jodi Picoult

2.5

This is the story of Delia, who now as an adult, starts having flashbacks or dreams and wonders if they are real. She tells her best friend who is a journalist, finds out her true identity, and changes Delia's world as she knew it. It was a fast and interesting read. We enjoyed the book, found it a page turner, yet at the same time, had found problems. Delia's father, Andrew, abducted her from her mother at the age of 4 from an alcoholic mother. Delia believes her mother had died in an automobile accident. Later, Delia 's fiancé is an alcoholic in and out of rehab. You would think the father would have spoken up or talked to Delia about this, without having to tell his secret. And, at Delia's age, why not tell his secret? She at that age should know and why. There is also the love triangle, the subplots, which were unnecessary, although if you really wanted to dig deep,you could make sense of them. But at this point, you would be defending the book and they aren't really important to the over all plot. Readers of Picoult will find this follows the formula of her other books. But, it was a fun read.

Gilead

 

Marilynne Robinson

2.85

2005 Pulitzer Prize Winner.. Reverend John Amos is now in his mid-seventies and is writing a letter to his seven year old son. Marrying late in life, thinking it would never even happen, he knows he will not be around to raise his son. He wants to leave his son his family history, his thoughts on life, religion, and perhaps guidance for his son's future. The entire book consists of his daily life and that of his past. He writes of his father and grandfather, both ministers. His grandfather took off to preach during the Civil War and fight for the abolition of slavery, leaving his family behind. He comes back wounded and young John witnesses the difference between his grandfather and his own father, their relationship, and beliefs. John writes of his childhood and his friend, Boughton, who also becomes a minister, though of a different faith. They maintain their close friendship into their last years. Then there is Boughton's son, Jack, who is named after John and has been nothing but trouble since he was a kid. Jack has returned to Gilead. John is suspicious of Jack and in the end, is able to counsel Jack and make peace with him. There is a racial theme in this story, not to be overlooked in discussion. The book reads slow since it is a narrative. We discussed what makes a Pulitzer since that is mostly what we have been reading this year. I am surprised that 'March' won 2006, since it is so similar to 'Gilead', being a narrative by a minister with ' Gilead' taking place at one point during the civil war, dealing with abolitionists and John Brown. 'Gilead' is this year's 'United We Read' selection from September through November.

The Caine Mutiny

 

Herman Wouk

4

1952 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Willie Keith comes from an affluent family and joins the Navy during W.W.II. He is placed on a minesweeper destroyer that is literally falling apart. His first captain, Captain de Vriess, is tough, but not strict with the men as far as the dress code and cleanliness of the ship. He is soon replaced by Captain Queeg who is totally the opposite. He demands the men do everything by the book and is quick to hand out severe punishments and demerits to those who don't or make a mistake. When he is stressed or the ship is involved in battle, Queeg becomes a manic coward. When there is nothing happening on the ship, he finds an incident to show his extreme behavior, as in the case of the missing strawberries. Keith learns and matures through his stint on the ship. The character Keefer, recites articles 184, 185, and 186 to the captain's assistant, Maryk, which are grounds to relieve the captain. Maryk then keeps track of the Captain's behavior. During a typhoon, Queeg seems inept to command the ship and Maryk tells the captain to step down. Maryk is then brought up on charges of Mutiny. The big question here is, was Queeg actually insane or sane, could he have commanded the ship? There are many other characters in the book who play an important part of the story, along with Keith's mother and love interest, May. Although this book was 537 pages, it read quickly and was hard to put down. It is another must read. We have read many W.W.II books but this takes us yet into another part of the war, the South Pacific, and from the view of the Navy.

