Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

This book surprised me in a number of ways.  It is by a first time author who devised a clever way to tell her story and in the process brought us to appreciate some of the personal struggles that dominated the characters’ lives.  Ultimately, the book is difficult subject matter.  Hattie’s life might have taken a much different turn had she not chosen the man she did to marry.  While in most ways they were total opposites.  Each could have benefitted from some of the other’s traits.




The story follows Hattie’s life through vignettes of her nine surviving children’s lives.  Each had a unique story that reflected back on the way Hattie dealt with her own life challenges – by being steely natured.  It is a story that might bring one to the brink of tears for all of the emotional losses, leaving the reader hoping for a positive turn.  But Hattie’s life story reminds us that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Under the unyielding exterior is a woman of great love – invisible as it was to everyone in her life.  But to prepare her children for the world as she knew it, she chose to manage things rather than her children and she withheld that precious gift of affection that gives children the confidence to move ahead with light in their lives.




In many ways this book is a cautionary tale.  But it is an extraordinary effort.  Probably the book’s biggest life lesson is about creating balance in one’s life.  Hattie’s children were not prepared for the lives they would lead, just as Hattie was not prepared for her own because she restricted her vision to a very small window made of broken dreams. 





Even with the darkness of the story, I think it is an important work and will be talked about for some time to come.





Overall our group of nine rated The Twelve Tribes of Hattie at a 4.1/5.0.





For November, we are reading The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans.  We will meet at Pizza Hut at noon on Tuesday, November 22nd. 



A love story for Christmas from the #1 bestselling author of The Christmas Box and The Walk.

Elise Dutton dreads the arrival of another holiday season. Three years earlier, her husband cheated on her with her best friend, resulting in a bitter divorce that left her alone, broken, and distrustful.

Then, one November day, a stranger approaches Elise in the mall food court. Though she recognizes the man from her building, Elise has never formally met him. Tired of spending the holidays alone, the man offers her a proposition. For the next eight weeks—until the evening of December 24—he suggests that they pretend to be a couple. He draws up a contract with four rules:

1. No deep, probing personal questions
2. No drama
3. No telling anyone the truth about the relationship
4. The contract is void on Christmas Day

The lonely Elise surprises herself by agreeing to the idea. As the charade progresses, the safety of her fake relationship begins to mend her badly broken heart. But just as she begins to find joy again, her long-held secret threatens to unravel the emerging relationship. But she might not be the only one with secrets.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

If you like “Hero” stories then this book is a must.  It is a tribute to the team in an 8-man crew (University of Washington rowing team) and their coaches and various mentors.  While the focus of the biography is Joe Rantz, a young man who grew up poor and with tenuous relationships with his family, this is ultimately the story about the brotherhood and trust of the young men in their boat that created an extraordinary racing team.  Joe carried the spirit and determination of his youth to persevere through a myriad of personal and team challenges.  Of the 8 men rowing and the coxswain who set the strategy and pace of each race, all but one finally graduated from the University of Washington (UW).  They went on to have a bond that lasted all of their lives.  Part of their strength physically and mentally arose from humble beginnings as farmers, lumberjacks, fishermen and men accustomed to hard physical labor and an understanding of cooperative effort.




This eight-man crew came together in 1934 and 1935 to develop into a competitive team to represent the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  Each of these student athletes was an unlikely candidate for the task by the standards of the rowing sport which was mainly dominated by well-funded Ivy League schools.  Joe’s story is compelling and at times heart wrenching.  We see the characteristics in this young man that gave him the power, literally and figuratively, to overcome all of the obstacles that he faced. 




This is a book that should have a home on every shelf in America where there is a young athlete who might find some valuable life lessons in its pages.  In reality, like the many books about other unlikely heroes like Seabiscuit, or Unbroken, both by Laura Hillenbrand, or John Carlin’s Invictus, we get a chance to see the actual path that led to some phenomenal accomplishments. 




By the time I was finishing the book, I was on the edge of my seat.  We knew the outcome, but the details of the races were exquisitely draw.  There was tension and enough drama for the most jaded of readers.




Overall our group of ten rated The Boys in The Boat at a 4.9/5.0.




For October, we are reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis.  We will meet at Richard’s on October 25th. 




In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life. Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment, and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins are lost to an illness that a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children, whom she raises with grit, mettle, and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them to meet a world that will not be kind. Their lives, captured here in twelve luminous threads, tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage—and a nation's tumultuous journey.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

What a lovely day and a wonderful meeting for our August Timely & Timeless Book Club meeting at Downtown on the Square.  Though four of our members were absent and sorely missed, we had 8 articulate voices to discuss Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This work is a poignant look into the mysterious and devastating Alzheimer’s disease.  What was so wonderful about the book was the telling of Alice’s story from her eyes.  We were able to see from inside the disease - including her awareness and her reactions to the slow erosion of her mind’s inability to function at her “normal” level.  We were let into her strategies for dealing with the ever shifting sands of her abilities.  As I was reading I started dreading the final stages of what she would inevitably experience.  But Lisa Genova was kind to her character and to her readers by giving Alice’s story a dignified place to end. 


