November 11, 2011

November 2011

As the wind whipped around us, we were reminded that it was the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  This time of year the winds are particularly strong due to the cold air mixing with the relatively warmer air around the lake.  And although the evening started on a brisk note, it ended with sweet pralines and a phone call from my friend Erika Marks who is the author of Little Gale Gumbo.  Twenty years felt like a drop in the bucket reconnecting with her again and hearing her voice.  Little Gale Gumbo is a spicy concoction of romance, tragedy and friendship, and I can’t wait for her next one The Mermaid Collector out October 2012.

Here’s what else we’ve been reading:

The Living Great Lakes – Jerry Dennis
A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
Home – Marilynne Robinson
Cane River – Lalita Tademy
Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed – short story by Robert Olen Butler
A Small Hotel – Robert Olen Butler
Please Look After Mom – Kyung-sook Shim
The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grisson
George Washington – Willard Sterne Randall
Philosophy for Dummies – Tom Morris
Happiness Key – Emilie Richards
Minding Frankie – Maeve Binchy
All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat – Suzy Becker
Blood, Bones & Butter – Gabrielle Hamilton
Go to her restaurant Prune in NYC
While in NYC go see Sleep No More
The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio – Terry Ryan
Phantom – a collection of horror stories edited by Paul Tremblay
Death of a Perfect Wife – M.C. Beaton
The Agatha Raisin series – M.C. Beaton
The Great Stagnation – Tyler Cowen
Little Gale Gumbo – Erika Marks

From Mary Lou in Maryland:

A. Manette Ansay, River Angel (1998). Town legend has it that from time to time an angel appears and performs miracles in the vicinity of the bridge in Ambient, Wisconsin.  Ten-year-old Gabriel Carpenter is abandoned there on his Uncle Fred and grandfather’s farm on Christmas Eve by his handsome vagabond con-man father.  Fred’s wife Bethany and her two sons are not pleased by the encroachment on their orderly household.  Gabriel is fat, unhealthy and lonely and his 5th grade teacher Anna Grey dislikes him on sight and doesn’t know what to do with him.  The women of the story meet weekly for their Circle of Faith prayer circle, which makes the men (including the clergymen) very nervous.  Each chapter begins with an excerpt from the Ambient Weekly and then we get the real scoop on the families of Ambient..

Santa Montefiore, Last Voyage of the Valentina (2005).  This novel weaves two tales, that of British naval lieutenant and torpedo boat captain Thomas Arbuncle in Italy in 1944-45 and that of his daughter Alba living on a houseboat on the Thames in the 1970s.  Alba’s mother Valentina died shortly after she was born and Thomas brought her home to his Hampshire, England country estate.  There Thomas marries a robust woman (whom Alba calls The Buffalo), has several children, and refuses to tell Alba anything about her mother.  Alba grows up angry and estranged.  When she discovers a portrait that Thomas drew of Valentina, she sets out for a tiny town on the Amalfi coast to discover the truth about her mother.   At each stage of Alba’s quest, the novel presents the parallel story of her father’s time in Italy.  Alba is an unattractive character at the beginning of the novel, but she is transformed as she learns the truth in interactions with her mother’s family.  The two tales resolve nicely into one by the end of the novel. 

Lorna Landvik, The Tall Pine Polka (1999).  I didn’t find this quite as entertaining as Angry Housewives and surely the tall evergreens in northern Minnesota are spruces, not pines.  Nevertheless this is a very enjoyable tale.  Lee O’Leary escapes an abusive husband and ends up running a café in the north woods, the Cup O’Delight, renowned for its coffee.  It is the gathering place for the town’s eccentrics, delightful characters all.  Hollywood (represented by even more eccentric characters) chooses the town as the site for the movie Ike and Inga and a considerable clash of values and culture ensues.   

Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian (2005).  This is a proper suspense novel for Halloween.  It builds a tale of intrigue and suspense as the historian finds a magic book and then seeks an explanation for the mysterious disappearance of his major professor and mentor.  In the course of his search through libraries of ancient rare books he encounters a mysterious fair maiden and together they investigate the legend of Dracula. 

From Pam in Huron:

I finished Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper and really liked it. Harper is from Toledo, taught high school English in Westerville, another Columbus suburb, and at OSU, and left teaching to write full time in 1984. Her story supports the possibility of Shakespeare's writing all for which he is known. Harper takes all the Shakespeare history and weaves it into her story, embroidering it with plausible circumstances to make for a compelling story. All the playwright contemporaries get a mention; Queen Elizabeth, the hauling of the playhouse across the frozen Thames to rebuild on the South Bank as the Globe, the impact of the plague - it's all here. Good book!

Next I finished Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, who wrote Bel Canto. This is nonfiction. I had no idea what I was getting into and it was quite a story. Lucy Grealy, a poet and writer, and Ann Patchett met at Sarah Lawrence College and moved on to University of Iowa's writing program, Iowa Writer's Program. They worked hard to carve out success but always remained strong support for each other when times were tough. And the life of a writer is tough. Grealy had additional struggles with multiple operations to her face to correct a misshapen face, the result of Ewing's sarcoma at the age of nine. It is one powerful story.

From our sister group in Oklahoma:


In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson
The Short Life of Sophie Scholl by Hermann Vinke
Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll; with discussion of the         
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Africa by Richard Dowden
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculiee LLibagiza

Scherrey’s memoir research: Further discussion of Scherrey’s memoir of growing up in Arkansas and the Montreal Expo of 1967. Recent talk at OHS about German genealogy.


Vietnam series on the History Channel
CCTV: China Cable TV (Dish 265)


White Rose (German 1982)
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (German 2005)
Tree of Life
The Way (Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen)


Bandersnatch (original play at Midwestern State the weekend of November 18th which is a collaboration between the theatre and engineering students.)

Discussion: Earthquakes (Nov. 5, 2011; 5.6  earthquake in Oklahoma)

Thanks to everybody for making this one heck of a fun book club!  Without all of you it certainly wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season and see you next year when we meet on the first Wednesday of the month.


October 14, 2011

October 2011

We had the pleasure of hearing Carl and Mary McDaniel read excerpts from their book Trail Magic and give a presentation on the construction of their self-sufficient, climate-neutral house.  They were out to prove that it’s possible to build one for the same cost as a traditionally-built house.  It’s been three years since they’ve moved in, and they’re still in love with it.  Many thanks to them for sharing their journey with us and taking us along for the ride.

