Appetite for America Stephen Fried

3.9

This is the real life story of Fred Harvey. A young immigrant from England, he worked his way up from dishwasher to owner of the largest restaurant and hotel industry along the railroad line. He employed the largest female workforce in the country, hiring single woman to work in his restaurants. They were known as the Harvey Girls. His restaurants were catered to excellent service and food. He had it down to a science so that when a train was about to enter the depot, the restaurant workers would start cooking so that the customers would sit down, be fed, and finished by the time the train was to leave the station. He bought the best and freshest foods. Since he worked with the railroad, he had access to receiving his goods quickly. He hired people he trusted and brought them up within the company, not looking outside for new help. His employees remained loyal. He introduced souvenirs and books into the depots and hotels to sell. Many books became best sellers because of this. Fred Harvey never took his business public. It stayed in the family and was always known as Fred Harvey.

Fred Harvey lost his first wife Ann during the birth of his second son. Four months later he mat Sally and was married. Two years later, both boys died from scarlet fever. Sally soon became pregnant and would eventually have five children: Fred "Fordie", Minnie, Byron, May, and Sybil. Fred Harvey traveled constantly taking Fordie with him and leaving Sally alone to raise the children. When he was at home, he was usually resting as Fred suffered from abdominal pains and headaches. For a time period, he returned to London to live so that he could recoup. While there, he visited a well known doctor and was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was now apparent that his long distress was caused by colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. He underwent surgery. At that time, almost 40% of patients died after surgery since there were no antibiotics and and the doctors did not yet believe in antiseptics and sterilization. Fred returned to the States but was still weak and ill. He survived for a few months. Ford was now in charge of the company, increasing its value by four times. Byron worked for the company in Chicago but was considered a "lazy rich", accustomed to always having money. Minnie was the one woman who was active in the company. At that time, women weren't considered to be capable of owning a business. Therefore, Minnie had to give her husband money to buy her stock in her own company. Sybil remained at home with her mother, and May married and moved to New York.
There are so many more details in the book about other family members and how they worked and fit into the business.

As I read through the book, I found myself putting post-its whenever I came upon a fact I wanted to share. This is another book where you start out thinking you are reading about one thing, only to find out it is a history lesson of a time period of our history that includes: the building of the railroad across the west, staking out free land, the Pullman Sleeper Car, food service on the trains, how our time zones were established, the beginning of the Federal Regulatory Agency, Interstate Commerce Commission and how their act of keeping railroad fares low affected the condition and upkeep of the railroads, the panic and depression of 1893, the creation of the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon, the REAL Indiana Jones, Charles Lindbergh and his international flight, the beginning of passenger air travel and their first served meals,the beginning of Howard Johnson's, Hertz Rental Car, and a brief mention of a man named Birdseye trying to create frozen vegetables. During WWI, in December 1917, the federal government took over the railroads. Ford Harvey was summoned to Washington to head the advisory board on how to feed America's troops and train passengers during wartime. The Harvey company always opened its doors to those in need.

Because we live here in Kansas City, it was very exciting for us to read about our own town and surrounding area. We still have two restaurants at Union Station, Harvey's and Pierponts.

The only negative I have to say about the book is that it reads pretty dry and tedious at times, but it is worth reading.

True Believers Kurt Anderson

2.5

Karen Hollander is a powerful attorney who has written many novels. She was being considered for an appointment to the Supreme Court but withdrew her name. She has decided to write her memoir for fear that dementia may take away her memories and she wants to set the record straight.

Karen grew up in a suburb in Chicago in the early 60's. Her two best friends, Alex and Chuck, were fans of the James Bond novels and the three of them liked to reconstruct the missions of Bond in their own neighborhood. They stayed close friends throughout school and into college. As they entered college in the late 60's, students were protesting the Vietnam War, friends were being drafted into the war if they weren't in school, the Civil Rights Movement was strong, drugs were easy to access, and sex was an expression of "Free Love". Alex, Chuck, Karen, and their new friend, Buzzy, spent hours in discussion about the war, the government, officials, all in a heightened sense since they were taking drugs for hours at a time.Their discussions turned more aggressive as they devised a plot in James Bond fashion to take out the President of the United States.

Now Karen has decided to write her memoir.  Under the Freedom of Information Act, Karen requests copies of everything the government has under her name. She doesn't receive what she is hoping for and is worried there is more. She contacts an old boyfriend who works in the government to help her attain her information. In the meantime, she reaches out to her old friends to let them know that she is writing her memoir and asks them what they remember.

The story unfolds throughout the book jumping back and forth between time. This is an interesting look back into the 60's. The author being a male, did a great job writing in the voice of a woman.

The Mafia and the Machine
The Story of the Kansas City Mob
Frank R. Hayde

2.5


Kansas City was a major player in the mafia during the 20th century. It began when Irish Jim Pendergast moved to Kansas City from St. Joseph, Missouri. He purchased a saloon in the West Bottoms, using money he won gambling, and began the biggest political machine a city could ever have. He helped his fellow immigrants and citizens when they needed food or care, but for a price. They would help and vote for the right politician who would look away at his illegal businesses. When his younger brother, Tom, moved to Kansas City at the age of 16, Jim hired Tom to help him. Tom Pendergast would become one of the top mob guys in history.The Irish Mob worked the political machine with the aid of the Italian Mob to control drugs, money laundering, politics, liquor, etc. At the same time the Mob was becoming a strong hold in the area, the Midwest desperado's were terrorizing the countryside with robberies and murders. At times, they helped each other out. At one point, Kansas City was known to have had the most violent murders than any other city, even Chicago.

The dots are connected from Kansas City, Missouri to Las Vegas, Florida, New York, Chicago, and all the way to the White House. It accounts from the 1800's up into the late 1980's.

This book is a complete history of the Irish and Italian mafia in the Kansas City area. It is well researched and at the back of the book, there is a complete list of who's who. Being from the Kansas City area, it was fun to read about the local history, businesses, streets, and landmarks. The one negative remark is that it was a dry read. I had read three different books about the KC Mob for my book club selection and they all read that way. This was the shortest of the three and most compact.

ROOM Emma Donoghue

2.75


Room is the only room Jack knows. He has just turned five and he lives with Ma in Room. Room is an eleven by eleven foot space where Ma has lived for the past seven years since Old Nick kidnapped her. Every night Old Nick comes to Room but Jack is already in Wardrobe being quiet. Old Nick doesn't see Jack and Jack doesn't see Old Nick. Jack does however hear the noises Old Nick makes when he is in the bed with Ma.