The Reivers, A Reminiscence

 

William Faulkner

2.1

1963 Pulitzer Prize Winner. Lucius Priest is now a grandfather and he is telling his grandson a story of what took place in May of 1905. Lucius was 11 years old and his grandfather had bought one of the first automobiles. Boon, an adult who was adopted into the family at some point and Ned, the black livery stable hand, decide to take the car to Memphis while Lucius's parents and grandparents are away for a funeral. Lucius goes along, knowing he shouldn't, but doesn't say no. The rest of the story continues with their trip to Memphis, staying in a brothel, Ned selling the car for a horse, and then racing the horse to win back the car. It is a coming of age story for an 11 year old boy who grows up quick, changes, realizes he'll never be the same or innocent, and has to pay the consequences for one's actions. This is said to be a funny, comical book. Some points were but the book became a very tedious read. Since it is a narrative, when telling a story, one tends to digress, explain things that seem unimportant to the reader yet meant something to the narrator. It is a difficult read as it is very wordy and moves slow. This book was made into a movie. For once, I think the movie would be better and funnier than the book.

The Great Gatsby

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

2.6

Life in the roaring 20's of those with money, socialites living in East and West Egg, (otherwise known to us as Long Island, NY). Jay Gatsby, a self made man of wealth ,although by illegal means, lives in a mansion on West Egg. Directly across the sound to East Egg, he can see the light of his past love, Daisy, whom he still loves. The story is told by Nick, a distant cousin to Daisy who lives next to Gatsby. Gatsby uses Nick to reunite with Daisy. It is a story of trying to relive the past in hope to make it the future. It is also a story of adultery, selfishness, and sadness. This novel is said to be a "Great American Classic" . Some of us did not feel that way. Fitzgerald writes of himself in many of his books, and this is no exception. It did not become a popular read until the 1950's when it appeared in a collection of his works. It remains on many English reading lists today.

 
 

The Jane Austin Book Club

 

Karen Joy Fowler

2.9

It is best to read the end of the book first since there is a section on Austin's novels and responses of other authors about her works. The end also has questions which each member of the Book Club lists. Each chapter is written based on the hostess or host choice of Austin book that they read for the month. Also included in that chapter, you are able to learn about that character. The author intertwines Austin's books with that of each member and all is happily matched and happy at the end. It made some members want to read Austin if they hadn't already. She was truly an author who was discovered too late and died too young. The book is a light humorous read. What drove me nuts was that with only 6 members in the club, they kept getting up during the discussion to leave the room to talk, get food, etc. That left sometimes only 3 members to discuss and then the others would come in and have missed the conversation or have to have it repeated. I said to the club that from now on, we need to bring out the liquid refreshments to the room where we are having the discussion so that we aren't getting up for that extra glass of......which I needed as I said it.

Sea Glass

 

Anita Shreve

2.2

We heard this was a must for bookclubs. We have read Anita Shreve before and we really like her writing in many ways. This book was a disappointment. It takes place in the early 20's, right before and then during the fall of the stock market and the beginning of the depression. She writes each chapter as a character, but unlike other books that we have read that did this, the only character who is really speaking for herself is Honora's mother in letters which are also written in italic. The book brings its characters together from all walks of life: Vivian, the society woman, Sexton, the salesman, Honora, the main character who marries the salesman, Alphonse, the small boy who works in the mill and in the end connects all people together, and McDermott, the mill worker. Shreve writes about each character but we never felt any real connection with them. Sea glass, which is what Honora collects from the beach and talks of its layers, colors, and smoothness is suppose to represent the characters in the book which is told to us near the end, but we felt Shreve fell short on this book.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons

 

Lorna Landvik

2.4

We all agreed it was a fun read, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe I was just in the mood for a fun read, but I thought the author did a very good job writing about the women over the course of thirty years. The book takes place in the 60's, with four women who live in the same cul-de-sac who decide to start a bookclub. Over the course of thirty years, we learn about each character. We watch their children grow, their lives and situations change, and pretty much what happens in real life. Each woman is different and has secrets. Throughout the years, they help and support one another through their changes. The only thing wrong was with a couple of the husbands. One was too good to be true and the other not true to his character in the end. I did find it very realistic. I loved that the beginning of each chapter started out with the hostess, title of book, why it was chosen, and food served. The chapter didn't really talk about the book much itself, but it told about the person who was the hostess. When you have such a small group living so close, the characters can't help but know each other so well. In our club, we are almost too large so that we don't have much time to socialize with each other before our discussion to know what we are all doing, as we did when we were a smaller group. There are advantages of having a small group and a larger group, such as attendance when too many people are absent. But, there is nothing better than a group of women getting together to talk about a book, eating great food, and drinking wine.