Photos of the house construction can be found here.

And here’s what we’ve been reading:

Courage and Consequence – Karl Rove
Catcher Caught – Sarah Collins Honenberger
Home – Marilynne Robinson
Cleo – Helen Brown
Just Wanna Testify – Pearl Cleage (warning:  vampires)
A Small Hotel – Rober Olen Butler
The Living Great Lakes – Jerry Dennis
A Cup of Friendship – Deborah Rodriquez
Farishta – Patricia McArdle
The Sixth Man – David Baldacci
Sociobiology – Edward O. Wilson
Anthill – Edward O. Wilson
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
The Unincorporated Woman – Dani & Eytan Kollin
Books by Tom Perrotta
The Leftovers – Tom Perrotta
Revolution World – Katy Stauber
Trail Magic – Carl McDaniel
Cosmic Trigger – Robert Anton Wilson
Reamde – Neal Stephenson
Take this Bread – Sara Miles
Night Road – Kristin Hanna
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer  (has anyone read this?)
The Avengers trailer is out.  Cleveland is NYC and NASA Plum Brook is the dark “star chamber”.  
The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris – David McCollough

From Mary Lou in Maryland:

Ken Follett, Hornet Flight (2002).  This World War II espionage novel features three young Danish men from the island of Sande.  The plot is suspenseful and the characters are very well drawn.  Peter Flemming is a detective in the Danish Security Police who is eager to impress the occupying Nazis.  He detests the Olufsen family.  Arne Olufsen is an officer in the Danish Army Air Corp, engaged to Hermia, the daughter of the English Ambassador.  Her family was evacuated when the Nazis invaded and now, in Spring 1941, she is working for MI-6.  Before leaving Denmark she set up a small Resistance unit.  Some members of the unit are killed or captured by Peter and Hermia is assigned to return to Denmark to rejuvenate the unit and guide them in completing the mission of the captured agents.  She recruits Arne to the cause and he involves his younger brother, 18-year-old Harald to obtain information about the secret radar instruments on the German base on Sande.  Harald in turn obtains the assistance of Karen, sister of his Jewish classmate.  The Hornet Moth is a light aircraft that offers the only means for Harald and Karen to escape Peter and the Nazis, if only Harald’s mechanical abilities and ingenuity can restore it to flying order.  The conflict is between the amateurs in the Resistance and the professionals of the Danish Security Police and Nazi military.  There’s enough suspense in this one to keep you reading all night.

David Baldacci, One Summer (2011).  This is nothing like Baldacci’s macho Oliver Stone novels of DC political intrigue.  There’s more than the South Carolina coastal setting to remind the reader of a Pat Conroy novel.   The story concerns family relationships and the development of self-awareness.   Jack Armstrong, winner of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, is quickly losing his battle against a rare disease when his wife is killed in an auto accident.  Her parents distribute his three children among relatives around the country and place him in a nursing home.  Strangely, he does not die and eventually he is released.  With the help of his former business partner, he begins the process of reclaiming his life and his family.  Nothing is working out until they journey together to South Carolina for the funeral of his wife’s aunt.  He discovers that Aunt Cecelia has willed him her oceanfront cottage, his wife’s childhood home.  He decides to move his family there and undertake its restoration.  Nothing is easy, but eventually the family is restored to harmony as well. 

Jane Smiley, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998).  Lydia Harkness is a 20-year-old orphan in Quincy, Illinois when she meets and marries Bostonian Thomas Newton.  With him she journeys to Kansas Territory to join a Massachusetts abolitionist settlement group.  Lacking in housewifely skills and deemed useless by the women of Quincy, Lidie’s tomboy riding and hunting skills have prepared her better than her husband for the rough homesteading life.  Kansas Territory in the 1850s is a scene of great political animosity and violence between abolitionist and slavery factions.  Violent gangs of pro-slavery Missourians roam the territory, killing abolitionist settlers and destroying their homesteads.  Thomas is a natural leader and the Newtons are reluctantly drawn into the conflict.  Despite the violence, this tale told by Lidie is often humorous.  Lidie confronts her adventures with great creativity and integrity and narrates them delightfully in her own sage and untutored voice. 

Lorna Landvik, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (2003).  After bonding in a midnight snowball fight, the housewives of Freesia Court, Minneapolis, form a book club that nourishes their souls and friendship over 30 years.  When one of the husbands describes the club’s monthly meetings as “angry housewives eating bonbons,” they adopt it as the title of their club.  The women are Faith Owens, a southern belle married to an airline pilot; plump, lascivious Audrey Forrest married to a lawyer, gorgeous minister’s daughter Merit Iverson married to a doctor, tiny feminist activist dynamo Marjorie “Slip” McMahon married to a U of MN meteorology professor, and Kari Nelson, a North Dakotan of Norwegian ancestry, gifted seamstress and a widow of 5 years.  The households provide a cross-section of middleclass middle America in the last decades of the 20th century.  Beginning in 1968, each chapter is narrated by a different woman, the hostess of the month’s meeting and selector of the book for discussion.  Gradually they reveal their identities to one another along with the reasons for their selections.  They grow closer over the years as they share challenges of child rearing and husband roaming.  Eventually they also share their most closely guarded secrets and find liberation from shame and fulfillment of aspirations in the process.  This is a funny and uplifting book.

Our sister group in Oklahoma discussed:

Term “fog of war:
Ascribed to Carl von Clausewitz (Wikipedia)
Nice explanation in materials to be used with the PBS program “The War of 1812: (due to technical difficulties link will be available later)
Edit. note:  Here's info on the PBS program The War of 1812.

Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff
Saint-Exupery: a Biography, Vera, and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France
      and the Birth of a Nation  by Stacy Schiff
Imperium and Fatherland by Robert Harris
Finding Moon by Tony Hillerman
A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The Wedding by Dorothy West
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larsson
Hazel and Elizabeth: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
New Yorker Sept. 12, 2011. Issue devoted to 9/11

Scherrey’s memoir research:
Discussion of Rabbi Sanders of Little Rock and a Seder dinner he did with an Arkansas Roman Catholic seminary in the early 1960s. Also Rabbi Sanders religious debate with Clarence Darrow.

