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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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



Chris Rose


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


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


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.



Geraldine Brooks


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


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.



Jeffrey Eugenides


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


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


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.



Marilynne Robinson


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.



Vladimir Nabokov


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.



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.


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