Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The 9th Girl by Tami Hoag

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.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on November 26, 2013.

Though the turnout included only six of us for last week's meeting, the discussion of Catherine the Great was good. This book proved to be a worthwhile challenge. The ratings were very positive with a 4.5 out of 5 rating. We found the unfamiliar Russian names to be difficult. Reading this book also benefited from investing some time with resource materials. Unfortunately, the geography, both physical and political, was not familiar to many of us. But the reward was an intriguing look into a fascinating life and the world and times she occupied. Robert Massie has spent a good bit of his career as a biographer looking at the most renowned historical figures of Russian history. See the library catalogs for further reading. This is the kind of literature that we should hope our leaders in Washington will embrace to be better informed about both allies and/or enemies. The relationship between the US and Russia has had many twists and turns - including over the past 100 years - from allies in the World Wars, to the dark days of the Cold War, to cooperation in scientific research on the MIR space station.


Annual Planning Meeting - December 10, 2013 at noon at the Brownstone in South Whitley

At last week's meeting, we discussed several book suggestions for next year. We are hoping for two or three titles from each member. I know some of you already have some picks in mind. We should be prepared to have a brief synopsis of the choices with a nod to your favorite. As I recall, last year several of us were considering the same books, making the job easier.


Friday, October 25, 2013

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on October 22, 2013

The Story of Beautiful Girl was a very worthwhile read for all of us. Though this is a work of fiction, it seems to fairly represent (from our memories and personal observations) a general atmosphere in the 50's and 60's about how the US treated people with mental and other disabilities. It was not always easy to read about the conditions in these places including abuse, misunderstanding, lack of learning opportunities and general deprivation.. The story kept our interest by luring us into hoping that the characters of Lynnie and Homan would be able to pull through their challenges and somehow be the proverbial Phoenixes who rise up. In the 1960's there were 500,000 people living in institutions across the US. This work does not represent the best, nor does it represent the worst of these institutions. But, the reality of parents warehousing imperfect children to avoid the stimulus attached to their child's condition is unthinkable to most of us in today's culture. At the time though, the medical profession encouraged it and painted a rosy picture of the care these children might receive and parents were convinced that it was the best solution for their child and for their families.

We agreed that while a lot of elements in the story line were far-fetched, they provided a platform for the characters to face challenges and to grow. There are central elements of symbolism that served to guide the characters through their lives. This is a long term love story and a story of hope and perseverance. Our group today rated the book overall at 4.8/5.

Thanks Linda for the pick.


Catherine the Great by Robert Massie - Tuesday, November 26 at Maria's at noon

Reading this book is an interesting look into the history of the 1700's when Sophia, a 14 year old minor Prussian princess was brought to Russia to become the wife of the heir apparent to succeed his Aunt (the Empress), Elizabeth. Once in Russia, Elizabeth renamed Sophia to Catherine. This extensive biography details the young girl's life before coming to court while Elizabeth was still on the throne and through her ultimate ascendency to the throne. She was well read and a proponent of Enlightenment which was a new concept of fair minded rules for governments and society in the mid 1700's. The realities of recent history dating back over the last hundred years is a stark contrast to the direction Catherine envisioned for her adopted country. It is a fascinating and detailed book. Be prepared to be immersed in life at court in Russia and the relations with her advisors, lovers and with Russia's European neighbors. 
This book is one of a series of biographies of Russians including Peter the Great and the Romanovs. Massie's work has been highly praised by historical biography critics for his thoroughness and for the books' readability.

Planning Meeting for 2014 - Tuesday, December 10, at the Brownstone at noon.

This is our annual celebration of the books we read in the past and of the books we will read in the coming year. Members are asked to submit titles for consideration at this meeting. We will discuss the options and each of us will make our selection - one per person - for the coming year. The library has a list of suggestions of books that are available from a central source (rather than using the inter-library-loan system.) I'll have these materials available for the November and December meetings.

Last year we started with a huge list of titles and the process of discussing the books helped to hone in on titles that might appeal to all of us. Our selections should be either classic works ("Timeless") or more current works ("Timely"). Keep in mind that we will probably not be able to get the most recently published books through the library.