The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town

 

Jacqueline Guidry

3.3

This was a year of change for the town of Ville d'Angelle, Louisiana. Whether or not the colored sisters brought the change or the 'change of life' baby', but the whole town, families and that of ten year old Vivian Leigh Dubois changed. It was the year 1957, Cajun country, and although change is always inevitable, they didn't like it. But as we all know, you can't fight change. What really enhanced our discussion was that we were privileged to have the author visit. She is now a resident of Kansas City, MO., and was also a friend of our hostess. Ms. Guidry, a Louisiana Cajun, brought much insight into the book and discussion. What is fun when you talk to the author, and also fun for the author, is that the reader has ideas of her/his own and when asks the author, she replies that she had never thought of that. So, we as readers, can read more into a book than the author intended yet, it makes it more interesting. When a question was asked about a particular occurrence, everyone thought the same thing was going to happen and that is when the author said, "I hadn't thought of that."A wonderful, simple, book about not only change, but of how change affects relationships.

Lolita

 

Vladimir Nabokov

1.4

You may wonder why such a low rating on a book that has been praised by the critics, just read the booksleeve, but we didn't find it a classic of all times nor one of the top 100 books of the century. Yes, it was a book published in 1955, when a book on a pedophile would certainly stir everyone up, was banned in many countries, and was tried to be banned in the United States. It was a break through in writing of such subject matter. But to call it a love story, witty, humorous, written with beauty and tenderness? The author's own writing about himself at the end makes him sound pompous and we as Americans would never understand his brilliant writing. He writes how his Russian books can not be translated correctly for us to really understand. He goes on to say how we will want to skip sections, true, it gets pretty boring in parts, but we shouldn't. The subject matter is vile and sick, but it is a disease that has become quite public now, especially with all the murders of such cases lately. We are an intelligent group of readers so I can honestly say that we did not rate the book on the subject matter but on the book itself. The characters are well described, but the book itself just went on and on. I would perhaps need to read another one of his books to judge his true writing ability, but I am not sure I would want to when there is so much other wonderful literature available.

The Kite Runner

 

Khaled Hosseini

3.6

The setting is Kabul, Afghanistan, in the early 1970's, before the Soviet invasion. The story is of Amir, 12, and that of his friendship with Hassan, a Hazara, his servant boy. It is a story of relationships: that between fathers and sons, friends- young and old, marriage, and the struggle of the classes. Amir and his father, Baba, flee the country to America where their lives change along with their own status. Amir has not only left behind his country, but lies and secrets that he wishes to escape. As an adult, he returns to his country to right his wrongs only to find a different country than the one he left. The author, who himself fled Kabul as a child, describes vividly to the reader the Kabul of before and the ravaged Kabul of today. As an American, we are able to see, feel, hear, and smell what the country was like before and after. We now know about a country we have only read about in the papers or seen on the television. Some members felt that a few incidents were too contrived, but I disagree. I was so engrossed into the story, that when they happened, it just made sense. Kite Running is a true, popular sport. I recently read that this book is now being recommended to be a 'Read Across the Nation' book. It is a must read.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

 