Discussion of forgiveness based on readings and a two-weekend seminar at Cameron

Television – PBS
War of 1812


The Wizard of Oz
Music Box (1989 w Jessica Lang)
Sarah’s Key (2010 French and English)
General discussion of scary movies including:
Night of the Living Dead
They (2002)
The Thing (1951 w James Arness; 1982 John Carpenter; 2011)

Dwight in Florida says:
Don't giggle, but I just finished reading Charlotte's Web by E. B. White.  I thought it wise to read it before I began "The Story of Charlotte's Web" by Michael Sims.  Absolutely wonderful read.  Write about what you know...

Our next meeting November 9 will be at my place.  Erika Marks will be phoning in to talk about her book Little Gale Gumbo.

September 15, 2011

September 2011

After a short hiatus during the summer, we had a full house for our first meeting in the fall.  Jane brought her life-long friend Susie, whose uncle was the principal of the school that Jeannette Walls author of The Glass Castle went to.  Susie herself grew up 40 miles away from Welch, West Virginia.  I wish we had more time to talk about growing up there, but we had so much to cover - what with our extensive reading lists and all!

Jane kicked off the meeting by showing off her new e-reader.  Possible titles:  NaNook of the North, Nook and Granny, Nooked on a Feeling, and Nook Gingrich.  Please send your suggestions.

Here are our books;  several of them kept popping up so they’re listed on their first mention:

Kate Atkinson books
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
Lark and Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
Home – Marilynne Robinson
The Greater Journey – David McCullough
Catcher Caught – Sarah Collins Honenberger
The Cleveland Creep – Les Roberts
The King’s Speech – Mark Logue
Star Island – Carl Hiaasen
The God of Animals – Aryn Kyle
Stealing Rembrandts – Anthony Amore
Folly Beach – Dorothea Benton Frank
The one Mom couldn’t remember is Rock Bottom – Erin Brockovich
At Home A Short History of Private Life – Bill Bryson
The Widower’s Tale – Julia Glass
Three Junes – Julia Glass
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Hadley – Alice Hunt Sokoloff
Midnight in Paris the movie
The Butterfly’s Daughter – Mary Alice Monroe
Smokin’ Seventeen – Janet Evanovich
An Object of Beauty – Steve Martin
Kim -  Rudyard Kipling
This Wheel’s on Fire – Levon Helm
Courage and Consequence – Karl Rove
The Gods of Greenwich – Norb Vonnegut
Exorcising Hitler – Fredrick Taylor
The History of Germany – Eleanor Turk
The Big Scrum – John Miller
The Living Great Lakes – Jerry Dennis
Waterlife the movie
The Edmund Fitzgerald went down November 10, 1975 off Whitefish Point, Michigan.
George Washington – Willard Sterne Randall
Scarlett – Alexandria Ripley
South of Superior – Ellen Airgood
Second Sight – Amanda Quick
Half Broke Horses – Jeannette Walls
How to be Good – Nick Hornby
The Piano Teacher – Janice Y.K. Lee
The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio – Terry Ryan
Neither Here Nor There – Bill Bryson
The Pleasure of My Company – Steve Martin
City of Falling Angels – John Berendt
How the Hippies Saved Physics – David Kaiser
How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill
The Tao of Physics – Fritjof Capra
Cosmic Trigger – Robert Anton Wilson
Broken – Susan Bigelow
History of Jazz – Ted Gioia
Visit Ted Gioia’s Nobel Prize in Literature from an Alternative Universe at
REAMDE – Neal Stephenson

Mary Lou has read:

David Baldacci, The Camel Club (2005),. Stone Cold (2007), Divine Justice (2008).  Oliver Stone lives in a cottage in a NW Washington DC cemetery that he maintains.  He also has a tent in Lafayette Park across from the White House, where he holds a sign reading “I WANT THE TRUTH.”  He and several very colorful friends, also social misfits, form the Camel Club, observers of official Washington and seekers of truth.  Over the years Secret Service agent Alex Ford has become his friend as well.  The first novel introduces us to the mysteries of Oliver’s past as old enemies, now risen to high government office, are revealed in devious and murderous plots against other political bigwigs.  In a highly suspenseful tale with a cleverly twisty plot, Oliver and his friends save much more than just the day.  In Stone Cold, con artist Annabelle Conroy seeks Camel Club help to escape from the consequences of a successful long con she ran against an Atlantic City casino owner and gangster.  Enemies from Oliver’s past, still powerful government officials, remain the villains of the tale.  In Divine Justice, Oliver must flee the area.  He winds up in the mysteriously prosperous small mining town of Divine in southwest Virginia, where he saves several lives and uncovers several evils.    His friends track him down and attempt to assist rescue him in escaping his CIA pursuers.  Complications ensue, of course, in a delightfully suspenseful plot.  These novels will delight anyone who believes the worst of Washington politicians and intelligence agencies
Alexander McCall Smith, At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances  (2003).  This is the third volume of the trilogy featuring Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Ingelfeld.  He is more xenophobic than ever as he ventures to Cambridge on sabbatical, where he has many opportunities to ponder the superiority of German Academia and the lack of humor among the British.  Not long after his return, he travels to Colombia to be honored as Distinguished Corresponding Fellow of the Academy of Letters.  While in Colombia, he is invited to The Villa of Reduced Circumstances, where he learns much about the local culture of revolutionary politics. 

Pat Conroy, The Water is Wide (1972); Beach Music (1995); South of Broad (2009).  Thanks to Omni Book Club for reminding me of this fine author.  I have not yet reread Prince of Tides, but I intend to.  The Water is Wide is a very early work, based on Conroy’s experiences as a young man teaching poor Black children in a primitive school on a South Carolina island.  As you teachers can imagine, any successes he manages are despite the efforts of the Superintendent and other school administrators.  This is an inspiring book and a rollicking good story that will have you cheering for the young teacher and his students.  Beach Music is a more typical Conroy novel of self-discovery.  Jack McCall takes his young daughter and escapes to Rome from family tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina.  Eventually, his family lures him back, where his daughter learns to know her family and Jack learns of the reasons for his wife’s suicide.  South of Broad is also set in Charleston and narrated by Leopold Bloom King.  His mother is a Joyce scholar who annually celebrates Bloomsday.  With this as a starting point, the story of family relationships is sure to be bizarre.  The resolution comes with the arrival of a devastating hurricane in Charleston.

Janis Owens, The Cracker Kitchen (2009); introduction by Pat Conroy.  This came up when I searched my favorite book source (Better World Books) for Conroy. Yes, it has recipes, but it’s really a series of essays on Southern family life and the culture of crackers, rednecks and hillbillies.  “Chapter 1:  Crosses, Cakes, and Storytelling over Coffins – It Must be Spring.”  It has two recipes for sweet tea, plus everything else you would expect to find, but it’s the essays that are most entertaining.

