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 There are many historical references of the wars in Mexico along with interesting facts of Hispanic entertainers who became quite famous.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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


The Emperor of Ocean Park


Stephen L. Carter

3.5 (out of 4 rating)

This is meant to be a mystery, but there is so much more to the book. The book gives us a look into the culture of the well to do African Americans from the early 60's, the politics of the nominations for the Supreme Court Justice, politics of a prestigious law school, along with the characters and relationships of family and friends, even chess. The mystery to be solved takes us through a variety of the above. Very well written and makes for a great discussion.

The Lovely Bones


Alice Sebold


You may find the first few pages disturbing, but it leads into the aftermath of what happens to a family, friends, and community after the murder of a 14 year old girl. Susie, who is raped and murdered, tells her story from her heaven as she watches what happens on earth after her death. The death of a child affects each family member differently, along with those of her friends. Susie also watches her murderer. We found it an interesting read although we had problems toward the end of the book. Ms. Sebold was raped herself and has written the book, "Lucky", which is the true story of her rape. She wrote the "Lovely Bones" first.

The House of the Seven Gables


Nathaniel Hawthorne


A classic is a classic for a reason. The language of the past is becoming lost. The descriptive, beautiful, subtle language needs to be absorbed by the reader. In this day, we are use to action instead of taking in each word as written. I found the best book to read was "A Norton Critical Edition", edited by Seymour L. Gross. The book includes background and sources, the author's own excerpts from his notebooks, along with essays and criticism. There are many footnotes throughout the book which gives much insight to the storyline. At time we found the narrative to be long but the language was so lovely it didn't matter .It is a book we agreed we would like to read over. I started and in the first chapter caught something that was mentioned much later in the book but would have been forgotten. We also borrowed the "Cliff Notes" for discussion. We were pretty pleased that we actually discussed many of the short essay questions before looking at them. We also once again realized the importance of book discussion. Some came in the door with a lower rating and after the discussion, the rating changed for the better.

Cane River


Lalita Tademy


Although this is a book of fiction, it is based on historical fact, research, documents, and genealogy. This story is that of the author's family biography. It is the story of four generations of women, being born into slavery in the the area of Cane River, Louisiana. What was fascinating about the book was that of the black woman slave being forced to have sexual relations with her master, give birth to his children, and then to see how the white slave owner provided or didn't for his child. There were free coloreds and slaves. You can also see how the Civil War changed the attitude towards them. The mixing of the races also changed the color of the skin. Some mulattos or quadroons could pass as white but were always treated as blacks. The one problem we all had with the book was the ending. It ended rather quickly. Whether the author wanted to wrap the book up or what we don't know. But with the most recent information available, it was left out. We had many questions in the end.

Life of Pi


Yann Martel


Even though this is a novel and a book of fiction, the foreword made me believe it was a true story. I am the gullible one of the group. The book begins with Pi, Piscine, as a young boy in Podicherry, India. His father is in charge of the zoo there, so Pi grows up living at the zoo. He also decides on his own to study different religions and joins three of them. As politics change in India, his father decides to move the family to Canada. They board a cargo ship along with some of the animals and the boat sinks. The rest of the book is Pi's story of his survival on a lifeboat. We loved the book, many wanting to read it again. My favorite chapter was 78. It is beautifully written. You could just read that chapter, since you do not have to know the story, to see the brilliance of the writing. The one true thing about the book is that there was once a real Richard Parker. If you want to know who he is you can e-mail me. This book was the winner of the 'Man Booker Prize'.

Stolen Lives


Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi


Originally published"La Prisonniere", then translated and sold to twelve countries, this is the true story of the family of General Oufkir, and what became of them after the General's arrest and execution after his attempt to assassinate King Hassan II of Morocco. It is a memoir of Malika's life before imprisonment and then of her and her family for twenty years imprisoned. It is an amazing story, but lacked the depth and description we needed to feel moved. We found it was just very poorly written. Maybe a better writer could have pulled more from Malika. There was so much unjust to the situation and that of other prisoners that there was a real story here, it just wasn't written.