Azar Nafisi

3.6

Ms. Nafisi, a professor of English, now teaching in the United States, writes this nonfiction book of her life in the Islamic Republic of Iran during the revolution. She was a professor in Iran for three different universities. For two years, she secretly met with seven of her female students in her home. She sections the book by four authors: Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Jane Austin. With each author, she not only tells of her class discussions, but what is going on in the country at that time, and how the particular author's views, books, and style of writing reflects the students, country, and that of her seven girls, (as she liked to call them). We learn of the women, their differences, and how they change by the end of the 2nd year. We see Iran from not only a woman's perspective, but that as a citizen living in terror when the bombings occur from other countries. It made us realize what the people, individuals, and families were going through when the bombs were dropping compared to what we feel when we just see it happening on television. It put faces to the bombings. The fact that we read about men in Afghanistan last month and women in Iran this month was purely coincidental. However, we did read Lolita knowing that we would be reading this book. During our discussion, we talked how we maybe should have discussed "Lolita" in a different or more literary way. We felt like we missed something, although I think if we had further discussed it, it wouldn't have taken much more of our time and would have still left us with the criticisms we did have. I particularly liked some of her quotes about novels and have used them on our home page.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

 

Lauren Willig

1.5

Eloise is in London to finish her dissertation on the English spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation. She knows the identities of the first two, but wants to discover that of the third. These are the spies who saved England from the invasion of Bonaparte. Through letters, she discovers not only the identity of the Pink Carnation in the end, but the romance that evolved between two characters that I will not mention. It is a typical historical romance, but was quite comical at times and a very light summer read. It was exactly what we needed after the past few months.

Bel Canto

 

Ann Patchett

3.2

In South America, a birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa,a Japanese business man, at the home of the Vice President. Many local and foreign businessmen attend in hopes of Mr. Hosokawa bringing his business to the country. He had made it clear to the people he would not be doing this, but they hoped he would once he met them. The one thing that persuaded Mr. Hosokawa to come was the promise that Roxanne Coss, his favorite opera singer, would perform for him. Under the illusion that the President would also be attending, terrorists attack and hold the guests hostage. Finding that the President is not there, the terrorists let many hostages leave but keep a few, including Mr. Hosokawa and Ms. Coss, hoping that their demands will still be met. It is an amazing story of the interactions between hostages, their language barriers (with one interpreter), the terrorists, and through time, the small world they create for themselves. The one glue that holds all together is that of the music and voice of Ms. Coss. The narrative voice flows with ease between the many characters and the storyline. Relationships form and change. We all agreed though, that we did not like the Epilogue and found it either unnecessary and unbelievable. Ms. Patchett won the PEN/Faulkner Award for "Bel Canto". The book is actually inspired by the Peruvian Hostage Crisis on December 17,1996.

the Piano Tuner

 

Daniel Mason

3.3

The more we discussed this novel, the more we realized how layered a story it is. It begins with a request from the British War Office for a piano tuner specializing in the Erard piano, to travel to Burma to tune a piano for an Army Surgeon- Major who uses music to bring peace to the Shan States of Burma. The first half of the book is that of Mr. Drake's journey followed by his stay in the small village of Mae Lwin. Although the story takes place in 1886, it speaks of issues that are still happening in the world today; one government going into another country, trying to change their ways to be more like that of the first, including possessions and culture. Not only does the country go through change, but that of the characters as well. The characters are more complicated than you imagine when you get to the end. Although the first half seems to drag on, it does pick up once Mr. Drake gets to the village. As I stated, only through discussion can you realize how layered it really is. This is Mr. Mason's first novel. It is very descriptive of the countryside and the culture. Some facts are true. It is good to research the author, book, and have a reading guide for the discussion.

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

 

Mark Haddon

3

This book is an insightful look into the world of a 15 year old boy with Asberger's Syndrome, a type of autism. Narrarated by the boy, Christopher, we see how he thinks and feels as he works his way through solving the mystery of who killed Wellington, the neighbor's dog. The effect of writing in the first person is most effective as to really understanding how an autistic child thinks and deals with people, conflicts, and emotions.

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