Jack's whole world is Room and he lives a very structured life there with Ma. He only has Ma, and television, to teach him vocabulary, grammar, everything. He has meal time, study time, exercises, limited television time, art, etc. On Sundays, Old Nick leaves special requests for the week. These special requests consist of food and maybe a small toy or art supply. He has a few books which he likes to read over and over again. The only outside world he knows is Outer Space and what he sees as one dimensional on the television. There are no windows, only the skylight. The door to Room has a keypad for entering and leaving. Jack has no knowledge of what could possibly exist outside of the door. Ma realizes she has to get herself and Jack out of Room and devises a plan.


Jack is the narrator of the story and everything is seen through his eyes. The story is based on other news stories of kidnap and recovery. The author addresses the sociological, psychological, and physical issues that captivity play on the victims.

Flight Behavior Barbara Kingsolver

3.8

 

When Dellarobia Turnbow climbed up the mountain on her husband's family's property to have her first possible tryst, she beholds a sight of flaming orange on the trees. She sees this as a sign to go back down the hill to her family. The monarch butterflies who migrate from Mexico to Canada annually, have lost their Mexican home due to environmental changes. The butterflies have landed in a rural Appalachian town called Feathertown in Tennessee. Dellarobia married her high school sweetheart, Cub, when she was 17 and pregnant. Cub's parents built them a home on the family property. They lost the baby, but continued on with their life on the sheep farm. They now have two children, Cordelia and Preston.
 
Dellarobia told Cub of the butterflies and at church the following Sunday, Cub announced to the congregation that his wife had witnessed a miracle. Now people were wanting to go and view the butterflies. It became national news and scientists and reporters were coming into the town. Entomologist, Ovid Byron, who has been studying the migration of the monarch and their new migration patterns, has come to Tennessee. He is given permission to park his trailer near Dellarobia and Cub's house. Preston, who is 5, has become fascinated with the monarchs, Ovid, and Science. Ovid takes the time to teach him and answer his questions while enlisting Dellarobia to help him and his students document field tests and statistics of the butterflies. In the meantime, she is also helping the family with the sheep shearing and inoculations so that she is pulling her family weight. Cub isn't too pleased that his wife is now working and is finding outside interests. Dellarobia is finding that Cub has no ambition other than just staying on the farm. When Cub's dad wants to start logging the mountain for money to pay off his bills, it is up to Dellarobia to get Cub to understand the result the logging would have on the land and the future of their property. The area in Mexico which was the home of the monarchs, was logged, causing flooding and devastation for the area, People and the monarchs lost their homes.

Dellarobia realizes she has outgrown this life on the farm and her life with Cub. She wants more for herself. her children, and their future.

In typical Barbara Kingsolver fashion, she intertwines her themes throughout the book. Religion, climate change, man's effect on the land, religion, love and relationships, all are weaved together beautifully in a story of flight not only of the butterflies but that of a life worth living.
Zelda Nancy Milford

2.5


Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was born in Montgomery, Alabama. She grew up as a Southern Belle, attending dances and attending events at the country club. It was at a country club dance where she met F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was in the service and stationed outside of Montgomery. After his discharge, they began a long distance relationship when he moved to New York City to begin his writing career. Zelda continued to date other boys, at the same time professing her love and affection for F. Scott.This made Scott very jealous and possessive. He began selling articles to magazines. When his book, "This Side of Paradise" was published, Zelda felt confident with his ability to provide for her and moved to New York City to be married. A year later they had a daughter, Frances.

As the Fitzgerald's began to make money, they spent it just as fast. They moved to Paris to socialize with other artists. Fitzgerald continued to write, but Zelda and Scott liked to party. They would become drunk and argue in front of guests and wherever they happened to be. There relationship was tumultuous. As his alcoholism worsened, her mental health became worse. She became obsessed with her ballet lessons. She had danced as a youth and wanted to dance in a ballet again. Her mental state was becoming more erratic so she went to a doctor. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was institutionalized in Europe.

Zelda was an artist, writer and dancer. While she was in the hospital, she began to write and paint again. Once back in the States, Zelda wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, "Save Me the Waltz" and it was published in 1932 without Scott's knowledge. Scott was furious as he was also writing a novel at the time, "Tender is the Night". Both books were about their relationship and life together. Zelda was Scott's muse. He used her life, letters to him, and her diary to write his novels. Without a Zelda, there would not have been a Fitzgerald as we would not have "The Great Gatsby", and other writings of his based on the two of them.

As Zelda's hospital bills accumulated, Scott was under more pressure to write for income. He published many short stories, which were his primary source of income. This increased his stress and drinking. At times, Zelda was allowed to go back to Montgomery to live while under the care of her mother, but she would eventually need to return to the hospital for treatment. Scott wanted her to have the best care. Although their relationship became very destructive and unhealthy to one another when they were together, they still were very much in love.

Scott moved to Hollywood to write for the films and continued publishing his short stories. He died on December 21, 1940 of a heart attack. Zelda died March 10, 1948 while in Highland Mental Hospital, North Carolina, from a fire that broke out in a dumbwaiter. Twenty patients died that day.

"Zelda" was written for Milford's dissertation. The research is extensive but can be long and dry in sections. It is a fascinating look into the time period of the roaring twenties, jazz era, and flappers. It also gives great insight into the love, personal, and lifestyle of the relationship between Zelda and Scott. After reading this book, it will be interesting to read Scott's novels again knowing that Zelda's own words and experiences are a big part of the novel.

Nothing Daunted
The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West.
Dorothy Wickenden

3


When the author Dorothy Wickenden was going through her desk drawers back in 2008, she found a folder of letters her mother had given her years ago. They were letters from her grandmother Dorothy Woodruff who had traveled with her best friend, Rosamond Underwood.The first letter was dated, Friday, July 28, 1916, and was written on stationary from the Hayden Inn. The Inn was located in Colorado and the women had traveled there to begin a one year teaching job.

Dorothy and Ros met in Auburn, New York in kindergarten. They were together throughout their school years and both attended Smith College. At their first Smith reunion, many of their classmates were now married with children or had jobs as teachers and nurses. Neither of these appealed to Ros and Dorothy. They decided to go to Europe for a year accompanied by Ros's parents for the first few months. Ros and Dorothy lived in their own apartment in Paris and traveled through Europe. Upon their return, they attended social events, traveled to New York City to live for awhile, and then back to Auburn. After seven years out of college, they still wanted to find meaningful work and to not just settle.  In April 1916, they ran into another

Auburn girl who just that day had heard from a friend, Ferry Carpenter. Ferry was a lawyer in Elkhead, Colorado, who had worked with the town people for five years to build a schoolhouse. He was looking for a couple women who would be willing to come to Colorado and teach school for a year or two. This was just the adventure Ros and Dorothy were looking for. Unbeknownst to them, Ferry was also looking for single women to come to his town hoping they would stay and marry many of the single men that lived there.
The two women traveled by train and saw a part of the country they had never seen before. They lived with a family of homesteaders, the Harrison's. The room they shared did not have the comforts of home that they were use to, but they began to adapt. They soon found their rent money was helping the family to have food on their plate and soon became close friends and companions with the family. In the harsh winter weather, they rode horseback through blizzards to get to the school. No matter the weather, the students traveled miles everyday to get to school. They would receive a meal which could be the only hot meal for them that day. When the holidays came, the two women reached to their families and friends back home to send gifts and supplies for the children and their families.