The Loop


Nicholas Evans


Evans, the author of "The Horse Whisperer", writes once again of Montana and nature, this time being the release of wolves to avoid extinction. The wolves come into cattle country and have to face the ranchers who hate them and the biologists who are trying to save them. It is quite apparent that Evans, an Englishman who generally writes documentaries and screenplays, is doing just that with this book. We instantly started deciding which actors were going to play the characters in the book. It was an easy, predictable read. Some scenes were out of context but might make sense in a movie.

Empire Falls


Richard Russo


"Empire Falls" won the Pulitzer in 2002. Empire Falls, Maine once supported the town with its logging and milling factories. Three generations later, the factories are empty and the town is dying. The original owners of the town, the 'Whiting' family still owns and runs the town by the manipulative widow Francine Whiting. The characters, whether major or minor, all contribute to this story. It is centered around Miles Roby who runs the Empire Grill and the effect the Whiting family had on him his entire life. Many characters come in and out of his restaurant along with his variety of family members. There are many storylines meshed within one another The author has a wonderful way of writing Miles as a child and then as an adult throughout which his development climaxes into true closure for Miles. The character development is so well written. It also gives us an insight as to what many towns are facing these days as factories lay empty, the towns are dying, people are leaving, and some cannot or do not want to leave. Highly recommended for all bookclubs or private reading. Another must read of Russo's is "Straightman."

You are not a Stranger Here


Adam Haslett


This book consists of nine short stories. As with short stories, some you would like to continue and not others. All the stories were well written yet the context at times were disturbing to read. In a way, the author mastered what he intended. The subjects varied from mental illness, sadness, homosexuality, family issues with possible reconciliation,and death. It actually was not an enjoyable read but as I said, well written.

The Hours


Michael Cunningham


The 1999 winner of the Pulitzer, Michael Cunningham writes an amazing novel of the lives of three women, in one day, in different time eras. The book revolves around Virginia Woolf and her writing the book "Mrs. Dalloway", Laura Brown, a housewife who is reading the book in 1942, and Clarissa, an editor, who her friend Richard refers to her as Mrs. Dalloway circa late 1990"s. We have the writer, the reader, and the editor We all agreed as to the many parallels and multi-layers these women shared. In the end, they have all come together in a shocking manner. The author seemed to write so simply yet the reader can visualize and feel what each character is going through. As I said, it was just amazing that he could in what actually is a small book, write so much. It is hard to explain. Cunningham said that Virginia Woolf was his muse and this was a tribute to her. He is much easier to read. Some books are best read twice because you find things you may have overlooked the first time around. Do so.

Black, White, and Jewish Rebecca Walker 


This book read more like a diary than a story. It is Rebecca's story of growing up as the title states, "Black, White, and Jewish". She is the daughter of famed author, Alice Walker, and Mel Levinthal, an attorney who at the time was an attorney for the Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960's. Rebecca describes herself as a movement child of the 60's, when interracial couples were illegal in some states, and frowned upon in many. Her parents divorced when Rebecca was 8, her father pushed outside of the very movement he was fighting for by the Black Power League. He returned to New York and Alice moved to California. As hip or contemporary parents, they divided custody by having Rebecca live with each parent every two years instead of the traditional holiday visits, etc. They thought this was a good thing. When Rebecca was in California, she was on her own as her mother left her for days so that she could travel, write, and work. Leaving a child at age 11 on her own is not parenting but she felt Rebecca was independent to be on her own. As your read of her time there, you see how just independent she was. When living in NY with her white, Jewish father and his new Jewish wife, she was now upper class but still black living in a white neighborhood. She kept her independent ways in NY also, but we never really know how much her father supervised her. We went to hear her speak before we had the bookclub, which was very insightful and we got a better feel of Rebecca. She explained that she wrote her chapters based on places and the memories she had while she was at that place in time. The flow of the book reflects just that. It jumps around, at times you don't quite know what age she is and her memories are statements of what happened when. We agreed it really wasn't a book about race but that of divorce. It was racial when she describes that she feels the whiteness when she is with her black family and the blackness when she is with her white family. She is never really comfortable in her own skin. But a child of divorce, going back and forth between parents with different "classes" and trying to fit in with the group of people you are with at the time or most comfortable with is like, as she described, a chameleon. No one ever really knew who she was. That can be typical of many teenagers. This book could have been written by anyone. Throughout her sexually active teen years, she ends that part of her life in a different way without explanation. When asked how her family received the book, she said that they were working on it and after 10 years of therapy and now being a practicing Buddhist, she is putting her life together. She is an active feminist of the 2000's, not the 1960's. For more information on her life now, it is on the web. This was an interesting read and we had a good discussion, but for literary reasons, it did not receive a high rating.