As this disease is now more correctly diagnosed than in prior times, early detection and current treatment plans have some modest effect on slowing the destruction of the connections needed to process, to understand and to verbalize language and to interact in the world these patients inhabit.  This book is also a bouquet of flowers to the families and friends who are trying to help their loved one(s).  Ms. Genova has installed perspective into each character’s place in the puzzle.  Each has a personal agenda to manage and to incorporate into Alice’s sadly altered life.


There was a great deal of tenderness and respect written into this work.  Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University.  She has published three subsequent books dealing with deficits in brain function.  Still Alice was made into a major motion picture in which Julianne Moore received an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice. 


Our group shared some personal experiences with a friend or a loved one who is battling this disease.  We also discussed newer genetic testing that can predict Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD). 


Overall our group of eight rated Still Alice at a perfect 5.0/5.0.




For September, we are reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  We will meet at The Oriental Buffet at noon on Tuesday, September 27th. 




Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled  by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Snapper by Brian Kimberling

Summer is a good time to pick up a read from an Indiana author.  Our book for Timely & Timeless Book Club for July was Snapper by Brian Kimberling.  We ventured into the mind of a young man who spends his working hours in the great outdoors of Southern Indiana doing research on nesting native songbirds.  If you are attracted by the charms and beauty of tramping through the woods in summer, then this book should appeal to you.


But Brian Kimberling has also managed to give us a glimpse into a young adult male mind in the face of love, loss and dealing with the different rates of maturation of his pals from school.  Having been to all four corners of the state and a lot of the in-between parts, the descriptions of Nathan’s adventures brings a new light on what one might find in our Indiana towns and woods.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the songbirds and their beautiful presence as well as the descriptions of the wildlife and the geography.


For Nathan, our protagonist, the personality of teenage angst carried further past school days for him and for several of his friends.  His crowd was self-described as the “nerds.”  Nathan is probably the most empathetic and grounded of his friends, but not necessarily when it comes to love.  His heart’s love figures into his life through the book.  Will they or won’t they find love together? 


This book seems to be a version of Brian Kimberling’s life for the most part.  He is a naturalist and has done the work he attributes to “Nathan.”  The book club enjoyed his sense of humor and being reminded of the feel of being in nature.  Several of us found it hard to get into the read, but most were glad to have made the effort.   Overall our group rated Snapper at 3.5/5.0.



For August, we are reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  We will meet at Downtown on the Square at noon on August 23rd. 




Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life--and her relationship with her family and the world--forever.

At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Judith Guest's Ordinary People.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

The Timely & Timeless Book Club met on May 24th to discuss John Grisham’s 2014 novel, Sycamore Row.  This book was well liked by our members, rating it at 4.6 out of 5.  This sequel to Mr. Grisham’s A Time to Kill brought back Jake Brigance, who in the first novel defended Carl Lee Bailey, a black man, who was accused of murdering two young white men acquitted of raping and leaving for dead Carl Lee’s young daughter.  The same small town setting of Clanton, Mississippi was again the center for most of the action in this new work. Many of us at this meeting commented that we had seen the movie, “A Time to Kill,” and heard Matthew McConaughy’s voice in Jake’s words as we read.


When Seth Hubbard, a wealthy curmudgeonly old white man, commits suicide by hanging himself and Mr. Hubbard’s new holographic will is delivered to Jake Brigance’s office on Monday, the day after the deed, a firestorm erupts regarding the contents of the new will.  Jake is named by Seth to defend the new will.  Seth’s two children and grandchildren are prepared to legally challenge the new will, which completely cuts them out of the substantial inheritance provided for in the previous will.  The most controversial aspect of the new will is that the bulk of Seth’s wealth is to go to his maid, Lettie, a black woman.  Also in the new will, Seth’s church and Seth’s long lost brother are to share the remainder.  Seth leaves detailed instructions attending to the details of his funeral and for Jake in the role Jake is to have in the matter of the new will.


In “Grisham-esque” fashion there are lots of characters and lots of plot thickening moments.  Jake is set to defend this new will in Judge Atlee’s courtroom.  The idiosyncrasies of a small southern town and the liberties taken with the law color the story.  All of the characters have a role to play even if they don’t actually have a voice in the outcome of the litigation.  Old story lines from the first novel reappear to add more layers and complications.


I always feel that a book is a winner when I am reluctant to reach the end.  This one had me dragging out the experience, withholding page turning until the end.  Grisham fans will not be disappointed.  This is terrific summer reading.



For June, we are reading Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.  We will meet at Brew’Ha at noon on June 28th. 




This unforgettable memoir was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. This is the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born and raised as a freeman in New York. He lived the American dream, with a house and a loving family - a wife and two kids. Then one day he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the deep south. These are the true accounts of his twelve hard years as a slave - many believe this memoir is even more graphic and disturbing than the film. His extraordinary journey proves the resiliency of hope and the human spirit despite the most grueling and formidable of circumstances.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

The March of 2016 Timely and Timeless Book Club meeting enjoyed the company of 8 members for our discussion of the book Family Tree.   While the issues presented in Barbara Delinsky’s plot are challenging, the heart of the story was about love, acceptance and forgiveness.  At the beginning of the book the central plot point emerges with the dramatic realization that a white couple’s newborn infant is of quite obviously mixed race.