Louise Dickinson Rich, We Took to the Woods (1942, 1970).  My friend in western Maine sent this to me.  It is set near her home.  To the amazement of their family and friends, Louise and her husband Ralph live for a number of Depression years in a remote cabin in the Maine woods, along the Rapid River, in the midst of a series of dams and lakes that flow eventually into the Androscoggin.  Actually, there are two dwellings, a cozy winter cabin sheltered in the woods and a summer house on the bluff overlooking the river.  The book is structured as a series of answers to dumb questions her visitors have asked her over the years, beginning with “Why Don’t You Write a Book?” and including “But How Do You Make a Living?”  “But You Don’t Live Here All Year Round!”   “Isn’t Housekeeping Difficult?”  “Aren’t the Children a Problem?” and my personal favorite of the dumb questions, “What Do You Do with Your Spare Time?”  This is a delightful book, full of funny episodes and vivid descriptions and there even are a few pictures of the people and places described. 

Howard Norman, My Famous Evening (2004).  I thought Howard Norman was a Canadian author because his novels are set in Ontario and the Maritimes.  Actually, he lives in Vermont but he has traveled extensively in eastern Canada and lived a number of summers in Nova Scotia.  This book is a collection of stories he gathered there from old-timers.  The title tale is narrated by a housewife who flees her abusive husband and secretly journeys from Halifax to New York to hear Joseph Conrad.  Another section presents legends of Glooskap, a folk hero of Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq tribes.  Taken together, this collection presents an intriguing view of Nova Scotia’s people and culture. 

Elizabeth McCracken, Niagara Falls All Over Again (2001).  A few days before our annual trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake and Stratford, I stopped by the Goodwill to stock up on disposable books.  How could I resist this title?  Mose Sharp can’t wait to escape his home town, a whistle stop just west of Des Moines and he sets off for a Vaudeville career.  Soon he partners with comedian Rocky Carter and pulls a daredevil stunt at Niagara Falls, beginning a 30+ year partnership that takes them to Hollywood.  Complications and comedy ensue, but the novel has a serious streak as well, as Mose and Rocky struggle variously with the challenges of success and failure.

Maeve Haran, The Lady and the Poet (2009).  Thanks to Omni for suggesting this one.  It is a fictionalized account of the life of Anne More, who went against family and tradition to become the wife of the poet John Donne.  Some of Donne’s better known poems are woven into the plot, a bit stiffly at times, but Anne is a delightfully spirited character.  The novel presents a vivid picture of Elizabethan court intrigues.

Kristin Hannah, Winter Garden (2010).  Meredith and Nina Whitson grow up in a Washington State apple orchard, daughters of the cold and withdrawn Anya, who tells them a Russian fairy tale.  When young Meredith dramatizes the tale as a Christmas pageant, Anya shocks her daughters by stopping the presentation.  Thirty years later, Meredith and Nina return home to nurse their ailing father.  They see that Anya has developed the peculiar habit of sitting barefoot in her nightgown in her winter garden at night in the snow.  Eventually their father orders their mother to tell the daughters the traumatic story of her early life, the basis of the “fairy tale.”  This is a vivid exploration of the relationships between parents and children, mothers and daughters, past and present. 

James Patterson and Andrew Cross, Jester (2003).  This Medieval adventure novel is set in Southern France during the years of the Crusades.  Hugh DeLuc, a young innkeeper, leaves his wife and marches off toward the Holy Land.  After a series of disillusioning experiences, he returns home to find his inn destroyed and his wife captured.  Sprinkled with fair maidens, holy relics, oppressive nobles and foul dungeons, this is an intricate and fast-paced tale.   Hugh’s tricks and stratagems as a Jester are the key to his imaginative triumphs against the odds.

Dwight reports:

The songwriter Josh Ritter has written a rather endearing little novel called BRIGHT'S PASSAGE.  You may like it...

Our sister group in Oklahoma discussed:

Lawton Book Bunch
August 11, 2011

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough
King’s Speech by Mark Logue
Perfect Summer, England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicholson
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Every Bitter Thing by Hardy Jones
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
The Burden of Southern History and The Strange Career of Jim Crowe by C. Vann Woodward
Jane Austen: Her Life by Park Honan
Jane Austen’s Letters by Jane Austin
A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother by Janny Scott
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly


Midnight in Paris
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & Insomnia (discussion about movies made in a different language and then being remade in English)
Moliere (French2007)
Lion in Winter (1. O’Toole and Hepburn 2. Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close)
Beckett (O’Toole and Burton)


Taming of the Shrew (1. Texas Shakespeare Festival; 2. American Players Theatre at Spring Green, Wisconsin)
Masterpieces: A Play in Two Acts (about the Brontes) by Arthur Bicknell

Afghanistan: Its Complexities and Relevance: 2011-2012 Festival Year (Cameron University)

Panel to discuss Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini will be at the CU Library Tuesday August 30 at 3:30 p.m.

Khalid Hosseini will speak at the CU Theatre Tuesday August 30 at 7:30.  Tickets are required: or call 581-2211

*Edit note:  We'd like to hear how the panel and speech by Khalid Hosseini went.

Lawton Book Bunch
September 8, 2011

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary People by Richard Dowden
When the Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin
The White Nile and The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead
The Man Who Would Be King (short story) by Rudyard Kipling
Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France
Arthurian legends by Chretien Troyes
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by
Erik Larson
Tony Hillerman mysteries
Sapelo Island’s Hog Hammock by Michelle Nicole Johnson
The Slave Ship Clothida and the Making of an African Town, U.S.A. by Natalie S. Robertson
Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America by Allen Guelzo
Celia, a Slave by Melton McLaurin
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves by Sana Butler


The Man Who Would be King
The Help
Daughters of the Dust

Please reserve Wednesday, November 9 for a holiday party at Jane’s house.  The menu will be an inspiration from The Help.  Details to follow.