Daughter of Fortune Isabel Allende


This is the first in a trilogy followed by "Portrait in Sepia" and "The House of the Spirits". The latter book was actually Ms. Allende's first book written and made into a movie. "Daughter of Fortune" is the story of Eliza Sommers, a child orphaned at birth, and raised in a British Colony in Chile. She falls in love with a man who later leaves Chile to go to California during the Gold Rush. A young Eliza follows him there. The story is her search for him and the adventures she encounters during her travels. It is also a story of the beginning of San Francisco and the variety of people who came in hopes to become rich. Although there are many characters in the story, and they do all have their own story, the book fell flat. It is hard to explain since each character was written about in depth yet you never really "feel" anything for them. If anything, it is a story of a woman finding herself and her freedom.

The Book Of Ruth Jane Hamilton


We had a wonderful discussion. This was the first book that we have read which really addressed mental illness. Ruth, whom we never really figured out if she had learning disabilities, was mentally handicapped, or both, writes this story of her life. Except for a letter from her Aunt Sid later in the book, the only voice we hear is that of Ruth's and that of how she perceives her life. Ruth lives with her mother, May, who has problems and regrets of her own life. She takes this out on Ruth yet dotes on her son, who is a genius waiting for the time when he can leave home and does. Ruth remains at home to live with her mother, thinking that is all she can do. She has her small circle of friends that she shares with her mother, until she meets Ruby. Ruby definitely is mentally ill due to an alcoholic mother (FAS) and a near drowning when he was three months old. Ruth wanting love and Ruby there to love back brings them together in marriage. They live together under May's roof and the story continues from there. When Ruth thinks to herself, she seems intelligent but her actions speak otherwise. We found little information on Jane Hamilton, but she truly had insight into this world.

The Blue Flower Penelope Fitzgerald


The ratings on this book varied from a 1.75-3.75. "The Blue Flower" won the 1998 U.S. National Book Critics Circle prize. The book is based on actual documents, letters, and diaries written by Friedrich von Hardensberg (1772-1801). He later became famous under the name Novalis. He became one of Germany's great romantic poets and was important as a leader of this movement in literature. The story tells us of Fritz's family: his mother, father, sister and brothers, and how they interacted We see what was expected by the father for each of his son's education and vocation. Fritz falls in love with Sophie von Kuhn, a 12 year old girl who Fritz refers to as "His Philosophy". We meet Sophie's family and are able to see the difference in the interaction in each household. There are many characters, many German names which made it confusing at times as a reader to even try to pronounce them or remember who was who. At times the book is funny, many times very sad, as in those days, there was much illness and poverty due to the Revolution. We realized some things never change when we read of students sitting around talking about life, nature, the universe, their philosophy's while getting high on opium and 200 years later, you can still find this on any campus in the country. It's a time in one's life to live, learn, and experience. "The Blue Flower" is an unfinished work of Fritz but he later became famous for his "Hymns to the Night" under the pen name Novalis, where he expressed his grief for his Sophie. Aside from the book, Novalis became quite famous uniting poetry, philosophy, and science before dying of TB at the age of twenty-nine.

