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.


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

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, 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

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 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.”