The rest of the story unfolds with marriage, children, and life.
The author is a magazine writer so the book at times reads as if she is writing off her notes and letters as a research paper would be written. In the end, it is a great history lesson of the life the pioneers and homesteaders endured in the early 1900's Colorado.
The Feminine Mystique Betty Friedan

2.5


This book was written in the 1960's and was based on interviews the author had mainly with suburban housewives. Women either married after high school or went to college to meet a husband. It was then expected of her to make a happy home for her husband and children, think Donna Reed or Father Knows Best,(referencing the black and white television shows of the late 1950's and early 1960's). The women were devoted wives and mothers who woke up early to pack lunches, make breakfasts, get the children off to school, the husband off to work, then spend the rest of the day cleaning the house, shopping, cooking, laundry, ironing, etc. She needed to be ready by the end of the school day to take children to lessons, get supper on the table, and to greet.her husband at the door with a drink. She had to look pretty for her husband so makeup, hair, and being dressed nicely was a must.  After dinner she cleaned up, bathed children, put them to bed, continued working until she fell into bed to please her husband.This lifestyle for these women became tedious and they felt unfulfilled. This led to depression and the women wanting more from their lives.

This wasn't true for all women. Many women had to work for a living, they had no choice. Other women wanted a career so they chose to work. The fact though was that women who did work, were not equal to the men in their jobs. They were paid less and did not move up in the company because men had priority.

 

The feminist movement has come a long way in the past 50 years but women's rights and pay equality are still unequal to men. It seems lately, their are some who want us to go back to the 1950's way of life. I think, and hope at least, that will not happen.
The Blood of Flowers Anita Amirrezvani

3.75


A comet flies by a village in 17th century Persia, signalling misfortune for the villagers. The narrator, a young woman of 14, looks to her future of marriage and family. She enjoys spending time with her father and rug making. She has learned how to make her own dyes for the wool. When  her father dies suddenly, she and her mother are forced to move to Ishfahan to live with her half uncle, Gostaham. Gostaham is the Shah's rug maker. The mother and daughter seek refuge from the very well off uncle, but are forced to become one of the servants to earn their keep. Gostaham learns of his niece's love and talent of rug making and takes her under his care. She assists him and his workers in his work, but also allows her to create rugs of her own. He sees the talent and teaches and encourages her to make her own rugs. If she had been a male, she would have been able to work right along side of him openly. Since she was female, she had to work on her own time and stay hidden when her rugs were presented. The aunt is greedy and convinces her husband to have his niece wed by signing a 3 month contract which is to be renewed until marriage or the groom, Ferydoon, decides to end it. This contract gives the aunt and uncle money for the mother and daughter's keep.

The author takes us through the city of Ishfahan, describing the; buildings, market, mosques, beggars, smells, and colors. We learn the art of rug making; the knots, dyes, and the wool. We go into the slums where the tenants live in one room houses sharing a common area. We see the strength and comradery in the women to support themselves in a world of men. We went to a time and place we hadn't been before and we loved it.

Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe

3.5



Achebe eases us into his story set in a tiny set of villages in the 1980's.It is there where we meet key characters and learn some of their rituals, spiritual customs/values, and family lore. It is not until Part Three of the book when white missionaries arrive, bringing new tensions, misunderstanding, and ultimately, grief and loss.

 

This was the Nigerian's author first book and it was written in 1958. it is a fascinating intro into African Literature, showing an indigenous perspective of the struggle between tradition  and change. the book offered thought provoking material for discussion. Specifically, how a culture can be affected by outside influences and how care must be taken with outside influences and how care must e taken when an outsider offers to "help" another.

 

We found it interesting that the author wrote in English, suggesting that it was designed to be a book for others to read and learn from. it is included in most college World Literature course syllabus.

The Light Between Oceans M.L.Stedman

4

 

Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia after serving four years on the Western Front. In search of solitude, he takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly a half day's journey from the coast. While still on shore in Point Partageuse, a port located on the western coast of Australia, where the two oceans meet, Tom meets Isabel. The two have an instant connection and begin a correspondence while he is on Janus Rock. The two become married and after two miscarriages and a stillborn, Isabel is beside herself with grief. When she hears a baby crying, she finds a boat has washed ashore with a baby and her dead father. She pleads with Tom not to report it quite yet, and against Tom's moral and better judgment, he goes along with her. She becomes their daughter Lucy.
Two years later, the family return to the mainland and discover the identity of  Lucy's actual mother and father. They see the effect their decision has had on this family and his own. Tom is unable to live with the decision he and Isabel made those years ago and sets in motion a way to ease his guilt.
This is a story of love and loss. It is a compelling story and very well written.
     
The Space Between Us Thrity Umrigar

3.6

The setting is Bombay, India.This is the story told by two women: Sera, an upper middle class Parsi, and her longtime domestic servant, Bhima. Bhima has been working as a domestic for Sera. Bhima resides in the slums and lives with her granddaughter, Maya.

For twenty years, the two women shared their lives. Bhima cooked and cleaned for Sera, helping raise Sera's daughter Dinaz. Bhima tended to Sera's bruised body after having been beat time and again by her abusive husband, Feroz.

In the meantime, Sera helped Bhima when her husband was injured in an accident and wasn't getting proper medical care. When Bhima's daughter and son-in-law died, leaving Maya to live with her grandmother, Sera paid for Maya to go to the University.

Even though these two women were indeed friends, they were separated by class. Bhima had her own cupboard at Sera's house where she kept her drinking glass and eating utensils. When she sat and had tea with Sera, she sat at a distance on her haunches on the floor while Sera sat in her chair at the table.

When Maya becomes pregnant, she has to leave University and her future to get herself and Bhima out of the slums is slashed. Sera's family and Bhima decide the best thing to do for Maya is to have her get an abortion. Maya agrees only if Sera is the one to take her and they go alone. After the father is revealed to Bhima, no ones life will be the same.

