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!!

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver


With 17 in attendance, this was one book we totally agreed earned above our normal 4. Never have we read a book where we found no fault in any literary sense. The story is that of a Baptist minister who takes his wife and four daughters into the Congo in 1959 as missionaries. The story is told in five voices, each chapter being that of the mother (in the present looking back) and the individual daughters at the time of the story. Although the story is fictional, the history of Africa and the Congo is true. Ms. Kingsolver writes of the culture, tradition, and way of life very accurately and descriptive. An amazing read and well worth reading again.

My Russian Deidra McNamer


This story is told mostly in narrative form by "Francesca". It reminded me of a Virginia Wolff novel. The story jumps from past to present as  Francesca tries to decide the future of her life and retaining her identity. There was a subtleness to her comments. As one member stated, "The author had to work hard, or be very bright, to create the sensation of a person who appears to be of shallow character who is however, really a lost soul whose life rains down on her much like the ashes from St. Helen's or Chernobyl, causing a cancer that stifles her and kills her happiness" She uses the ashes of both as symbolic of things that happened in her life and that of the others. The title was misleading. She meets a Russian who we assume she has an affair and falls in love with. We thought that was the "My Russian" But throughout the book, she refers to Russians and Russia in different ways. I thought it ended pretty flat and neatly. I myself was not that impressed with the book although we did have a good discussion.

Ellen Foster Kaye Gibbons

I am distressed to say I was sick for this meeting and missed what I hear was a wonderful discussion for such a small book. Written in 1987 at the age of 27, there was much praise for the author who wrote in the voice of a 10 year old girl who came from a bad home life, was tossed around to unwilling and unloving relatives, and ended up in a foster home where she assumed their last name was Foster since she was told they were the 'Foster" family. Ellen and the book struggles with feelings of racial relationships. It is never quite clear as to the race of Ellen's father. We all had our own ideas. Some questioned the abilities of a 10 year old but a 10 year old under such circumstances can become very bold , brave and daring. She was a survivalist. Oprah listed this book under her book club and also made it into a made for TV movie which is available on video ( check your library ). There is a discussion list for this book which really aided in the discussion.

The Tortilla Curtain T. Coraghessan Boyle


The ratings really varied on this. We rated from 1-4 but averaged out to 2.5. The Tortilla Curtain is a 3 barbwired fence with tortillas hanging on it to separate the border between Mexico and California. The fence goes into the ocean. The story is told in the parallel lives of Candido and his wife, America, two illegal Mexican immigrants and that of Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, two American citizens living in a bedroom community. When Candido and Delany's lives cross paths, the story begins. It was a hard read. When you read the life of Candido and America, you feel for them and their pain. You also can't wait to get to the next chapter and be done with their lives for awhile. The following chapter is that of Delaney and Kyra, how the illegal immigrants effect their lives and change their liberal views once they see a problem in their own backyard. We had a very "lively" discussion, more on the issue of illegal immigration and immigration as a whole,  than on the book. I felt Mr. Boyle did a very good job showing both sides of the "fence". He had no answers, as there aren't any. He just presented both sides and left it at that. I found very good information on the author along with an interview with him on this book and a list of discussion questions.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston


Written in 1937, this book was criticized by white and black authors alike. They felt as a woman writer, she made it seem that it made the black life a little too easy, too romantic, that there never could be a town entirely owned by blacks, as Eatonville was (and this is true). The book was out of print for over 30 years until re-found and brought back to life through African American Literature and Woman Studies. There is a wonderful Foreword at the beginning of the book that explains the history and the discovery of Zora's literary and lifetime achievements. The story is fairly simple. The character, Janie, begins her life with her Grandma, still living with former slave owners, not even realizing she is black (actually mulatto). She feels like she should be free to do as she wishes but finds herself married, arranged by her Grandmother, for security reasons. She is awaiting the love she feels is suppose to come, which doesn't, takes off with another man who strikes her fancy, and eventually finds a third with whom she finds fulfillment. The story is that of a woman who grows through her relationships and life experiences, though very trying at times (but isn't that life?). In the end ,she seems to come full circle and content with the way her life has gone. The most interesting part of the book to me was Janie's voice. She seemed to be quiet at the beginning with us only really hearing her inner thoughts. Yet, as she grows, she speaks out more and lives more. Her thoughts though were so poetic. She described scenes and feelings in a way that was so descriptive and unique. Some passages were wonderful. We had to read them out aloud. In a literary sense, Zora narrates in what you would consider the normal English language. Yet, when she speaks in characters, it is the language of the Black South. To read it out loud, you can really hear the rhythm of the language. It took a few chapters for us to get into the language but what wonderful writing.

The Weight of Water Anita Shreve

This meeting was held on our annual pontoon boat ride We always seem to read a boat book for the occasion so that we are on the water too. Our ratings varied from 2's -4's averaging to our 3. This book is actually based on the true story of a murder that occurred in the Isles of Shoals on March 5, 1873. The trial transcripts are the only authentic writings and the outcome is still being debated today. The rest of the story is fictional. This is a book that needs to be read twice and then discussed. The second time I read it, I picked up on things I missed the first time. Then during discussion, much more came out that I had missed. Also, some of us had different opinions even after the discussion of some of the intimacy aspects of the book. The story is narrated by Judy, a photographer, who is doing a story on the Smuttynose Murders. She comes across the actual transcripts of the murders and a handwritten letter from Maren, a survivor of the murders. Ms. Shreve writes in the present and past tense at times confusing the reader which time she is in. As you read though, you discover when she writes from the present and the next paragraph is in the past then present again, it is because Judy is actually reading or thinking about the past and then brought to the present by an interruption of her thoughts with  present life. Some chapters are written in the past when it is Maren's story being told so that you know which century you are in. This book had many parallels between the present and past characters. The more we discussed different characters, relationships, lifestyles, actions-one quick moment in time-, we realized how subtle the author was including these and how much more to this book there is that meets the eye. It was as if we were peeling away a layer at a time or digging deeper and deeper into the book. That is why it should be read more than one time and discussed. There were so many different relationships between people and the similarities of the people, it was just amazing. If you want to dissect a book, this is a wonderful choice.