July 14, 2011

July 2011

So far this summer we’ve been in Paris with Hemingway, visited art museums (sometimes looting them), and partied with rock stars.
Read on:

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier
Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy
Beach Music – Pat Conroy
South of Broad – Pat Conroy
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Kim – Rudyard Kipling
This Wheel’s on Fire – Levon Helm
Courage and Consequence – Karl Rove
The Lives of the Great Composers – Harold Schonberg
Clapton The Autobiography – Eric Clapton
Just Kids – Patti Smith
Mesa Flats Resorts – George Lindsey
Shakespeare By Another Name – Mark Anderson
The Social Animal – David Brooks
Brothers, Rivals, Victors – Jonathan W. Jordan
The King’s Speech – Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
Days of Infamy – Newt Gingrich & William Forstchen
The Deep End of the Ocean – Jacquelyn Mitchard
McGowan’s Return – Rob Smith
Deliver Us from Evil – David Baldacci
Scarlett – Alexandra Ripley
The China Study – Colin Campbell
Forks Over Knives movie
The Case Against Fluoride – Paul Connett
Waterlife movie
The Object of Beauty – Steve Martin
Rules of Betrayal – Christopher Reich
Gods of Greenwich – Norb Vonnegut
Lamb – Christopher Moore
The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big Ass Novel – Jill Conner Browne
Shakespeare The World as a Stage – Bill Bryson
So Shelley – Ty Roth
The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Mary Lou in Maryland said it was too hot to garden so she read:

Ian Rankin, Exit Music (2007).  Inspector Rebus, with retirement fast approaching, is attempting to resolve the murder of a dissident Russian poet.  His superiors are anxious to dismiss it as a mugging gone wrong but Rebus is not satisfied.  The investigation eventually leads him to a local gangster he has pursued for years.  The ending if the novel and Rebus’s career is most satisfyingly surprising.  It will be interesting to see what Rankin does next with this fascinating character.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs (2003).  This is the second novel of a trilogy of delicious satires of academia featuring linguistic scholar Professor Dr. von Ingelfeld.  He is invited to the US as a guest lecturer and moments before his presentation he discovers that his audience is expecting to hear not about Portuguese irregular verbs, but sausage dogs.  Somehow he manages.  His self-delusions are as comical as ever. 

Thomas Keneally, A River Town (1995).  I found this novel easier reading than some of Keneally’s other works.  Our self-effacing hero Tim Shea has emigrated from Ireland to New South Wales, where he supports his wife and family as a storekeeper.  He is an upright and generous man whose virtues are misunderstood and sometimes exploited by his small-minded neighbors.  The actions of his “beloved stranger and spouse” Kitty frequently disrupt his peace, especially when she invites her sisters to join the household.  The livelihood of the entire family is placed at risk when a petty government agent uses Tim’s innate charity to entrap him into breaking a closing law.  An outcast Punjabi peddler and herbalist figures improbably in the rescue of the Shea family.  

Tom Robbins, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (2000).  This is another delightfully and outrageously funny novel of suspense and intrigue from the author of Another Roadside Attraction and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.  Switters is a most unusual CIA operative whose grandmother “Maestra” assigns him the mission of returning her parrot Sailor Boy to the Amazonian jungle of Peru.  His reward is to be the lovely Matisse Blue Nude from above Maestra’s fireplace.  The mission takes Switters from Seattle to Lima to the deep jungle where he meets a witch doctor.  Complications ensue and Switters’ travels take him to a desert nunnery in Syria.  With typical Robbins plot flourishes, the nuns are improbably linked to the Matisse Blue Nude, and also to a supposedly lost religious prophecy.  More complications ensue, taking Switters and the nuns to Vatican City to match wits with the Papal bureaucracy. Only Robbins could bring such an improbable plot to such a rollickingly satisfying conclusion. 

Sally Goldenbaum, Death by Cashmere (2008), Patterns in the Sand (2009).  These gentle mysteries set in Sea Harbor Massachusetts center around the Seaside Knitting Studio, the owner, and her knitting friends.  They meet one evening a week for fellowship, supper and knitting.  They also undertake to solve the occasional mystery.   The descriptions of the colors and textures of the yarns and the intricacies of the patterns are vivid and the descriptions of the suppers are mouth-watering.  Fluffy and delightful.

Santa Montefiore, The French Gardener (2008).  This is a mystery and a romance that weaves two love stories, 30 years apart, and the lovely and faintly magical garden that nurtures them.  With perhaps the exception of a stereotypical self-centered husband, the characters are well drawn, especially Jean-Paul, the title character. Children are prominent and delightful characters in both threads of the plot.  The structure follows the emergence of the garden, season by season.  I really liked this book and I’m looking for more by Montefiore.

Tom wasn’t able to join us since the village of Milan decided to hire a police chief, but he said he’s been having fun reading The City of Fallen Angels by John Berendt.

July 21 is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday.  Write one true sentence.

June 20, 2011

June 2011

This meeting had a southern flair to it, as we paid tribute to the Sweet Potato Queens and all things butter.  Many thanks go to Pam for hosting such a luscious event!

Here’s what we’ve been reading:

The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips.
Eyes of Eagles, William Johnstone.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova.
Sweet Potato Queen's First Big Ass Novel, Jill Conner Browne.
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen (thumbs up, Anne; thumbs down, Laura.)
South Abroad, Pat Conroy.
Beach Music, Pat Conroy.
Death Without Tenure, Joann Dobson.
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Kim, Rudyard Kipling.
Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier.
Into the Fire, Suzanne Brockman.
Death on a Vineyard Beach, Philip R. Craig.
Hell's Corner, David Balducci.
Three Seconds, Roslund Hellstrom.
The Island, Elin Hilderbrand
The Constant Gardener, John Le Carre.
High Fidelity, Nick Hornsby.
A Long Way Down, Nick Hornsby.
Stories From the Sea (Everyman’s Library Pocket Classics), ed. Diana Secker Tesdell
The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene.
The Book of Murder, Guillermo Martinez.
TSOG: The Thing that Ate the Constitution, Robert Anton Wilson.
Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson.
A Fatal Grace, Louise Penney.
A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Lawrence Block.
Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus, John Gray (thumbs down, Gary; no comment from Anne)
You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen.
Yeats Is Dead, various authors.

Mary Lou in Maryland has read:

Ian Rankin, The Naming of the Dead (2006).  To the dismay of security personnel and Inspector Rankin, world powers have elected to hold the G-8 conference at Edinburgh Castle.  The apparent suicide of a conference dignitary may have been murder.  Rankin, with retirement looming, is at odds with his superiors as usual and determined to investigate instead the murder of a recently paroled rapist. 

Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster (1987).  Gibbons’ first novel is narrated by teenage Ellen, who introduces herself by telling us that when she was little she used to think of ways to kill her daddy.  He richly deserves it, we learn, but Ellen doesn’t.  Instead she cleverly escapes to a foster home where she experiences the first kindness and security of her life.  This is a short, humorous, and delightfully intriguing novel.  Ellen’s narrative voice is superb. 

Dick Francis, Enquiry (1969), Bone Crack (1971), Knockdown (1974), High Stakes (1975), Banker (1982), Decider (1993), Wild Horses (1994).  Set in the British racing world, the clever hero-narrator always triumphs in the end over angry, deceitful perfidious types who feed off the sport of kings.  The hero may be a jockey, a trainer, a banker, or even a film maker, the villains are equally varied, and the plots are intricate and suspenseful.  Any Dick Francis book will be good beach reading. 

Sharman in Kitchener, Ontario says she can't put down a Kay Scarpetta novel by Patricia Cornwell.

Please keep our sister group in your thoughts and prayers as they recover from wildfires around Lawton, Oklahoma.  More information can be found here.

Here's what they shared at their last meeting:

Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Greg Lawrence
The Golden Cockerel and Other Fairy Tales by Alexander Pushkin; illustrated by Boris Zvorykin; with an introduction by Rudolf Nureyev
The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales illustrated by Boris Zvorykin; edited and with an introduction by Jacqueline Onassis
Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell
In War’s Dark Shadow: The Russians before the Great War by W. Bruce Lincoln

Scherrey Cardwell on writing his memoir

May 20, 2011

May 2011

We had the pleasure of having the company of Ty Roth who just had his first book published.  We enjoyed his stories of the publishing world and all the revisions it took to get So Shelly where it is today.  Thanks for taking us along for the ride, Ty.

Here’s what we’ve been reading:

So Shelly – Ty Roth
Precious the movie/Push the novel - Sapphire (Romona Loften)
Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman
My Reading Life – Pat Conroy
The Northbury Papers – Joanne Dobson
Wordy Shipmates – Sarah Vowell
Take the Cannoli – Sarah Vowell
Books by Donald Westlake
Night Road – Kristin Hannah
Winter Garden – Kristin Hannah
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – Kim Edwards
Upstairs Downstairs on PBS
Ireland – Frank Delaney
Cleopatra – Stacy Schiff
The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
The Love Letter – Cathleen Schine (avoid this one)
The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman
The Trinity Six – Charles Cumming
Huck and Holden – the play by Rajiv Joseph
The King’s Speech – the movie
Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan

Mary Lou read:

Ruth Park, Missus (194?. 1985), The Harp in the South (1948), Poor Man’s Orange (1948).  This Australian trilogy was originally published in the 1940s.  It follows the women of three generations through the Australia of the 1890s to the 1940s.  The first novel focuses on Rowena (Eny) Kilker and her family in Trafalgar, New South Wales.  The second centers on the life of Eny’s daughter Margaret, who with her husband Hugh Darcy is raising her family in the slums of Surrey Hills, Sydney.  In the third novel, Margaret’s youngest daughter Dolour seeks to escape to a better life outside the slums.

Annie Proulx, That Old Ace in the Hole (2002).  This is another gem from the author of The Shipping News.  Jobs are hard to find, so a young college graduate takes a job scouting the Texas panhandle for distressed ranches that can be purchased for hog farming.  Bob Dollar is a naïve young man who was abandoned by his parents and raised by his uncle, who runs a junk store.  His new boss tells him not to let folks know he’s scouting for Global Pork, so instead he tells the townsfolk of Woolybucket that he’s looking for land for upscale resort housing development.  His expense account is meager and he takes up residence in the decaying bunkhouse of the widow Fronk.  From her and from the regulars at the Old Dog Café, he learns just what a stinking business hog farming is.  This is a rowdily humorous novel where Bob and justice finally triumph.
This one is definitely worth reading.

Carl Hiaasen, Nature Girl (2006).  If you haven’t yet discovered Hiaasen’s wacky South Florida world, this novel is as good a place as any to start.  It’s a mystery of sorts, featuring Honey Santana, manic and off her meds, attempting to wreak justice on telemarketers, especially one Boyd Shreave, who definitely deserves as much trouble as Honey dishes out.  A subplot introduces us to Sammy Tigertail, a blue-eyed Seminole half-blood making his private war on those who seek to commercialize what little Florida wilderness remains.   

Ian Rankin, Witch Hunt (1993).  Nine Heads of State are scheduled to attend a summit in London.  Inspector John Greenleaf, ex-Met now working for Special Branch, New Scotland Yard, is informed by his superior that a female assassin, “Witch”  may have landed surreptitiously in Britain.  In this highly suspenseful novel, Greenleaf must identify and thwart the killer.  His greatest antagonist, however, is the political bureaucracy of the British intelligence and security forces.  This one will keep you up at night.

Ian Rankin is best known for his series featuring middle aged, cynical, alcoholic, unmanageable Edinburgh police inspector John Rebus.  These include Knots and Crosses (1987), The Black Book (1993), Black and Blue (1997), and Set in Darkness (2000).  Other characters are skillfully drawn as well.  Rebus’s Edinburgh is not the clean and pleasant place we thought when we visited, but the familiar landmarks appear prominently in the plots. 

From our sister club in Oklahoma:

Lawton Book Bunch
May 12, 2011

New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherford
The Wedding by Dorothy West
Joe Jones by Anne Lamott
Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson
Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harmon
George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter
Twelfth Insight by James Redfield
The Richer, The Poorer by Dorothy West
King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue
The Immortal Live of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Girl Who … movies – both American and Swedish productions
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – movie and book
Conspirator Robert Redford’s movie
Scherrey Cardwell on German genealogy

See you next time when the author of The Sweet Potato Queens series Jill Connor Browne will be joining us!

April 20, 2011

April 2011

Yes, we call ourselves a book club but we really discuss all kinds of media.  From books to blogs, our subjects range far and wide.  What other bunch can go from talking about parallel universes in one minute and Hollywood gossip the next?