India comes to life for the reader; the visuals of the streets, market, the people, the smell of the foods, streets, the slums, and the difference in the classes- the poor and their strength, the rich and their greed and weaknesses.
After having just finished our 2010 year with the book "The Help", it was an interesting comparison in the relationships between employee and employer and where to draw the personal line.
 
Sarah's Key Tatiana De Rosnay

3

On July 16, 1942, the French police, collaborating with the Nazis, raided Jewish homes, arrested the families and took them to the Vélodrome d'Hiver, a stadium. The families were kept there for days then shipped to the Aushwitz camps and their eventual demise. This was a two day roundup known as the "Vel'dHiv". 

Sarah was 10 when she heard the knock on the door by the police. She realized her family had to leave so she locked her brother, Michel, in a cupboard and kept the key with her. She thought she would be back shortly to let him out. 

Sixty years later in Paris, Julia Jurmond, an American married to a Parisian, is asked by her Paris based American magazine to write an article for the anniversary of the d"Hiv. Surprisingly, not many French know too much about the roundup. In fact, it wasn't until 1995, when President Chirac apolgized to the Jewish citizens for France's involvement.

It is through Julia's investigation, that she learns about her husband's family connection with Sarah's family.

The first half of the story is told with intermittant chapters between Sarah's life and Julia's. Sarah's voice is very compelling describing the Holocaust and what the families went through. The second half of the book is about Julia, her relationship with her husband, daughter, his family, and her obsession with Sarah. We found the change in voice was distrupting and it slowed the story down. Julia became self absorbed in herself and this other family. 

It is another lesson of history during WWII that we did not know about.

The Cookbook Collector Allegra Goodman

1.8

Emily and Jessamine Bach are sisters and are 5 years apart. Their mother passed away when Emily was 10, leaving Emily to look after her younger sister. They were raised in Massachusetts but now live in Berekely, California- Silicon Valley.

Emily took after her father, getting a degree at MIT and is now the CEO of Veritech, an internet company about to go public. Jess is still in college, a graduate student in Philosophy, and is having a hard time writing her dissertation and getting through the courses. She is a woman of nature: vegan, environmentalist, and is involved with an organization that is trying to save the trees by sleeping in the redwoods so they cannot be chopped down. Emily's boyfriend, Jonathan, is in his own dotcom security start up business and lives in Massachusetts. They maintain a long distance relationship. Jess's boyfriends run in her circle, with no real future, as in job security.

Jess applies for a job at an antiquarian bookstore, whose owner, George, made his fortune in Microsoft, retiring early. George is about 16 years older than Jess. He doesn't understand or share Jess's ideas, but he seems  to enjoy questioning her and getting her ire going. Jess treasures books, the feel of the paper, and the printed word. Whereas, George takes pride in collecting them. In fact, his home is its own museum of collections. George has the opportunity to buy a cookbook collection from the niece of the collector after his death. It is a collection no one has ever seen as it dates back to the 1700's. The book is also filled with the collector's personal menus and drawings. Once the collection is obtained, Jess delves in to categorizing the collection and a stronger bond forms between George and Jess.

When Emily's company is about to go public, Jess needs $1800.00 to buy her shares for the company. Instead of asking her father for the money, she borrows it from a Bialystok Rabbi whom she met from a neighbor. She begins to attend classes at his Synagogue. He also just happens to have a sister and brother-in-law Rabbi who lives in Jess's hometown in MA. This is where the author starts to add too many characters, story lines, and uncanny coincidences to the book, ending up with the two sisters learning more about their mother.

The book is heralded as a modern-day Jane Austen. We only thought the similarity is that there are two sisters with boyfriends. This is no Jane Austen. One of the main points of this book just may be the difference in what is tangible and what is intangible. For example, the dotcom owners and investors became millionaires with intangible wealth,(it is just numbers on paper), whereas, George has wealth in his tangible investments.

Our main question was this, "Why is this book titled the Cookbook Collector?" We did enjoy the recipes of the past and the way words were spelled.

Her Fearful Symmetry Audrey Niffenegger

2

Julia and Valentina are identical sisters. They are 20 and live at home in Chicago with their mother, Edie and father, Jack. They receive a thick letter that informs them that their Aunt Elspeth, their mother's identical twin who lives in London, has passed away. They twins never knew their aunt, as their mother and aunt became estranged when the twins were babies.The letter states that they have been left Elspeth's flat in London, along with her belongings, minus her personal papers. There are two conditions of the will. One, they are to live in the flat a year before they decide whether to keep it or sell it. Two, there parents are not to enter the apartment

Elspeth never married, but when she young she was engaged to marry Jack. That is, until he married Edie. Elspeth was now in a relationship with her neighbor Robert who lived downstairs from her. He had moved into the building to study the neighboring Highgate Cemetery. Elspeth was a volunteer there.

The twins had been in and out of college. Valentina wanted to stay in college but Julia was restless and did not. Julia was the stronger of the two and Valentina seemed to let her sister make decisions for them, even if it was not what Valentina wanted.

The twins decide to move to London for the year. Once they are in the flat, Valentina starts to feel her Aunt's presence. Soon, writings appear on the dusty furniture. Elspeth finds her self back in her flat, a weak ghost. Little by little she gets stronger and begins to communicate with the twins. She and Valentina seem to have a stronger connection. In the meantime, Robert watches the twins from a far as he his nervous to meet them. When he does, he feels an instant connection with Valentina. As their relationship gets closer, Julia starts to feel left out. She becomes friends with Martin, the upstairs neighbor. Martin is agoraphobic along with being extremely OCD. His wife Marijke, leaves him after 20 some years of marriage and returns to Amsterdam, where she is originally from. Their son is now grown and on his own. The twins want to learn more abut their aunt and would like to read her papers. Robert declines but decides it is time for him to read them. That is when he discovers the truth. (I will not mention what that is).

The twins tell Robert of Elspeth's ghost and he is now communicating with her. Elspeth also notices that Robert and Valentina are getting closer. This is when things start getting strange. I can't really write more or I would be giving too much away. I will say though that as the book climaxed and wrapped up, it lost us. We became very confused. We didn't like what was happening or how it ended. The book did create a lively discussion and if you like a supernatural story, you would like this. It is a fun, light read on your own, but for a book club, there are many other books out there to be discussed.

 
Fall of Giants Book One of the Century Trilogy Ken Follett

3.6

This is the way one should learn History. Ken Follett has written a fictional historical novel based on well researched facts of WWI. When I first saw the size of the book, (985 pages), and the cast of characters, (fictional and real), involving five countries worldwide, I was overwhelmed. I wondered how I would ever remember them all and keep everyone straight. Follett writes with a gripping storyline that keeps the story moving and easy to absorb.

