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.



Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow

Timely & Timeless

JANUARY 2016 Meeting Review

January has started out with a bang for the Timely & Timeless book club.  (Or a fizzle…)  Our book was Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow.  Six brave members met at the library on Tuesday to discuss this selection.  It did not score well among those of us who got to the end, but it gave us some good conversation for the meeting.  Those who did finish the book teetered on the brink of abandoning it early on.  One comment was that the book reminded her of “when your brain can’t be still when you are trying to get to sleep…” (Arlene.)


Andrew’s story is one of many inadvertent mishaps that result in two deaths for which he feels responsible and other astonishing events that affect his mental state.  One premise in the narrative deals with understanding the mind vs the brain.  Just as answers to this question are fairly elusive, understanding Andrew’s journey and brain/mind are also confusing.  Questions arise about whether his memories as related are fact or fiction to the story.  Sorting out the first part of the book, where the reader looks for diacritical marks to guide understanding, one eventually begins to understand the omissions.


This work was Doctorow’s final novel.  His critically acclaimed works of 13 novels include Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and Loon Lake, essays, short stories and one play.


The novel Away by Amy Bloom is scheduled for our February 23rd meeting.  We will meet at El Dorado (formerly Maria’s.) 


Panoramic in scope, Away is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine. When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York’s Lower East Side, to Seattle’s Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia.”  …From Barnes & Noble


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on September 23, 2014.

Timely & Timeless had a great turnout for our September meeting. The book we reviewed was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. We rated the book at 4.9/5. This autobiography was one of those books that runs the gambit from appalling to endearing. The perilous upbringing that Jeannette and her siblings experienced sounds like it should be a textbook study of why our society has social services in order to protect children from parents with no responsibility in raising healthy kids. It is a wonder that Jeannette and her siblings even made it to adulthood.

And yet… the four children did survive largely due to their own devices and for the most part seem to be thriving as adults. For all of the real and potential disasters, this book was written with much compassion and forgiveness for her parents’ virtually nonexistent parenting skills. There is a non-judgmental matter-of-fact accounting of the lessons learned from living in such a dysfunctional situation. When discussing the book, it was more a litany of jaw dropping situations these children faced.

When sober, Rex Walls was a teacher to his kids –though some lessons were life threatening. He seems to have had a brilliant mind. Also when sober, he could show great love. But when he was not sober, it was an entirely different story. Mary Walls was na├»ve and had an extremely self-centered existence. Though she did not drink, her irresponsibility was another hurdle for the children to overcome. She escaped her surroundings by immersing herself into her world of art and creative endeavors. Under these circumstances, feeding clothing and sheltering their children was not a responsibility either parent accepted.

Probably the biggest take-away from this book was the underlying theme of acceptance and forgiveness, and an appreciation for the gifts that were there. Even with the disappointments that resulted from their situation, Jeannette’s story shows love. Whether this book is read as “Thank God this was not how I was raised” or taken as an ode to parents who did the best they could, it is certainly an engaging read.

WORTH DYING FOR by Lee Child = October 28 at Downtown on the Square at noon

This is the 15th in the series of 19 (so far) featuring Jack Reacher. 
From Publishers Weekly:

In Child's exciting 15th thriller featuring one-man army Jack Reacher (after 61 Hours), Reacher happens into a situation tailor-made for his blend of morality and against-the-odds heroics. While passing through an isolated Nebraska town, the ex-military cop persuades the alcoholic local doctor to treat Eleanor Duncan, who's married to the abusive Seth, for a "nosebleed." Reacher later breaking Seth's nose prompts members of the Duncan clan, who are involved in an illegal trafficking scheme, to seek revenge. Reacher, who easily disposes of two hit men sent to get him, winds up trying to solve a decades-old case concerning a missing eight-year-old girl. While Child convincingly depicts his hero's superhuman abilities, he throws in a few lucky breaks to enable the outnumbered Reacher to survive. Crisp, efficient prose and well-rounded characterizations (at least of the guys in the white hats) raise this beyond other attempts to translate the pulse-pounding feel of the Die Hard films into prose. (Nov.) (c)

Worth Dying For by Lee Child

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on October 27, 2014.

This mystery centers on the character of Jack Reacher and is the 15th in the series of Reacher novels.  It opens with a sinister vibe in a remote tiny town in Nebraska’s Corn Belt.  While hitchhiking through the area, Jack encounters the Duncan clan.  The story opens with scenes of the citizen’s beaten down acceptance of the ruthless tactics these villains use to enforce their iron grip on the economy of the town.  Local law enforcement turns a blind eye, not challenging the malevolent dominance of the Duncans. 

As the story starts to develop, the central mystery emerges.  It is about the unsolved disappearance of a little girl twenty-five years earlier.  Reacher is an ex-military cop trained in tactics, weapons and hand to hand combat.  He inserts himself into the town’s woes in an effort to solve this cold case.  Reacher is a character who is likeable for all of his “hero” characteristics - tall, handsome, well built, skilled, smart and compassionate.  

In our group, reaction was mixed but generally positive.  Positive comments had to do with the development of an engrossing plot line and of Reacher’s heroics.  Negative comments revolved around Reacher’s Machiavellian style form of vigilantism.  He is a one man wrecking crew, peeling away all of the obstacles to solving the case of the missing girl.  There was a lot of physical violence and a horrific reveal at the end of the book.  As Reacher quickly challenges the Duncan’s control, Lee Child establishes the tenor for the book.


Next Month

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford 
November 25 – Noon at the Northside Grill
From Goodreads:

            Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and Sarah's Key by Tariana de Rosnay

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on June 24 and July 22, 2014.

For June and July we read two very good books, each about the life of a young girl living through the early 1940's in World War II.  It was interesting to hear the voices of characters in these books.  

In The Book Thief, the narrator of the story is Death, an omnipresent observer of Liesel and those in her world.   Death's job was to gather souls from life and send them on into the next world.  As a storyteller, Death was, on occasion, surprisingly empathetic.  

In Sarah's Key, there are two main voices.  One is the young girl, Sarah (10), and the other is Julia Jarmond, a mother of a young daughter and a journalist who discovers a personal connection to Sarah when researching a story about the Vel' d'Hiv in Paris.  This connection ignites their story, bringing Sarah and Julia to points in their lives that give rise to many questions and many defining choices they must make.  The "key" is the catalyst for everything that follows in Sarah's life from the moment she and her parents are taken away in the French Vichy government's roundup of Jews in 1941.  

In The Book Thief, Liesel (9) is separated from her mother in Germany for her mother's political views.  Like Sarah, at the beginning of her story, Liesel also has a younger brother.  Keeping secrets and the consequences of doing that figure into both books.  The consequences for each girl were that they carried the scars of seeing death and feeling responsibility for choices they made at the worst moments of war. 

In The Book Thief, one place of refuge for young Liesel was the bond she formed with her foster parents and in learning to read. When comparing the strategies each girl had in order to cope with their experiences, one chose to remember and the other wanted desperately to forget, but could not. 

Stories of this period of the early 1940's are unbearably heartbreaking.  The threads of pain and suffering are acute in each comparable to the story in Sophie's Choice.  But each demonstrates the strength and compassion that some people show to fellow humans.  

Another contrasting element of these two books is that one author is a man and the other is a woman.  Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) was born in 1975 in Australia.  Tatiana de Rosnay was born in 1961 in Paris.  Both books were published in 2006.  Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II inspired each to take a look at that time in history.

We rated both books highly.  But it was not unanimous, especially regarding The Book Thief.  If for no other reason, The Book Thief was more personal for me because of Liesel's deep connection to reading.