The God Among Us Stan Kempton


This is Mr. Kempton's first novel. The story is basically of a young Baptist minister in his 20's who has never stepped outside of his own backyard into the real world. All his life, his life has been planned for him to be a Baptist Minister and he believes it himself that this was his path. He realizes his unhappiness and takes the opportunity after his parents death to seek out a dying unknown Aunt in Atlanta Georgia. This also gives him time to think about his own life. He immediately befriends a group of  3 roommates who he decides to "crash with" while seeking out his Aunt. What is interesting is that he does seek out on each of the characters their reason of leaving their church and loss of faith in God-though they are of different religions He faces issues he has not faced before or even known. There is sex, language, drugs, abortion, race,  homosexuality, and the world of 20 year olds who are very different from him. He also learns of past secrets and issues of his family that were unknown to him. I think the best statement or thought in the book was that even after a person dies, they continue to change. Charles, as a preacher, falls too easily into this world, going with the flow of this new crowd without really thinking of actions or consequences. They may cross his mind but they don't stay there. He does not want to preach although at times he finds the right thing to say. I do believe a preacher would have stepped in more though out of habit in a few instances but we really don't see Charles develop as much as we would have liked. There were some really descriptive scenes of his past though and the valley that he grew up in that we liked. We did like the title as it represents "The God Among Us' as individuals and how these individuals relate. Mr. Kempton is now working on his 3rd novel.

Under The Tuscan Sun Frances Mayes


Ms. Mayes is a poet which is quite apparent as she beautifully describes the countryside, nature, the towns, people, her villa, and everything she sees through her eyes. This nonfiction book is from a journal she kept of her  5 years restoring an abandoned villa in Cortona. She and Ed ( she never mentions if he is her husband or not but we know that they are now married ) do much of the work themselves along with hiring help. The story read like a novel about their experiences as they restored the inside and the problems and fun they had doing it. The people they met and worked with along with friends they had met were interesting to read. Yet, when she goes sightseeing into the different towns, the reading takes a different tone. She goes from one Etuscan tomb to another, one chapel to another and I personally wanted to get on with the story. It is a wonderful book for anyone who wants to visit the Tuscan area as she ventures out to many small towns and describes what to see and where to go. There is quite a bit of history of the Etruscans since many of the stones, tombs, and artifacts of the area are still abundant. She writes often of food! She loves to cook and includes many of the recipes she uses and of different foods that they eat. It is unfortunate though that although I think she tries to explain what some of the food is, I was at a loss of some of the ingredients she was using which was disappointing. The book seemed to be 2 books in one and they interrupted each other. One was a travel book and the other, one of their personal life. We would have liked to have known more of their personal life and experiences. We never really got to know who they were. We didn't really have much of a discussion about the book itself but the fun part was that we went around the room and we each told where we would like to live after retirement, visit, or if we had a special place we would long to be.

Big Stone Gap Adriana Trigiani

Most of us agreed that this was just a wonderful, delightful book of a small town. The town is real, Big Stone Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The author grew up there for part of her life and although the story is fiction , some parts are based on fact such as Elizabeth Taylor campaigning there with her husband and getting a chicken bone stuck in her throat. There is a main character, Ave Maria Mulligan, but all the other characters have a meaningful role throughout the book. I won't say more so that you can enjoy this book yourself.

The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing Melissa Bank


This book was actually a compilation of short stories which explains why the flow of the novel seems to be disjointed at times.  The main character is Jane. The first chapter starts with Jane at age 14. Each chapter thereafter, is of Jane and her relationships with men and family.  We watch Jane as she grows and matures(?). Throughout the book is a theme of games and rules and how they play out it in her life. There are 2 chapters which you wait for Jane to appear. One is of a family that is slightly mentioned in another chapter and Jane is mentioned at the end . We enjoyed that chapter of the Solomon family and would have liked to have read a novel about them. The other you assume is of Jane, yet is written in the third person. The chapter which is titled" The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing" is wonderfully written. What we liked about the book is that the author gave Jane a  very clever and witty voice. It is an enjoyable read.

The Saving Graces Patricia Gaffney


Could we get any closer to a 3? This was a wonderful story of the relationships between 4 women. They called themselves "The Saving Graces". They met twice a month for dinner and friendship. The book is written in chapters narrated by each woman: Emma, Rudy, Lee, and Isabel. Each has their own problems and they rely on each other for support and friendship. Each also has a different relationship with each other.  All of us wished we could have such true and lasting friendships. It is a rare and beautiful thing. Like any type of  relationship, friendship takes time, work and tolerance. This book is a true testament of the value of friendship. You end the book wanting to call your closest friends, make new ones or start your own club. I personally closed the book and immediately started to read it again since I knew the characters better and could pick up on things the second time around. This book was 50% autobiographical.


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