The book begins on July 22,1911 and ends in January 1924. We learn how the war started and how the countries were all drawn into to defend and protect themselves and their allies. From Britain, to Germany, Austria, Poland, France, Russia and the Russian Revolution, to the imminent involvement of the United States, we are taken on a journey through the lives and families of those who fought in the war and those who kept the home fires burning.

The fictional characters provide for a better understanding of the human side of the war and of course make for a more interesting read than a nonfiction dry book. Whatever problems you may find with the characters, they teach you what it was like to live in that time of our history and how governments deal with war.

Little Bee Chris Cleave

3

Sarah is offered free trips through work and chooses to go to a private resort in Nigeria. She is hoping to rekindle her relationship with her husband, Andrew. Ignoring warnings to stay inside the resort, Sarah decides to venture outside the walls with her husband to walk along the beach. There she meets Little Bee and Little Bee's sister.

Two years later, Andrew answers the phone in the early morning. It is Little Bee. She has just been released from an immigration detention center in Britain. The only belongings she has with her are: an English Dictionary, a pair of gray socks, a pair of gray briefs, a United Kingdom Driver's License and a water stained business card. The license and business card belonged to Andrew. She is allowed one phone call so she calls the number on the card. Thus begins the saga of the relationships between Little Bee, Sarah, Andrew, Charlie,(Sarah and Andrew's son), and Lawrence,(Sarah's lover)..

Little Bee's story of life in Nigeria is one of horror and sadness. The ground under her village is filled with crude oil and the companies and politicians want the land. One day, the men come and burn down her village and murder those who stay behind to fight "the men". Little Bee and her sister have been on the run ever since.

The story is told in two voices, that of Little Bee and Sarah. Little Bee's story tells of the inhumane conditions of living in a country of greed and violence. It brings to life the influx of refugees from other countries. Sarah's character is confusing. It is passionate and giving yet at the same time self-centered and selfish. I found her and Lawrence's characters and relationship unlikely, weak, and unrealistic. I didn't like the way Charlie ran around in a Batman costume all the time without Sarah trying to parent him. I did like the relationship between Charlie and Little Bee. The story had high points and low points. We had a good discussion for a book club book but personally, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

The Women T.C. Boyle

3.3

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the world's greatest architect's. But, he had a wandering eye and libido which took precedence over his personal life. "The Women", is the story of the four women with whom  FLW had serious relationships. The story is narrated by the fictional character of a Japanese apprentice, Tadashi Sato, who comes to Wright's residence, Taliesin, in the fall of 1932. He immediately goes to work in the kitchen. Any apprentice coming to Taliesin, is expected to work in all areas of the farm, land, house, and as an apprentice. Upfront, he pays a monetary tuition.

Tadashi, tells the story of Wright's women in reverse order. He begins with Olgivanna Milanoff, his third and surviving wife, a dancer from Montenegro, who falls in love with Wright and moves to Taliesin with him bringing her daughter. Later they have their own daughter. Before they are able to marry, Wright needs to be granted a divorce from his second wife Maude Miriam Noel. Miriam is addicted to morphine and is quite volatile. Wright and Miriam really do not have much in common except for their sexual passion. Wright knew she wasn't the woman for him and he left her a few times. But he couldn't stay away as to every time he saw her, he fell into her arms with lust. Miriam goes after Wright publicly and physically for years until she finally grants him his divorce.

Wright met Miriam after the death of his mistress and "soul-mate" Mamah Borthwick Cheney. He met Mamah when he designed and built her and her husband Edwin's house. They lived in the same neighborhood in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. While Wright was building the house, he and Mamah would have stimulating, intellectual conversations. They believed in freely loving each other no matter who they hurt. It was a selfish love as both Wright and Mamah were married with children of their own at the time. Wright had had other affairs in the past but none that he felt this love for as he did Mamah. Mamah abandoned her family as did Wright to move to Europe where they both found work on their own. When they returned to the States, Wright bought property in Spring Green, Wisconsin, to be around his family. He  built, Taliesin, a home for him and Mamah. There was a lot of turmoil around this. The neighbors did not like the fact that Wright was living in sin. This was 1914. Wright was charged with the violation of the Mann Act, crossing a woman across State Line for immoral purposes. After Mamah had lived in Taliesin for 7 months, a worker and his wife, originally from Barbados, came to work for Wright. The husband, Carleton, was very angry of the treatment he felt he received from the white, well to do Americans. Mamah did not like the way Carleton treated his wife Gertrude and spoke with him about it. When Mamah stepped into the kitchen as Carleton was beating his wife, Mamah fired him. Mamah's two children happened to be visiting at the time. Carleton left and came back with an axe and killed 7 people that day.

Before Mamah, there was Wright's wife, Kitty. He married her when she was 17.They had 6 children together. Kitty did not divorce Wright until years later when Wright was involved with Miriam.

All four relationships are made public by the press and all four women publicly defend their relationships or their despair with Wright and the other woman.

What is interesting about Wright that you learn from this book and that of "Loving Frank", which we read a couple of years ago, is about the man himself. He was selfish, egotistical, demanding, talked mostly of himself and didn't care to hear about others. He used people. He didn't pay his debts, leaving them either unpaid or finding others to pay his bills for him. He never felt ashamed about this. He was an important man and was expected to be taken care of or that he was owed "things" because after all, he was Frank Lloyd Wright.  It is also interesting that Wright's father left him when he was a teenager. Wright was so angered he changed his middle name. Yet, Wright behaved just like him.

His architecture was very different and modern for the time. He designed and built his buildings into the environment and wanted a very clean look. When you think of the designs of the late 1800's/early 1900's, his buildings were quite avantgarde for the time. T.C. Boyle gives us a good look into the life of Wright, his life and works, and that of his relationships with his women.

The Lacuna

Barbara Kingsolver

3

Harrison Shepherd was born in the United States to an American father and a Mexican mother. In 1929, his mother, Salome, left her husband and took Harrison with her to live with Enrique, a wealthy Mexican landowner, at his hacienda.. Salome thought she would become a bride and be wealthy herself. While there, Harrison helped the cook, Leandro, in the kitchen and became quite a good cook himself. He would also go to the beach where he learned to swim underneath the water where he discovered la lacuna. After a time, Salome realized that she and Harrison had to leave Enrique. She had met another business man who would set her and her son up in an apartment. One day Harrison came across the artist Diego Rivera painting a mural. his helpers were having trouble mixing the cement to the correct consistency. When Harrison taught them how to mix it, like dough, Diego hired Harrison. After Diego left town, Harrison met his wife and painter, Frida Kahlo. He offered to help her carry her items. Thus, the lifetime friendship of Harrison and Frida began. 

