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 nytimes.com: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/disunion/
Find your Civil War ancestors at www.ancestry.com
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  http://www.pbs.org/triumphatcarville/

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 www.imdb.com

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!

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