The Color Purple Alice Walker


We all agreed with the style of writing and voice Ms. Walker gives to Celie, the main character. In many narratives we have read, we question the believability of the character being one sided. But Celie's narrative is written to God, whom she would not hide her true feelings or thoughts. The story is that of Celie and her sister Nettie. Celie has two children by her father and they are taken from her. Her father marries Celie off to "Mister" since he needs a wife to take care of him, his house, and his children. Mister really wants Nettie but the father makes Mister take Celie instead. When the father comes after Nettie, Mister takes in Nettie. Celie and Nettie are delighted to be together. But when Nettie fights off Mister, he sends her away, never to see or let Celie hear from Nettie again. Celie has no one to talk to so she talks to God. Mister's true love, Shug Avery comes for a visit and changes Celie's life forever .There are many characters in this book and many truths revealed. You will read of Mister's son, Harpo and his wife Sophie, their travails, Nettie' life when she joins a missionary couple to Africa, who were the ones who adopted Celie's children. The whole story unfolds and comes full circle. There is much more to the book than I have written so you can read for yourself the real lifestyle of the times and the treatment of black women in the early 1900's. The book, of course, is better than the movie. We did have fun getting together a couple of weeks later for a movie night, where we could socialize and comment.

The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway


Ernest Hemingway grew up in Oak Park, Illinois spending much of his boyhood time outdoors either hunting or fishing. In 1917, instead of going to college, he became a cub reporter for our own newspaper, 'The Kansas City Star'. He credits his editor with giving him a fact sheet about writing:: write short sentences, be precise, and do not overuse adjectives. As you read Hemingway, you can see that is exactly how he writes. Yet, he is able to be descriptive and he captures you into his story. He won the 1953 Pulitzer for this book and in 1954, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. It is important to learn of his life and lifestyle because you can see how he incorporates it into his books. Hemingway was told this fish story by a good friend of his named Fuentes. He did not write the story until 15 years later. It is a story of an old man who still fishes the old way. He hasn't caught a fish for several days and is determined to go out beyond the waters where the other men go because he knows the big fish is out there. A small boy helps him in his fishing but is told by his parents he can no longer go. He must fish and make money. The story is of this man's plight to catch the big fish, alone and to keep his dignity, pride, and persevere in his old age. Hemingway says this was just a story, nothing more. But more can be found..

The Bookshop

Penelope Fitzgerald


It was pure coincidence that we read Ms. Fitzgerald again. The main character, Florence Green, decides to use what little inheritance she received from her husband, to open a bookshop in a small town, where she had only lived for eight years. The town does not have a bookshop and she soon discovers, it doesn't necessarily want one. Yet, of all the obstacles that stands in her way: the town people, the condition of the house, and the ghost who presides there, do not stop her. She has associations with different characters who all add to her success and then to her demise of the bookshop. An interesting look into a small quaint town in England and their school system.

Jackson's Dilemma Iris Murdoch


The question at the end of our discussion was, "What was Jackson's Dilemma?" We came up with a few possible answers. This was a very interesting look into a very small circle of friends who reside in London but also in the country at times. An elite crowd with much time on their hands so that they fret and whine and run about over the cancellation of a wedding that was to take place the following day, then the bride to be leaves a note and disappears. The whole event turns everyone's life into a frenzy over the next couple of days. As the book unfolds, so does the life, or lack of, that of each character's. Jackson is behind the scenes yet at the same time is instrumental to much that goes on. There are philosophical, social, and religious views that made for a interesting discussion. Iris Murdoch is a writer of philosophy, criticism, and drama. This book was definitely one big drama. Although she once stated that she doesn't describe herself in her books, we found through her biography, that much of her beliefs and events in her life are very much apart of her writings. I think the amazing part of this book was that she wrote it in the early stages of Alzheimer's. This comes out in the book when she describes Cantor early on as a blond Norwegian and then later in the book as a dark-haired man with dark eyes. She did not like to have her books edited or her words changed. This error was not caught. Overall, it was an interesting book for discussion and typical of the British elite.

Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America (non-fiction) Barbara Ehrenreich


In 1998, in a discussion with the editor of 'Harpers', Ms. Ehreinreich wondered how anyone lived on the wages available to the unskilled. She stated that someone should get out there and try it, thinking of some younger journalist, when the editor agreed and said,"You". She then went undercover starting out in the Florida Keys as a waitress The following month, she traveled to Maine where she worked as a maid for a national maid service, then supplemented her income by working weekends in a nursing home. The next month she went to Minnesota where she worked at a local Walmart. At each new place, she had to find a place to live. She found it wasn't easy on minimum wage to find a decent place to live when she didn't have the money for the first month's rent plus deposit. It was then that she discovered how many people lived in dingy motels with others, some single mom's with their children, and also having to provide meals without a proper kitchen. She found fellow workers without health care and proper nutrition., People who settled for low wages and poor working conditions because they felt they had no other choice. It was a real eye opener to us in the group. We had some professionals in our club who were aware of these problems and were able to elaborate more on what these people have to go through. It is impossible to live and support a family on minimum wage For some it is more beneficial to stay on welfare. This is a problem that many in our country have to live with daily and it needs to be addressed. Any takers? The book was plainly well written. It is a must read for all.

The Correction


Jonathan Franzen


Enid Lambert has one wish, to have all her family come home for one last Christmas in the house where they were raised. Her husband, Alfred has Parkinson's disease and is failing fast. All three children live away from their hometown of St. Jude (there's a hint), and are living very separate lives. The author writes about each child-adult- and where they are in their life, what got them there, and what from their childhood has made them into the person they are today. I found the book to read rather slow and felt the author could have shortened Chip's story somewhat. I found some of what was written unnecessary. Maybe I just didn't care for that part . As long as the book read, at the end, I felt it was a very complex, amazing, well written book. I reread the chapters on Gary and Denise,( when she worked at the Railroad for her father). There I found things that I missed the first time I read it. By the end, I am at a loss of words to describe how each character "ends up".It was an education on Parkinson's disease. As one member stated. "A roller coaster of a ride."

The Winter of Our Discontent


John Steinbeck


Pulitzer prize winner, John Steinbeck, had the amazing ability to write about real life and real people. His use of the English language to describe and make the reader feel exactly what the characters saw and felt is a true talent. In this book, he tells the story of Ethan Hawley. Ethan's ancestors were sea captains and very well off, owning much property in their New England town. After his father lost their fortune and land, except for his family home, Ethan works as a clerk in a grocery store (on the very land his family once owned), owned by an Italian immigrant. Ethan seems content until his children want things that the other children have and his wife wants Ethan to make more of himself so that she can hold her head up higher. Ethan now plots on a way to make this all happen even though this goes against his own morals. Through the different characters, events, and timing, things happen in a way he hasn't planned; yet works. He then questions what has happened. The ending is questionable. Steinbeck writes Ethan with warmth, wit, morals, and still makes him a human man.

East of Eden John Steinbeck


A true classic. This is one book you want to have part of your personal library. It is the story of Cain and Abel, Charles and Adam, Caleb and Aron: the need of a father's love and the fear of rejection, the jealousy between brothers for that love. This book is timeless. It is beautifully written with powerful messages, symbolism, parallelisms, and themes. In true Steinbeck form, ever so often, a chapter is written which takes you away from the story itself but explains the time period it is written. This may seem to break up the story but these chapters are so powerful, then you are back to the story, but you don't care. Chapters 12 and 34 prove this point. What was also amazing about this book was the story of Cain and Abel itself. The discussion and translation of different bibles, then the actual Jewish translation makes the reader just sit back and say ,"wow, that makes so much more sense". Steinbeck brings into this book his personal family history including his grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents and his sister form his mother's side. You leave the book wanting to know his true family history and how much of this story is factual. When Steinbeck wrote "Eden", he also kept a journal which has been publicized. I can't wait to read it. This book is one you would like to read for a class so you can savor and discuss chapter by chapter, then pull it altogether. It stays with you for days. Try to read the edition with the introduction by David Wyatt. This gives you a better understanding as to where Steinbeck was coming from in his previous marriage, his own two sons and his present life. A must read for all.