Harrison became the cook in the Rivera household. Rivera was part of the Communist movement and was a friend of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was in hiding as he was a wanted man by his former friend and Bolshevik leader, Joseph Stalin. Harrison is hired by Trotsky and Harrison finds himself entwined with revolutionaries and artists. After Trotsky's violent death, the newspapers report all the wrong facts. This is Harrison's first experience with the power of the press and how the press can manipulate truth or fiction. People will believe whatever they are told.

As the United States enters into WWII, Harrison returns to the States along with artwork for Frida's show in New York. Once there, he becomes a civil servant for the United States to help with a shipment of art oversees. After the death of Harrison's father, Harrison is left his father's car. He drives south until he reaches the town of Asheville, NC. He decides to stay and rents a room at a boarding house.                                                    
From the time Harrison was a small boy, he always wrote in a notebook about his daily life. However, he wrote in the 3rd person. His mother and others would tell him to be careful what he wrote as they were afraid they may get into trouble with his writings. Once he settled into the boarding house, he began to write his book and had it published. He was able to buy a house and hire his boarding house friend, Violet Brown as his stenographer. After two successful books and a third waiting to be published, Harrison finds himself in the middle of the McCarthy hearings and his past has come back to haunt him.

Written in the form of journal, letters, and news clippings, this book takes a wonderful look into the lives of Rivera, Kahlo, and the politics of Mexico and the United States. Kingsolver takes us to the Aztec ruins and the stories behind them. However, the book does drag on at points but to true Kingsolver's writings, she brings it all together at the end.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot

3.25

When the author took a community college biology class in 1988, her professor was explaining cancer cells and he wrote the name Henrietta Lacks on the board. He explained that Henrietta died in 1951 of cervical cancer. But, before she died, a surgeon took samples of her tumor and put them in a petri dish. The professor then added on that Henrietta was a black woman. Rebecca became intrigued about who the woman was behind the cells. She spent the next several years researching the story of the cells and that of Henrietta and her family.
Henrietta was born in Roanoke, Virginia in 1920. When her mother died, she returned to her father's family tobacco farm in Clover, VA. The family had farmed the same land since their slave ancestors. She grew up with her older cousin David, Day, Lacks. He was 5 years older. At age 14, Henrietta became pregnant with Day's child and they married.They had 5 children. Day was always cheating on Henrietta and gave her various STD'S.

In 1951, after waiting a year, Henrietta went to John Hopkins Hospital to see a Doctor. She told them she had a knot in her womb. As the Dr. flipped through her chart from previous visits, he noted she had been diagnosed with neurosyphilis but had cancelled treatments. She had also tested positive for gonorrhea and increased cellular activity in the cervix. She had declined follow up treatment. Shortly after, Henrietta had given birth to a baby at the hospital yet, no tumor was detected at time of birth. Either it had been overlooked or it had grown that fast after 4 months. A sample of the tumor was taken and sent to pathology. When the Dr. began treatment on the tumor, he took samples of healthy tissue and the cancerous tissue. He then sent them to Dr. George Gey's lab. Gey was experimenting in growing cells from tissue. So far he was not having success in keeping cells alive. Henrietta's cells were different. They grew. He labeled his samples with the first two letters of the patient's first and last name. These cells are now known as HeLa cells.

HeLa cells with their unique properties became the cells to test every vaccine or procedure on. They were used to test the Salk vaccine for polio, radiation from a nuclear bomb, chemotherapy drugs, hormones, AIDS, deep sea diving and spaceflight. They were also infected with TB, salmonella and bacteria. It was later discovered that her cancer was caused by the HPV virus. HeLa cells became a researcher's dream. Factories were built to mass produce the cells. They were shipped all over the world, first freely by Dr. Gey, then for money by companies.
It wasn't until a Rolling Stone reporter showed up at the Lack's home in 1975, did the family find out that Henrietta's cells were still alive and being used for research. This had quite an effect on the family.

Now in the 1990's, Ms. Skloot goes back to the Rolling Stone article and follows the research into the Lack's family. It takes time and patience but through numerous interviews and gaining confidence with the Lack's family, they let her in. Through a timeline back and forth, which aids in keeping track of where the author is in the book, we learn the science of the cells, the family relations of Henrietta, the ethical questions it raises about using cells from a donor or in many cases, not a donor, and making money from them. Henrietta's family never saw a cent from the millions the cells have made for companies. They have lived in poverty with no health insurance. I believe the book is very fair in showing both sides. Without testing on tissues, organs, blood, etc. after we are done with them, either in surgery or through lab work, there would be no way to find new cures for diseases. Yet, here is a family who could have really needed some compensation. Maybe John Hopkins could have at the very least provided free health care to the family as a sigh of good will. That is just my opinion. In the past couple of years, new laws have been written to protect the privacy and rights of the patients. We are a more informed patient.
HeLa cells are still being used today.

The Other Boleyn Girl Philippa Gregory

3.4

We have all read and been taught the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII. What we know little of is Anne's sister, Mary. Mary was the favorite and youngest lady-in-waiting for Queen Katherine. She was also married at age 13 to William Carey, a good friend and man high in favor with the king. When Mary catches the eye of the King, Mary's family, The Boleyn's and the Howard's, decide she must leave her husband to be available to the King. Soon, Mary finds herself in love with the King. She gives him two children. When the King begins to lose interest in Mary, the family decides she must step aside in order to let her sister Anne, seduce the King. Anne indeed catches the King's eye. For three years, she keeps the King's interest without giving into him sexually, although she does satisfy him in other ways.The King wants her so bad he will do anything to have her. She convinces him to leave Queen Katherine and to obtain an annulment. She also introduces him to the teachings of Martin Luther. This change in the church practices begins the new Church of England. Anne becomes quite ruthless in her need of power, not only over the King, the Court, but also her family.

Mary had spent time at her family's estate in Hever. After her children were born, the children remained there to be cared for and Mary returned to Court to perform her duties. She was allowed to return to Hever during the summer months. On one of her trips, she was escorted by William Stafford. He stayed at Hever with her and they fell in love. Eventually, they married without permission. He later built her a home in the area, and they moved there to raise their children.
There is so much more detail and story lines in this book; Queen Katherine, the King's spoiled, selfish rants and needs, the relationship between England, France, Spain, and the Catholic Church, the sibling relationship between Anne, Mary, and George, and the dynamics of the Boleyn-Howard family.

