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.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on August 26, 2014.

With a lot of scheduling conflicts, Timely and Timeless Book Club attendance was very sparse in August.  But that didn’t keep us from having a good discussion.   The book we reviewed was The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.  This is a first novel for Ms. Grissom.  It was an interesting story, but we felt that it was a little uneven in that the story was well developed most of the way through, but toward the end, it felt as if she was condensing the plot.
The story centers on Lavinia, a very young white Irish immigrant who loses her parents and brother on the crossing from Ireland to Virginia.  The white Captain takes her to his tobacco plantation as an indentured servant.  This forces her to straddle two worlds.  While she lives in the separate kitchen house with Belle, the black slave woman who is the Captain’s daughter, she is also integrated into daily life in the Captain’s house.  Mamma Mae becomes a mother figure in Lavinia’s life and this slave woman becomes the heart and soul of the story.   The theme of slavery and the relationships and attitudes between and among master and slave is once again laid bare through Ms. Grissom’s tale.

Because Lavinia was such a young girl when she arrived at the plantation and she was cared for in the kitchen house, she developed strong ties with Belle and several other slaves both young and old.  As time passes, she is given opportunities that the slaves do not have.  While the white household is portrayed as severely dysfunctional, the slave family is created as tightly bonded and adapted to the physical and psychological conditions of their situation.

There are also an inept and cruelly racist overseer, a diabolic tutor, and the Captain, who is, for most of the book, absent from the plantation.  Add in the Captain’s wife who has mental stability issues, their children and the scene is set for a lot of drama.

COMING UP: THE GLASS HOUSE – by Jeanette Walls – September 23 at the Oriental Buffet at noon

 For September, we will change gears by reading an autobiography.  From Amazon.com:

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms. For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Emancipator's Wife by Barbara Hambly

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

We had five at Brew Ha today. The book we discussed was The Emancipator's Wife by Barbara Hambly. The ratings were all 5's out of 5. Though this is historical fiction, the events of Mary Todd Lincoln's life are not always held in consensus. 

What we discussed were ways this work differed from other details about her life that we have read. We discussed the differences in treating physical and emotional illnesses from the 1800's to today including issues regarding common medical care - or lack of it for the maladies she suffered. Ms. Hambly's works to date have been prolific and include primarily Science Fiction, Fantasies and Mysteries. She has created characters for this depiction that allow her fertile imagination some free rein.

Among the health issues that Mary suffered were physical pain from a carriage accident, migraine headaches, "female trouble" and the challenges of losing loved ones all through her life. She saw her mother's body removed from their home after dying from childbirth when Mary was a small girl. She lost other close family members, three of her four sons and of course, her husband, Abraham. It is known that she used over the counter medications common at the time including opiates and alcohol to manage her symptoms of pain, depression and mood disorders. There are differing versions of her life with Lincoln. But generally it is agreed that she was the driving force in his becoming President. Most of the correspondence between the two was lost or destroyed. Speculation includes depicting them as loving to having a distant relationship. Written accounts vary widely on this topic.

The book opens in 1875 as Mary is taken to court for a determination hearing on her sanity. She is deemed "insane" and moved to Bellevue Place, a private institution. Our group felt that Ms. Hambly's novel relied on some information that is heavily disputed by historians. Keeping in mind that this does not purport to be a biography, rather an imagined account, the group felt that it was an enjoyable read.


The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak - June 24, 2014 at Pizza King at Noon

This No 1 Bestseller has been making the rounds of Book Clubs since it first appeared in 2005. The following is from Amazon.com:

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adrianna Trigiani

For the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on April 22, 2014.

Our book for this month is The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani. I have so enjoyed this book. She has given us a well orchestrated cast of characters and vivid images of their lives around the turn of the 20th century. All of the characters have been cast in my mind as if they were in a movie. I see Anne Hathaway as Enza and perhaps Ciro could be played by a younger Matt Damon. I felt as if I was living in New York at that time with high button shoes and long skirts. (But glad I'm not!)

I will not be at the meeting next week.  I will miss the discussion and seeing you all again.  I hope you have a wonderful time.