Follow the River by James Alexander Thom - January 28 - location to be determined

In preparation for 2014, the first selection was chosen so that the library would have a title for the Newsletter published in December. This was a consensus pick. Here is part of the description found on Amazon.com about the book:

"Mary Ingles was twenty-three, married, and pregnant, when Shawnee Indians invaded her peaceful Virginia settlement, killed the men and women, then took her captive. For months, she lived with them, unbroken, until she escaped, and followed a thousand mile trail to freedom--an extraordinary story of a pioneer woman who risked her life to return to her people."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on September 24, 2013.

We rated this book with a 4.5 out of 5 on 8 votes.  While primarily a children's book author, Ms Collins wrote this book, and the two following it in the series, for a teenage audience.  But it is also a favorite of adults.  This story introduces us to Katness Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl, who because of the death of her father and the ensuing severe depression of her mother, must assume the role of provider for the family.  She is devoted to her younger sister, Prim, and Katness makes choices throughout the book in an effort to protect her and their mother from harm and hunger.  The book is filled with characters who are written with diverse personalities and goals.  A romantic triangle between Katness, Gale, her hunting partner, and Peeta, a school friend and fellow "Tribute," forms one of the plotlines in the book.  The challenges faced in the Hunger Games arena are at times horrifying and at other times we see humanity and caring that q    makes us to believe in the heroes.  The story is filled with subplots and differing agendas.  It is a captivating read.

Those in our group who have not read the two following books (The Mockingjay and Catching Fire) showed interest in continuing on with the series.  The Hunger Games is another departure from some of our personally favorite genres.  And though this is a well know series, it might never have found its way onto some of our shelves if it had not been on our agenda.  So, thank you to Starr for selecting the book. 


The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.

This is Ms. Simon's sixth book.  This is an excerpt from her essay on creating the story of "Beautiful Girl":
When The Story of Beautiful Girl came out, I kept getting asked two questions. Why was I drawn to writing disability-themed literature? And was it hard to write from the point of view of characters with disabilities?

My answer to the first question begins with this basic fact: for one month every year, I am a twin.

My sister Beth, who has an intellectual disability, was born eleven months after me. So every year when I visit her for her birthday, the first thing we both say is, "Now we’re twins!" And for the next thirty days, as she gleefully moves through her days wearing the Tweety Bird shirts and using the Scooby Doo stickers I bought for her big celebration, we are indeed twins. Then my birthday rolls around, and when I visit her for that admittedly more secondary occasion, and she thrusts dozens of handmade cards at me, all of which express her happiness at my coming to see her, the first thing we both say is, "Now we’re not twins."

The story starts out in the remote farmhouse of an elder widow who lives alone.  A young woman and man show up one evening during a large storm wearing thin, worn clothes and looking very desperate.  Warily she takes them in and makes several astounding discoveries.  This book tackles societal issues in how people with developmental and physical challenges have been treated and how many still manage to grow into their lives. 

Catherine the Great by Robert Massie on November 26th at Maria's at noon.

This is a very readable biography of this fascinating woman.  It is interesting to read about the royal connections between nations through this period of time. Born as a minor Prussian (German) Princess, her name was changed when she arrived at the court if Elizabeth II from Sophia to Catherine.  She was an intelligent, well read, well educated and independent woman who ultimately brought the Russian throne to great power in the world.  Being a woman, she broke the mold of what was expected.  She was ambitions and used all of her considerable powers to expand the Russian Empire.  She could be ruthless or charming, and she had voracious appetites.  Though her marriage to the King, a weak child-man, ended with his murder, she took several lovers.  She is described as a "serial monogamist."
Meticulously, dramatically rendered.

--O: The Oprah Magazine
Reads like an epic Russian novel

--San Antonio Express-News

Will transport history lovers.


Join the discussion for more interesting twists and turns in her life and reign.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on August 27, 2013.