We must remember this is historical fiction of the Tudor Court. There are inaccuracies but it gives us a very vivid look into the time period and life of King Henry's court. It was a very enjoyable read.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts a memoir Neil White

3.25

In May 1993, Neil White was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for check kiting to sustain his publishing business. He was to spend his time at the Federal Medical Center in Carville, Louisiana. The medical center was home to the residents with Hansen's Disease, otherwise known as leprosy. The Center opened in 1894 with seven patients. The land had been originally a Southern Plantation. Since there was room at the Center, it was divided in half to accommodate prisoners on one side and the patients on the other side.

When White entered the prison/center, he noticed it was not a typical prison. There weren't bars on the windows or doors on the cells. The prisoners varied from white collar crime, larceny, drugs, and those with more violent crimes but needed medical attention. The grounds were like that of a country club. The prisoners were assigned jobs, and White's first job was in the kitchen, writing the menu on a board in the cafeteria for the residents(those with leprosy). When he discovered he was living with leprosy residents, he feared any contact with them would be contagious.

White had always been an over achiever. He wanted to be in the Guinness World of Records, to be recognized as an important business man. As his business grew, he expanded more and spent more. In order to cover his expenses, he had separate bank accounts and began transferring money from one account to the other. Eventually, it all caught up with him. Now he was in prison without his pressed clothing, his cologne, and even more important, his wife and children. The family had lost their home in two different cities. His wife and children visited him on certain weekends but his wife decided she wanted a divorce and to move back to where she originally lived, Oxford, LA.

White thought he could make the best of the situation by writing a book about the Center. He would interview the residents and the prisoners. He would be like George Plimpton and write an undercover story or expose about the place. While in the cafeteria, he was approached by the residents and while at first very guarded, he became to know them. One in particular, Ella, had been there since she was a child. She was now in her 80's. She was a very wise woman and White often talked and had coffee with her early in the morning before the other residents came in. The prisoners and the residents were not suppose to associate with each other, but White did whenever he got the chance. He began attending church services with the other prisoners and the residents.

The other prisoners, including his roommate, come from all walks of life and a variety of crimes. It is quite interesting and actually entertaining to read about them.

Through his varied associations and time to reflect on his life, he realizes what it is important to him. in life and relationships.

I must admit to my ignorance of leprosy/Hansen's disease. I had no idea it still existed today, let alone that there was an actual center for patients in this country.

The Leisure Seeker Michael Zadoorian

3.

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

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

The Master

Colm Toibin

2.5

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

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

 

This Boy's Life A Memoir Tobias Wolff

3.25

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

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

Sin in the Second City

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

Karen Abbott

3

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

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

Deaths on Pleasant Street

The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Doctor Hyde.

Giles Fowler

3.3

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

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

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

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

 

The Good Soldiers David Finkel

4

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

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

Embers Sandor Marai

3.6

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

The Little Book Selden Edwards

3.25

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

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

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

 

 

 

 
   
Half Broke Horses Jeannette Walls

3.2

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

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

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

 

MOO Jane Smiley

2.75

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Help
Kathryn Stockett

3.9

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

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

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

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

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

The Nine:

Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
Jeffrey Toobin

3.75

Toobin’s book covers the history of the US Supreme Court from the summer of 1991 through the spring of 2007.  The two major themes are: 1) the push and pull between the conservatives and the liberals on the court and 2) the evolution of the judicial opinions of most of the justices, particularly O’Connor and Kennedy. None of us realized the pivotal role that Sandra Day O’Connor played in some of the most critical Court decisions of our time – affirmative action, abortion rights, executive powers.  Time after time, she cast the deciding 5th majority vote to preserve these rights. You would think that a book about the Supreme Court would be on the dry and boring side, but not this book!  As one of our book club members put it, the book often reads like a novel, complete with suspense, character development and personal rivalries.  Toobin does an outstanding job of bringing each Justice to life with personal details. For instance, none of us knew that Clarence Thomas socializes at RV campgrounds and NASCAR tracks, where few people recognize him. We had a wide-ranging and often spirited discussion as we reflected on some of the controversial issues of our time: Roe vs Wade, Bush vs Gore, Gitmo, the Harriet Miers nomination, prayer in school, the Clarence Thomas nomination, the Terry Schiavo case, gay rights. We rated this book a 3.75 for its writing style as well as its timely information on the branch of government that few of us know much about.

 

The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett

3.75

Tom Builder is a mason. When work is stopped on the house he is building, he sets forth with his wife and family to find work. His dream is to build a cathedral. Thus begins his journey. Prior Phillip is the head monk at a small monastery. He goes to Kingsbridge and his journey as the new Prior of Kingsbridge begins. The two inevitably meet. Without giving anything away, this story of early 1100's England, politics between Kings, Lords, and Bishops, along with a cast of wonderful and horrid characters, make a 1000 page book read as if it was only 300. This is a must read. What a wonderful education of the time period.

Loving Frank Nancy Horan

3.33

Frank Lloyd Wright is hired to design and build a home for Edwin Chene, and his wife, Mamah. Mamah and Frank enjoy each others company and conversation. Thus begins their affair that leads to the destruction of both families.This fictional book is based on facts. Horan creates an intimate picture into Mamah's life and her relationship with Frank. After reading this book, I became more interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and his life after the affair. Another book, "The Women", has recently been published by T.C. Boyle. This is about Frank's other women.

The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

James McBride

3.2

In this memoir of Ruth (Rachel Dwajra Zyliska) McBride Jordan, Mc Bride writes of his family; one of twelve siblings, a white, Jewish mother who will not admit she is white, and his father, black Baptist minister who dies before James is born. Her story, as told to James, is written along side his. It wasn't until he was an adult that he learned the truth about his mother. This is a story of a very strong, determined mother who made sure all of her twelve children received a good education leading to professional degrees.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time

 

Grag Mortenson

David Oliver Relin

3.25

In 1993, Greg Mortenson failed in his attempt to climb K2, the world's second largest mountain, in the Karakoram Range, Pakistan. On his way down the mountain, he became lost and found himself in the village of Korphe, being nursed back to health by Chief Ali. To thank the village, he promised to return and build a school. He did not break his promise. This book is his story, as told to and researched by Relin, of the following years, his struggle, triumphs, and rewards to have built numerous schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He believes that the educaton of children, especially girls, is what will bring peace and an end to terrorism in the Middle East. This book is very educational as to what is going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the Taliban. Greg Mortenson has been nominated for the Nobel Prize this year. He deserves it. If you are interested in purchasing this book, please go to www.threecupsoftea. Money from the purchase of this book will benefit more schools. This is a must read.