I wanted to add some observations about our book, The Shoemaker's Wife, to the meeting. Like all good books, coming to the end is like losing a good friend. Adriana Trigiani has shared some wonderful moments with us. I have to admit that there were many pages that left me tearful. But the ending was one of symmetry and couldn't have felt more right. The relationship between Ciro and Eduardo was wonderful. Enzo was such a strong and lovely character. Reading all of the descriptive prose was a great joy. I could smell he lemon and lavender, hear Caruso and Angela's voices and imagine the Alps with the green trees and the blues of the sky.


Tara Road by Maeve Binchy

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on March 25, 2014.
Our attendance of 5 members was a bit lower than average. But we all enjoyed discussing Tara Road. We rated it at 5/5.  
This book had such charm and warmth. The two central characters, Ria Lynch and Marilyn Vine each faced their own emotional crisis that quite impetuously led them to swap homes for two months - one in Connecticut and the other in Dublin, Ireland. The connection was made by chance when Marilyn phoned Ria's home searching for Ria's husband, Danny, who was a realtor. This swap gave each woman an unfamiliar but none the less inviting setting that removed the comforts of their routines and allowed them to grow and experience new things and new friends.
Maeve Binchy was such a fine author. She died in 2012 with 22 novels to her credit, and a collection of short stories, a play, a novella and two non fiction titles. This book was published in 2000 near the middle of her writing career. It has great humanity in the two main characters and she writes about their growth and the evolution in the characters' understanding and acceptance of their worlds. There was a feeling that each brought their own personality to their new environment but both seemed to absorb parts of the other's strengths from being in the other's home. 
We were touched that their friends were supported in ways that showed great compassion for challenged lives while at the same time dealing with their own trials. We were repulsed by the actions of the physically and emotionally destructive characters. There were many surprises in the plot. We also appreciated that the house at 16 Tara Road was metamorphosed into a virtual character in the book. It seemed to breathe in the life of it's two different inhabitants. Every part of what went into creating a home out of this house reflected the women's passions who shared it. One created from the inside and the other from the outside. These nuances of the story kept us engaged.


The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani -April 22, 2014 at noon at Los Tequila
First published as a novelist in 2001, Ms. Trigiani grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. She has written and published 14 novels and has been featured in countless well read magazines including O, People, Vanity Fair and Ladies' Home Journal. She graduated from St Mary's College in South Bend in 1981. She worked as a writer and producer on The Cosby Show and Different World in 1989 and the early 1990's.
The Shoemaker's Wife draws on Ms. Trigiani's Italian American roots with characters who immigrate from Italy to the US. From the Amazon.com web site is this description of the book:
Beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani returns with the most epic and ambitious novel of her career—a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again. The Shoemaker's Wife is replete with the all the page-turning adventure, sumptuous detail, and heart-stopping romance that has made Adriana Trigiani, “one of the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today). Fans of Trigiani’s sweeping family dramas like Big Stone Gap and Lucia, Lucia will love her latest masterpiece, a book Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, calls “totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic which tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream.”


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The 9th Girl by Tami Hoag

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on February 25, 2014.

What a fun lunch we had today. We had nine in attendance for our discussion, and the book was a big hit with a rating of 4.875 out of 5.

We started our meeting with a review of the characters. Since some of our group read this book a while ago, this approach seemed to bring the story back to life for all of us. The characters were in two camps. They were the "bad guys" and the "good guys." Ms. Hoag kept us guessing about to which category some of them should belong. With twists and turns, and characters who were well drawn, the read was always interesting. Even the title provided an interesting line. This is a book that sends us one direction while creating an undertow to suck us back. The character at the center of the plot at the beginning is a teenage girl who is brutally murdered and disfigured with acid thrown on her to cloak her identity. With a serial killer on the loose, the detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska work on piecing together what happened to this socially challenged girl. Along the way we meet people in different parts of her life as the detectives unravel her story. But, stay tuned to the end. While most all is finally revealed, as in real life, there were still a few places for Sam and Nikki to go in a new installment. This was the fourth book in the series. The previous titles are: Prior Bad Acts, The 1st Victim and Dust to Dust. The 9th Girl will appeal to young adults as well as adults for its quick prose and its pulse on current day teens. Tami Hoag has a web site with other titles listed and bio information on this 55 year old sportswoman and author. http://tamihoag.com/