The Postmistress was an enjoyable read. With 8 votes, we rated this book at 3.6 out of 5. Thanks to Joyce for choosing this title. Sarah Blake's work took a little time to engage our attention. But the story's pivotal character, Emma, drew our sympathies and respect in the end for her level of maturity and grace in a difficult situation. The premise of undelivered letters, though the highlighted device in this novel, was not for me the most interesting thing about the book.

We agreed that Frankie was the character we liked the best. She was written as a part of a changing role for women in the early 1940's. She sought to interview and report the stories of refugees traveling from Germany and France as they seek a safer existence. Her heart was most deeply felt through the impact on her in the time she spent on this endeavor, especially after she had time to reflect on the experience. By inserting a real-life person, in Edward R. Murrow, Ms. Blake served to anchor the story in time and to add credibility to Frankie's character.

Iris's character was challenging to relate to with her staid ways reflecting her regimented life and her inexperience in male/female relationships. But the fact that she mishandled delivery of one letter only spoke to her deep concern for the intended recipient. Was it wrong to withhold the letter? It seemed to me more an act allowing for compassion not expressly allowed in her position, than a miscarriage of duties. All three of the women made emotional journeys and each was left with more depth of character for having gone there.

Thomas was hardest to understand. His capricious decision to escape from his life that included his wife and medical practice in his small hometown, had a dramatic effect on all three of the main women in the novel.

This is a good beach book or change of pace between heavier works. This book presented lots of discussion points and received good reviews from the literary world.


September 24 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - at BUGSY's Pizza at Noon

Get ready for an exciting ride. This book is marketed as a "Young People" novel, but it will hold the attention of adults as well. When the real action starts, it is very hard to disengage from it. The sub-text of the novel is front and center from early on. The characters could have popped up in a "Survivor" episode if they had been a bit older. The emerging personalities of the competitors are reflections of people we have met today. The diabolic exercise of power in certain cases that has infiltrated our awareness today is a prelude to this futuristic interpretation of where that approach might take us. Given the ebb and flow of history and the unpredictability of it, this is definitely a novel that will linger in our thoughts long after the last page has been turned.

This is a cultural touchstone perhaps in the realm of Animal Farm or 1984. I see a lot of parallel lines that seem to reflect those works. There will be lots to talk about when we meet to discuss this book.

October 22 - The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon - at BrewHa at Noon

From Amazon.com:
It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: "Hide her." And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

See you at Bugsy's next month.


Friday, July 26, 2013

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

From the Timely and Timeless book discussion group on July 23, 2013.

The conversation yesterday about The Poisonwood Bible was lively and engaging. We discussed the five females at the heart of the book and the effect that their father/husband played in dramatically affecting their life choices. While it was unanimous that he had his own set of challenges, he was the villain of the story. The four daughters were influenced by the experience of living in the jungles of the Congo and went on such diverse paths as the story progressed. There was a lot of irony in each of their lives. Adah, our most liked character "turned things around" on several levels. Rachel was able to exploit her own uniqueness, Leah seems to have connected most dramatically with the world she was thrust into. And Ruth May left it all in the jungle where they lived. Orleanna's choices throughout the book were questioned by our group. Being raised with the traditions of the deep south in the 1940's and 1950's, stepping off of the small plane into such an intensely intimidating environment certainly altered her world and how she would have to manage navigating her family through the experience. We felt varying levels of sympathy for the choices she made and how successful she was as a mother.
But in the end, the book was a vividly written work of art. Barbara Kingsolver's writing style is fresh with imagination and beautiful use of her writer's tools. Each character had a distinct voice. It was not hard to see mental pictures of the characters and their environment down to their every detail.  
While this book won't suit everyone's taste in subject matter, it is enormously interesting as a piece of literature. Appreciating that Barbara Kingsolver was writing in part from her own experiences of living in Africa, the novel felt authentic. Our group average rating for this book was 3.8 out of 5.  

Coming Up:

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake - at Los Tequilas at Noon
Copies of the book are available at the Peabody Public Library Circulation desk.  

"Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible burden...

Filled with stunning parallels to today's world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter.

In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape."
My best to you.