The Devil in the White City
Erik Larson

3.75

This is a book with two stories. One is the Chicago World"s Fair, 1892, and the men who created it. The second is of Henry H. Holmes, serial killer. Larson does an amazing job weaving two true separate stories into one book.

Daniel Burnham and his partner, John Root, Chicago's leading architects, were chosen to design the Chicago's World Fair. It was Burnham's responsibility to acquire other national architects, labor, and money to build the Fair in less than three years so that it could open in October to celebrate Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World. The book explains all the work and hardship that was needed to pull this off. The story describes not only the politics behind the project, but that of construction, weather, economy and industrialization. The Fair brought many important people and characters to Chicago, including Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. It also was the beginning of many foods and inventions that we still have today: Juicy Fruit Gum, Cracker Jacks, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Shredded Wheat, AC electricity to light our homes and streets, and where would a carnival be today without a Midway and a ferris wheel.

Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor from the East Coast, moves to Chicago after leaving his wife. He purchases a drug store then builds a hotel across the street for the upcoming Fair. Larson delves into Holmes past from his early childhood to that of a young man. Holmes was a psychotic, satanic, charming man who lured many young women into his life and to their brutal deaths. His house of horrors was built by men he would fire to not only avoid having to pay them, but so that they would not be suspicious of what he was doing. He owed many people and businesses money yet he could manipulate them out of collecting what was their due.This was the United States Jack the Ripper.

This is the way to learn history. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

3.75

The time period is 1946, London, post WWII. Juliet Ashton is an author looking for a new book subject. She receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. He is reading a book by Charles Lamb and finds Juliet's name in the book as the previous owner. He writes to her to inquire if she has any other books by Charles Lamb. Dawsey tells her the circumstances that formed the literary society on the island. Juliet is curious and begins corresponding not only with Dawsey, but members of the society and other inhabitants of the Island. Juliet becomes intrigued with the people and their experiences during the German occupation. She decides to move to Guernsey for further research, thinking that this just may be the book she is meant to write. She not only becomes involved in the lives of the inhabitants, but the experience will change her future forever. Written in epistolary style, we meet over 20 different people.

I know have written this before, but we have read so many books about WWII that I think we must have covered everything by now. Yet, here is another book giving us insight into how devasting the war was on a small Island in the middle of a Channel.

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

4+++++

We rate our books between 1-4. This book rates beyond a 4. It is a must read.

Liesel is 9 years old when she watches her little brother die in their mother's arms. They are on a train to their new foster parents.  Death, the narrator of this story, is on the train to take the brother's soul to eternity. Death is not a bad or evil presence, he has a job to do, which he isn't very fond of, but it has to be done.

After Liesel's brother is buried and as she is leaving the cemetary, she stops to pick up a book the grave digger has dropped. The book, ' The Grave Digger's Handbook', is the first of many that Liesel will steal. Liesel is sent to live with her new foster parents. Her mother can no longer take care of her and her father was taken away by the Germans for supposedly being a Communist. Her new papa, Hans, begins to read the book Liesel has stolen, to Liesel when she wakes up every night from a nightmare. It is also the book he will use to teach her how to read.

Liesel becomes very good friends with a neighbor boy, Rudy. Together, they will share in play, stealing, and being each other's best friend.

Han's past will catch up with him when a young jew named Max comes to live in his basement to hide from the Nazis. Max and Liesel form a friendship through books, stories of everyday life, and one book that will literally save Liesel's life.

Here is a different voice of WWII. We hear from the German people and their horrifying time during the war with: the Nazi police, the youth groups, (which their children must participate),  the air raids and bombings, recruitments into the war, survivers guilt,  and the Jews marching through the streets like cattle and no one allowed to help them. Zusak is a gifted writer using words in a way that our group called poetic. His thematic and sensory descriptions take you swiftly through Liesel's story via Death's voice and observations. One major point in this story is how strong and powerful words are since that is what Hitler used to begin this war. I like what one member said about death, "Nobody gets out alive, it's how you get out that matters."

 

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

a memoir

Susan Jane Gilman

3.1

In 1986, right after college, Susie and Claire decide to travel the world for a year instead of getting jobs. This idea came to them one late night, or early morning,  while sitting in a IHOP and seeing that their paper place mat was a  map of the world. Claire came from money and wanted to make the entire trip authentic as a backpacker by making sure they did not partake of luxuries such as hotels and Americanized restaurants. Susie came from NYC, worked in a bar, and her grandmother helped pay for her trip. Arrivng in China, they were told by the government where they could or could not travel, and what currency of money they were allowed to use. The met: Johnnie, a Chinese native, who said he would show them parts of China they could not see on their own, hoping in the end, Claire and Susie would take him to the American Embassy. Gunter, a tall German, who help the two girls since he knows Mandarin. Cynthia, a young mother traveling with her two sons. And Lisa, a young Chinese woman who owns a small restaurant in a village catering to American food such as banana pancakes. Their travels begin into the unknown shock culture of China. Ms. Gilman takes us deep into the back villages of China, the Great Wall, the variety of young, world wide backpack travelers, and the two girls own personal lives. The last part of the book turns into a mystery thriller. This book livens all the senses to China.

Run Ann Patchett

2.5

Unfortunately, I was out of town when we had this meeting. I also left the book on the plane so I never did get to finish it. There are many reviews online if you would like more information on this book. Sorry.

TheStory of Edgar Sawtelle David Wroblewski

2.5

Edgar Sawtelle lives on a farm in Wisconsin with his parents where they raise a special breed of dog. He and his father, Gar, and mother, Trudy, not only breed, but train the pups until they are eighteen months old. They are then sold at a high price to good homes. Edgar was born mute and communicates with his family and the dogs with their own version of sign language. Gar's brother, Claude, comes back to the farm after a long absence and begins to help out on the farm. Before long,  the sibling rivalry starts up again and the two brothers argue over the past and present. When Gar unexpectedly dies, Edgar asks Claude to come to the farm to help him and his mother with the work. Soon, Edgar resents the relationship between his mother and Claude. After a terrible accident, Edgar runs away from home with the pact of dogs he was given to raise. He eventually returns to prove that Claude did indeed kill his father.

This book was twice as long as it needed to be. Although the descriptions of the dog training, countryside, and living off the land are very interesting, there are plot lines that go on and on. Where was the editor for this? The ending was horrid. I know not every ending has to be good, but I gasped!! This book was written with the outline of Hamlet, down to character, plot and poison.The author was an essay write hence the dog name of Essay. They are links out there that have a line by line comparison. If you need one let me know.

The author actually grew up on a farm in Wisconsin and raised dogs.

     

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