Tara Road by Maeve Binchy - Northside Grill on March 25th at Noon

Having read and enjoyed Circle of Friends, I am looking forward to traveling along with Ms. Binchy on this new journey. Unfortunately, Maeve Binchy died in July, 2012. After a long and successful career, she finished her last novel, A Week in Winter just days before passing away. Here is an excerpt form her web site about Tara Road:
Ria Lynch and Marilyn Vine have never met. Their lives have almost nothing in common. Ria lives in a big ramshackle house in Tara Road, Dublin, which is filled day and night with the family and friends on whom she depends. Marilyn lives in a college town in Connecticut, New England, absorbed in her career, an independent and private woman who is very much her own person.

Two more unlikely friends would be hard to find. Yet a chance phone call brings them together and they decide to exchange homes for the summer. Ria goes to America in the hope that the change will give her space and courage to sort out the huge crisis in her life that is threatening to destroy her. Marilyn goes to Ireland to recover in peace and quiet from the tragedy which she keeps secret from the world, little realising that Tara Road will prove to be the least quiet place on earth.

They borrow each other's houses, and during the course of that magical summer they find themselves borrowing something of each other's lives, until a story which began with loss and suffering grows into a story of discovery, unexpected friendship and new hope. By the time Ria and Marilyn eventually meet, they find that they have altered the course of each other's lives for ever.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Follow the River by James Alexander Thom

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on February 11, 2014.

Braving another extremely cold day, five members met for our delayed meeting. In this historical novel, Mr. Thom follows the true story of Mary Draper Ingles on an incredible journey. Set in Virginia in 1755 when a tribe of Shawnee Indians attacks their small settlement, we join Mary on the trail as she and her two small sons and two others are kidnapped leaving behind brutally murdered members of their families and their neighbors. Mary is pregnant and nearly ready to deliver. The story deals with this woman’s strength of character and incredible will to find her way home. The writing is heart wrenching for the immediacy of the dangers she faces and for the harrowing decisions she must make – not only for herself, but for her family. The extreme circumstances written by Mr. Thom seemed a bit hard to believe in places, especially toward the end of Mary’s journey. But I have no doubt that this real woman suffered enormously – physically and emotionally.

We rated this book a 4.75/5 from the six members who responded. It is a book that adds information to the historical perspective of that time in history. It was a good book to curl up with under warm covers on a cold night and to contemplate the wonders of our modern life while appreciating the sacrifices of those who came before us.


February 25, 2014 – THE 9TH GIRL by Tami Hoag – at Richard’s AT NOON

From the book:
“Kovac had seen more dead bodies than he could count: Men, women, children; victims of shootings, stabbings, strangulations, beatings; fresh corpses and bodies that had been left for days in the trunks of cars in the dead of summer. But he had never seen anything quite like this…”
From Ms. Hoag’s web site, this is her description of the story:
“On a frigid New Year’s Eve in Minneapolis a young woman’s brutalized body falls from the trunk of a car into the path of oncoming traffic. Questions as to whether she was alive or dead when she hit the icy pavement result in her macabre nickname, Zombie Doe. Unidentified and unidentifiable, she is the ninth nameless female victim of the year, and homicide detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska are charged with the task of not only finding out who Zombie Doe is, but who in her life hated her enough to destroy her. Was it personal, or could it just have been a crime of opportunity? Their greatest fear is that not only is she their ninth Jane Doe of the year, but that she may be the ninth victim of a vicious transient serial killer they have come to call Doc Holiday.”

March 25, 2014 – TARA ROAD by Maeve Binchy – at Maria’s AT NOON

From Goodreads:
“New York Times best selling author Maeve Binchy has captured the hearts of millions with her unforgettable novels. Binchy's graceful storytelling and wise compassion have earned her the devotion of fans worldwide--and made her one of the most beloved authors of our time. Now she dazzles us once again with a new novel filled with her signature warmth, humor, and tender insight. A provocative tale of family heartbreak, friendship, and revelation,Tara Road explores every woman's fantasy: escape, into another place, another life. "What if..." Binchy asks, and answers in her most astonishing novel to date.”