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman
Pray for Silence – Linda Castillo
Invitation to Provence – Elizabeth Adler (don’t bother)
Sizzling Sixteen – Janet Evanovich
The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart – Mathias Malzieu
Portobello – Ruth Rendell
Sing You Home – Jodi Picoult
On Folly Beach – Karen White
The King’s Speech (the book) – Mark Logue
Sand in My Bra & Other Misadventures – ed. Jennifer Leo
So Shelly – Ty Roth
Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Winter Garden – Kristin Hannah
The Queen Mother Official Biography – William Shawcross
The Hidden Reality – Brian Greene
Off with Their Heads A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood – Frances Marion
McGowan’s Return – Rob Smith
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Zendegi – Greg Egan
150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  Follow it on the Disunion blog on
Find your Civil War ancestors at
Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
Ireland – Frank Delaney
Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?  Go see Anonymous the movie out this fall
Triumph at Carville playing on PBS stations

Mary Lou read:

Thomas Keneally, The Great Shame and the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World (1998).  My shame is that so far I’ve only made it through the first half of this tome of 600+ pages plus footnotes. It presents a series of fictionalized biographies and it is undoubtedly very accurate historically.  I found it dry reading, however.  It traces multiple strands of the author’s family from Ireland in the 19th century, the time of the potato famine and the uprisings, through their escape to Australia and the US via transportation or emigration.  The British were even crueler to the Irish than I imagined.  I suppose I’ll eventually pick up this book again and finish it.

Belva Plain, Evergreen (1978) and Tapestry (1988).  These historical novels trace the lives of several Jewish families in their escapes from Europe to their struggles to make their way in New Your City.  Anna and her brothers escape Russian-ravaged Poland in the early 1900s.  The brothers remain in Vienna, but Anna goes on to New York City.  There she goes to work for a well-to-do Jewish family and falls in love with the son, Paul.  He marries a woman of his own class and she marries Joseph, poor but hard working.  Eventually he becomes a highly successful businessman.  The story covers the hardships of the First World War, the crash of ’29 and ensuing Great Depression, Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, and the Second World War.  The first novel focuses mostly on Anna and the second on Paul. They encounter one another several times but neither will abandon the marriages they have established.  Paul, a banker, travels around Europe during WW II, where he actively assists Jewish refugees.   The characters and their ethical struggles are vividly drawn.  These are easy reads.

Matthew Pearl, The Poe Shadow (2006).  Edgar Allan Poe died in somewhat mysterious circumstances in Baltimore in 1849.  Every year from 1949 to 2009, on the anniversary of Poe’s birth (January 19), some unknown person, in the dark of night, has placed flowers on his grave.  Poe authored many mystery stories, some of them featuring a Parisian master detective, Dupin.  As a former Baltimorean, I was especially interested in this historical novel that attempts to solve the mysteries surrounding Poe’s death.  The narrator is a young lawyer, Quentin Clark, who happens to witnesses Poe’s unceremonious burial.  He becomes obsessed with what he regards as a conspiracy to disguise of the real story of Poe’s death and the events that immediately preceded it.  To solve these puzzles, he journeys to Paris to locate the “real” Dupin, as he is convinced that only this individual can solve the mysteries.  Madness and misadventures ensue.  The story becomes tedious in places but Pearl’s conclusions about Poe’s death are consistent with the few established facts. 

James Lee Burke, Swan Peak (2008).  As Burke’s beloved Louisiana remains devastated by Katrina, the author has shifted his setting to Montana, where detective Dave Robicheaux and his buddy Clete Purcell are vacationing to enjoy some trout fishing.  They are of course unsuccessful in their attempts to remain aloof from the efforts of local law enforcement to capture the vicious murderer of two college students.  A would-be songstress, a gifted Indian musician, a ranch full of mobsters, and a fetching FBI agent enter the complex tale.  This is classic Burke, with an intricate plot, transcendental poetic descriptions, and more than enough violence.  

John Sandford, Rough Country (2009).  The author who gave us Lucas Davenport of the Prey series of detective novels set in Minnesota also presents us with the delightfully unconventional Minnesota state cop Virgil Flowers.  Virgil’s fishing trip in far northern Minnesota is disrupted when local authorities discover a woman’s corpse amongst the lilypads.  Davenport orders Virgil to abandon his fishing vacation and investigate.  He must determine whether the crime originated in the remote but posh resort lodge catering to an all-female clientele or in the victim’s life as a hard-driving advertising executive from the Cities.  The novel sparkles with vivid characters and there are plenty of suspects among them.  After pursuing the investigation all over Minnesota and parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, Virgil eventually puts his boat back into Vermilion Lake to figure it all out while he casts again for muskies.

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005, 2008) and The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006, 2009).  Thanks to Omni Bookclub for introducing me to this little series.  The female sleuth is a math and computer genius and a sociopath with an imaginative and ironic sense of justice. The setting is contemporary Sweden.  The plot is intricate and spell-binding.  I’m waiting for the paperback edition of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest before finishing this series.  I’m disappointed there will be no more.  Larsson writes a gritty and suspenseful narrative.

The Lawton Book Bunch read:

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clark
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark
Riverworld (Series) by Philip Jose Farmer
The Wedding by Dorothy West
The Living is Easy by Dorothy West
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
Frank Herbert in general
Twelfth Insight by James Redfield
Carlos Casteneda
Mother Road by Dorothy Garlock
Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Gabriel’s Journey by Alison Hart
Gabriel’s Triumph by Alison Hart
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain


Janie: Saw Vinh at CGs and he is so excited that you lent him “Medium Raw.”

All: “The Help” will premier this August – for cast details look on

To those not there Thursday: re:  “Mother Road”  Judy is to present at a Let’s Talk About It and cannot figure out why the Humanities Council would have selected this book. Yes, the series topic is Route 66 – but this book has little to do with Route 66.

Happy Spring!

March 13, 2011

March 2011

March can be so dreary:  in like a lion and out like a lamb and all that.  Good thing we had this night to take the chill off.  We covered all things British and presidential.  So it goes without saying we had some laughs.  And we were even treated to a reading of “It’s a Book!” at the end.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Now on with the show:

The Charming Quirks of Others – Alexander McCall Smith
Deliver Us from Evil – David Baldacci
Port Mortuary – Patricia Cornwell
So Shelly – Ty Roth
The Other Family – Joanna Trollope
From Fields of Gold – Alexandra Ripley
Bedpans and Bobby Socks – Barbara Fox
Rachel and Leah Women of Genesis – Orson Scott Card
The Killer of Little Shepherds – Douglas Starr
All Things are Lights – Robert Shea
Death of a Chimney Sweep (Hamish MacBeth) – M.C. Beaton
Still Life – Louise Penny
Live Free or Die – John Ringo
Darkship Thieves – Sarah Hoyt
Freefall (Tunnels Book 3) – Roderick Gordon
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
The King’s Speech movie
The Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor – Donald Spoto
Decision Points – George W. Bush
The Lady and the Poet – Maeve Haran
Falling Home – Karen White
Books by Anita Shreve:  Rescue, The Pilot’s Wife, Fortune’s Rock
Downton Abbey  TV series
Gosford Park movie
Any Human Heart series
Duchess of Windsor – Diana Mosley
It’s a Book – Lane Smith

Dwight in Florida says he’s slowing devouring Mark Twain’ autobiography.