This situation tests the strength of the couple’s core bonds of trust.  Sorting out the infant’s racial heritage opens other doors in surrounding relationships as well.  The central characters are the parents of the infant.  Hugh – the infant’s father, is an attorney, who is presented as a fair minded man whose practice includes a racial spectrum of clients performing a lot of pro bono work for needy clients.  His wife, Dana, who is successful in her work and smart with a kind spirit, seems to possess a deeper emotional strength than her husband.  While Hugh comes from a well-documented family tree of high standing, Dana has much uncertainty about her heritage including who her father is and why he was not part of her life. 


The next door neighbor is a divorced black doctor who is the father of a mixed race child.  He and Hugh face tests of trust as well in their long standing and close friendship.  There are secrets that unravel on both sides of Hugh’s and Dana’s families as the story develops. 


With newer DNA testing, many old beliefs about family heritage are being rewritten.  Drawing on that idea, this book is a thoughtful examination of attitudes and understanding of who the characters are.  Unraveling the real stories in this book doesn’t always reveal all of the truths that are sought.  But the process allows for growth and appreciation about the struggles the characters’ families faced on their journeys.  


Our book club rated Family Tree 3.7/5.  It was clear that as we delved into the themes of the book during our discussion, we developed a deeper appreciation for the thoughtful way Ms. Delinsky explored the ideas it covered.  Barbara Delinsky’ background includes a B.A in Psychology and an M.A in Sociology.  A list of discussion questions can be found at



For April, we are reading Dead Sleep by Greg Iles.  We will meet at Big G’s at noon on April 26th. 


  "Ingenious." —New York Times

  "Hair-raising...Iles continues to scare the living daylights out of readers." —New Orleans Times-Picayune

  "As fast as any techno-thriller and as well thought out as an Agatha Christie mystery...Grade A." —Rocky Mountain News

  "Perfect mystery mind candy." —Fort Worth Star Telegram


From Barnes and Noble review of Dead Sleep:


They are called "The Sleeping Women." A series of unsettling paintings in which the nude female subjects appear to be not asleep, but dead. Photojournalist Jordan Glass has another reason to find the paintings disturbing...The face on one of the nudes is her own-or perhaps the face of her twin sister, who disappeared and is still missing. At the urging of the FBI, Jordan becomes both hunter and hunted in a search for the anonymous artist-an obsessed killer who seems to know more about Jordan and her family than she is prepared to face....

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Away, by Amy Bloom

Our February 23rd Timely and Timeless Book Club meeting was another fun discussion.  We welcome to two new members, Marci and Leslie who will (have) enrich(ed) our discussions. 


Our book for February was Away by Amy Bloom.  Ms. Bloom is a Creative Writing professor at Yale University.  She has written three novels and several short stories.  She has also worked as a Psychotherapist.  Her background plays into the themes in this book.  The central character is Lillian Leyb, a recent Jewish immigrant to the US from Russia.  The novel is initially set in the mid 1920’s, in the lower east side of New York where Lillian lands a job in a Yiddish theater as a seamstress. 


A pivotal plot line revolves around the murder of her family during the persecution of Jews in Russia and the ensuing consequences for Lillian.  She loses her husband, and in-laws and most importantly, she believes that her 2 year old daughter, Sophie, has died as well.  She decides to escape to America.  When word comes via a recently arrived cousin that Sophie was saved and taken in by a neighbor family, Lillian embarks on a mission to travel back to Russia to find her.


The novel investigates the realities of the time for poor immigrant women.  Lillian has too much imagination to be satisfied with survival living.  The uses of sex as a barter are a central theme.  Ms. Bloom investigates various incarnations of the topic and yet allows Lillian to be a character for whom we can feel compassion.  She suffers PTSD in the form of nightmares.  Along the way the other main characters provide color and texture to the story as Lillian embarks on a solo journey to recover her daughter. 


While the use of sex in the story is off-putting to a good many readers, its inclusion reflects on circumstances written into the plot.   The average rating of the seven members at the meeting was 2.7/5. 



For March, we are reading Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky.  We will meet at the library at noon on March 22nd. 


This book deals with a topic often discussed on the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”  Frequently, unbeknownst to the subjects, their families are found to have mixed racial heritage.  The vehicle for these discoveries is newer DNA testing. 


From Barnes and Noble review of Family Tree:


For as long as she can remember, Dana Clarke has longed for the stability of home and family. Now she has married a man she adores, whose heritage can be traced back to the Mayflower, and she is about to give birth to their first child. But what should be the happiest day of her life becomes the day her world falls apart. Her daughter is born beautiful and healthy, and in addition, unmistakably African-American in appearance. Dana’s determination to discover the truth about her baby’s heritage becomes a shocking, poignant journey. A superbly crafted novel, Family Tree asks penetrating questions about family and the choices people make in times of crisis.