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!!