The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood


The "Blind Assassin" is not only the name of the novel, it is also the name of the novel written within this novel. It is a story told by Iris: her family history, her life growing up along side her sister, and then into her married life until she becomes an old woman. The story jumps around so at times it is a little confusing as to the time period Iris is talking about- whether it is present then reminiscing or actually in the past. Eventually, you become able to figure it out sooner. Then there is the novel, "The Blind Assassin" which is a story in of itself. It is not a simple novel (neither are), full of many different plots that keeps the reader guessing. Ms. Atwood is very descriptive in her writing. Since we had a terrible storm that night with only half attending, there have been many discussions among those who were not able to attend. The majority of us agreed on her ability to write a descriptive, multi-layered novel. Yet, at times some of us felt it was overdone and the characters questionable. If you have read Ms. Atwood before, you can see a similarity in her other writings.

Where the Heart Is
Billie Letts 


This is the story of Novalee Nation, a 17 year old pregnant girl left stranded by her boyfriend in a Walmart parking lot. She continues to live at Walmart, meeting the locals, until she gives birth in Walmart. It takes place in a rural town in Oklahoma where the only thing they really have is each other. Novalee is taken in by a Christian woman. She and her daughter are cared for by the small, close knit neighborhood. Throughout the next few years, she raises Novalee with much help from those around her, working and trying to make something of herself. The book contains characters with their own quirks and problems. Some members questioned the believability of some characters yet others were able to validate the characters through their own personnel experiences. Yes, people like this really do exist. The time frame within the day of Novalee's life wasn't realistic. She wanted to be the mother she never had, yet with her working, being gone at different times, and the care of the child mostly being done by those around her, seemed conflicting. Overall, it was an easy and enjoyable read. What was really great was the fact that at the end of the book, the author talks about why she wrote certain things, has a discussion section, and an autobiography of the author.

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe


We all heard of this book years ago in history class, knowing it had something to do with slavery and the Civil War, but none of us had actually read it. Our parents read it as it was required reading back in the 40's and 50's. Now, it is found on the suggested reading list but cannot be required because of religious and racial context. What a tragedy since our children are missing the most amazing book of the history of the slaves, their owners, and the leading up to the Civil War. Harriet Beecher Stowe actually wrote this in installments. It was published in the"National Era" an abolitionist paper over forty weeks. She rushed the last chapter so that it could be printed into book form. Later, she wished she hadn't because she would have ended it differently. The presses were running 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and sold more than 300,000 copies within a year. This was in 1852. Many copies were owned and hidden by slaves. Mrs. Stowe based the characters and incidents on true stories she heard from her brother and others. It tells the story of the slave Tom, his unfortunate sale, and the life he lived with different slave owners. His faith in God and Christianity plays an important part of his life and the way he lives it. There are other characters and slave stories throughout the book, but it ends with the importance of making all slaves free. Yes, the woman running on the ice is true. After the book was published, the truth of slavery became known throughout the States and proceeded the Civil War. I can't say enough about this book except it is a book everyone should read and the next on your list. You won't have trouble finding this in your library.

Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver


This book evoked all of our 5 senses. You could hear, see, smell, feel, and even taste nature as it truly exists. Ms. Kingsolver wrote this with the true love of nature and scientific knowledge that she has. The novel actually has 3 separate stories of characters, all living in the same area. She brings them together in the end beautifully. The real story of this book though is nature and the way it effects itself, or how a change can effect nature. Prey vs. predator. It is all here. Ms. Kingsolver's ability to describe with detail every flower, berry, leaf, moth etc. is amazing. You will also be amazed at how much you will learn from this book. It will make you want to go out and roll in the grass, hike through the valley, get dirty, and yes, stop and smell the roses.