Mary Lou in Maryland hasn’t been gardening yet so still has time to read:

Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs (2003).  This wryly comic novel is written in the voice of linguistic scholar Professor Dr. von Ingelfeld.  He and his fellow professors inhabit a world of academic jealousy, pomposity, and delusion.  There is no end to the preposterous distortions of reality resulting from the professor’s painstaking, ambivalent, and wrong-headed analyses of situations and events.   This is the first novel of a trilogy of delicious satires of academia featuring the professor.

Thomas Keneally, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1972).  Keneally is the author of Schindler’s List and an Australian.  Jimmie is a half-breed raised in tribal society but influenced by the ambitions and values of the white world as presented to him by the Methodist minister of the mission near his tribal home.  Jimmy sets off into the white world to make his fortune.  Instead, racial misunderstandings, exploitations and stereotypes are disastrous to all concerned. 

Patricia Gaffney, The Saving Graces (1999).  This novel tells the story of the friendship of four women, Isabel, Emma, Rudy and Lee, who are the saving graces of the title. No matter what else is happening in their lives, they meet twice a month for dinner.  They have been doing this for 10 years.  The novel’s point of view shifts back and forth as successive chapters are narrated by each of the four women.  Through this shifting narration we groan over the particular delusions of each of the characters and finally we cheer for them as they courageously tear down these delusions.  It is a powerful yet humorous novel.  

David McCullough, 1776 (2005).  From the historian who writes like a novelist, this is an entertaining and informative story of General George Washington and his opponent General William Howe during the first year of the Revolutionary War.  It begins in the fall of 1775 with the Washington’s army laying siege to Boston, where Howe and King George’s troops are ensconced.  We then proceed to the battles of Brooklyn and New York, and finally to the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  Many Colonials saw the hand of Providence in the weather phenomena that covered the retreats of Washington and his army from what would have been annihilation if Howe had pressed his advantages at crucial moments.  At the beginning of the conflict, Washington is revealed as a much more skillful politician than he was ha general, but he learned from his mistakes. Given that we think we know the story, the book is remarkably suspenseful.  It is a wonder that the United States of America ever came to be. 

Anne Bartlett, Knitting (2005).   This novel tells the story of Sandra, who has lost her husband, and Martha, who has lost her mind.  They meet by chance when they stop to assist a homeless man who has fallen in the street.  Martha is a very gifted knitter and Sandra is an academic anthropologist who develops an interest in knit garments, especially those made for the soldiers of WW I and WWII.  The two women collaborate on a show, a crisis emerges, and in the course of their efforts they each are healed.  The novel is set in South Australia with its history of sheep herding and wool production.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (2010).  Major Pettigrew is a very British retired army gentleman and widower living in the small Sussex village of Edgecombe St. Mary.  He lives in a lovely English cottage, Rose Lodge, inherited from his parents, were a series of village spinsters threaten his pleasant solitude.  He is very attentive to social convention and good manners, sometimes critical of his neighbors’ deficiencies in that regard, and repeatedly appalled by his son Roger’s self-absorbed rudeness and materialism.  Then circumstances impel the Major into an unconventional friendship with Mrs. Ali, the lovely Pakistani owner of the village convenience store.  Roger and the villagers are variously aghast at this “unsuitable” alliance and the Major learns that social convention is only a thin disguise for outrageous insensitivity, discourtesy, and racism.  Although these are but some of the serious themes of this novel, it is also a satiric masterpiece in the vein of a Jane Austin comedy of manners.  Read this book. 

Ken Follett, Night Over Water (1991).  The events of this suspense novel occur in the days immediately preceding and following Britain’s September 1939 declaration of war against Nazi Germany.  A very diverse group of characters leave Southampton on the Pan American Clipper Flying Boat, bound for New York City with fueling stops in Ireland, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick.  Passengers include a British Nazi and his family, a jewel thief, a German nuclear scientist, and several pairs of lovers.  It takes a skillfully intricate plot to weave these characters into a unified tale. 

Richard Russo, Empire Falls (2001).  Empire Falls is a small town in central Maine, left to die by the closing of the textile mills.  The town is dominated by the widow Whiting, who owns everything, including Miles Roby’s Empire Grill, the setting for many of the interactions in the novel.  Surrounded by a whole range of abusive characters, both male and female, Miles declines to be baited, even by the blowhard who is planning to marry his about-to-be-ex-wife.  Through the eyes of Miles’ daughter Tick (Christina), we see that the sons are even more abusive than their fathers.  Most abusive of all is Mrs. Whiting, with her devotion to power, control and revenge.  Miles’ and Tick’s path to personal freedom and enlightenment is tortuously complex, ultimately assisted by the Knox River’s cleansing flood. 

Gore Vidal, Washington, D.C. (1967).  This dark historical novel presents the politicians and their powerful backers who bitterly oppose Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal policies.  From the aging Senator to his ambitious aide to the corrupt publisher, there is not an attractive character among them.  What keeps you reading is the hope that they will get what they deserve.  And they do.

Our sister group in Oklahoma had one of their best discussions ever about:

Siberian Huskies
What My Dog Does
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter.
Sutree by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
Peter the Great by Robert Massie
NPR Interview with Dorothy West
The Wedding by Dorothy West
Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson
Case of the Missing Person: How Finding Jesus of Nazareth Can Transform Communities and Individuals by R. Earle Rabb
The Jesus Seminar (Organization – please google)
Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson
Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First Century Palestine by Scott Korb
Night Fires by George Stanley
Movable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway
Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Fannie’s Last Supper: Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cookbook by Christopher Kimball
A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates
NPR Interview with Joyce Carol Oates
“Widow’s Story” New Yorker, December 13, 2010 p.70+

Susanna Fennema added: The Amazon review of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian says to "imagine the imagery of Sam Peckinpah and Heironymus Bosch as written by William Faulkner." Think that is a terrific statement - and I cannot get beyond the Peckinpah and Bosch who illustrate hellish worlds.

See you next time when Ty Roth will talk about his book So Shelly.