Anil's Ghost
Michael Ondaatje


The book was written in the current time of Sri Lanka. Anil, a forensic anthropologist returns to her native homeland to investigate the murdered civilians due to civil wars and different organizations. She finds a new skeleton where only ancient ones should be found. This sends her on a quest to identify the skeleton and prove it is the government to blame, which is a danger to herself and those with her. The characters involve: Sarath- an anthropologist, his brother, Gamini- a doctor who's life is trying to save the victims, Ananda- who's wife was murdered, and Palipana- Sarath's former teacher. The story jumps from one person's story to another, from past to present to past again, in a disjointed way. Amazingly, the character you learn the most about is Gamini. It was a difficult book to read as far as it was slow moving and as I stated, disjointed. It is a better book to discuss than to read on one's own because you can discuss all that was involved individually, different events and characters, and realize there was more involved than you thought. It is an educating look into a culture where civil war is still happening daily.

Love Medicine
Louise Erdrich


Have pen and paper ready when you start to read this book. You will want to make a family tree to keep track of who belongs to who. It is the story of two families from a North Dakota reservation and how their families have intertwined throughout three generations. Chapters are told or written separately by different characters. Times jump back and forth but in story telling that is what happens. We had a wonderful discussion not only about the book and the characters, but that of Native American Indians: what has happened to them over the years, the reservations as they are today, and how many different tribes there really are with their own politics, culture, language, etc. There are two editions to this book. It was first written as "Love Medicine" then three companion novels were written. The author wrote an expanded edition including them all into one novel. We read the expanded edition. It would be interesting now to read the original to compare what was left out of the original and then added to the new.

At Home in Mitford Jan Karon


Don't let the rating fool you on this one. This is book one in a series of 5 "Mitford" books. It is the story of Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest and his parish. Not all the characters belong to his parish but are residents of the small town of Mitford. Throughout the book we meet colorful characters from the town, we see how Father Tim ministers to them all, and how the people affect his personal life. We all agreed that although it was not "high literature" or a "literary giant", it was definitely "literary comfort food". We agreed it was an enjoyable book, comforting, upbeat, and a guaranteed feel good book. Many in the club had read the book before and highly recommended continuing the series as this first book is the introduction of the town and the people. The series continue in the growth and the lives of the characters.

The Red Tent Anita Diamant


What an amazing book and story. This is the story of Dinah, only daughter of Jacob and youngest of Leah. In the bible she is only mentioned once in Genesis 34. But, this is her story. She begins with Jacob entering into her family and the relationships he has with her mother, Leah, and each of her sisters. She tells of what life is like in those times and the relationship she had with each of her aunts and mother. She describes daily life, the time of the month when the women enter "the red tent", and the moving around for land. She writes of her version of Genesis 34 and where her life led her after the tragedy. It is a book of relationships between women, siblings, and parents. It describes the culture of one tribe and the blending into others causing the loss of the very customs they began with. This is a wonderfully written and compelling book. Anita Diamant is an award-winning journalist and has written several non-fiction books about contemporary Jewish life. This is her first book of fiction but reads so real. For women, the idea of the red tent was so comforting, intimate, and compelling.

The Feast of Love
Charles Baxter


We had mixed reviews on this book and it is a book that definitely needed to be discussed. The narrator of the book is actually an author who is told by his friend, Bradley, to name his next book,"The Feast of Love", and to write about others love lives. The chapters are in the voices of the one being interviewed. They consist of Bradley, his ex-wives, a neighbor, and Bradley's employee. The book represents different types and different stages of love as one grows older. Mr. Baxter did an excellent job giving each character their own distinct voice.

The Voyage
Philip Caputo


This is the story of 3 sons sent to sea on the coast of Maine by their father, not to return until the end of summer. No explanation is given. A century later, the father's great-granddaughter searches for the truth of this voyage which is never mentioned in the family again. Through the ship's log, she re-creates the trip. If you are not a sailor, you may find yourself bogged down in nautical terms, but you get quite an education in sailing in all types of weather and learn to navigate by the stars. Mr. Caputo writes in a way that you feel every wave and the tension and fright of the storms. The sea is an uncontrollable thing and you are at its mercy. We were fortunate to have a couple of sailors, one from the Boston area who grew up in a family summer home in Maine, to verify the reality of what we read. It is a long read, does not read fast, but worth the trip. The Epilogue will blow you out of the water!!


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