January 26, 2014

January 2014

January is named after the Roman god Janus who looks both forward and backward, and that's how I'm feeling as I finally get a chance to post our last few meetings.  As I look back, I'm so thankful I have our club to look forward to every month.  Cheers, everyone!  Thank you for making this so much fun!

January 2014

The Winebar was warm and cozy as we shared our latest reads:

Songs of the Missing - Stewart O'Nan
Last Night at the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan
Execution of Noa P. Singleton - Elizabeth Silver
Life after Life - Kate Atkinson
Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
We Are Water - Wally Lamb
iPad for Seniors - Nancy Muir
Cleveland Christmas Memories - Gail Bellamy
The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
The Dinner - Herman Koch
Grain Brain - David Perlmutter
740 Park - Michael Gross
New York Magazine
Philistines in the Hedgerow - Steven Gaines
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
I am the Messenger - Markus Zusak
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
The Obituary Writer - Ann Hood
The Knitting Circle - Ann Hood
Stella Bain - Anita Shreve
Songs of Willow Frost - Jamie Ford
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford
Sinners and the Sea Untold Story of Noah's Wife - Rebecca Kanner
The Monuments Men - Robert Edsel
How to Mark Up a Book - Mortimer Adler
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris
The Heist - Janet Evanovich
The Nasty Bits - Anthony Bourdain
Notes from the Larder - Nigel Slater
Snapper  - Brian Kimberling
On the Noodle Road - Jen Lin-Liu
The Purchase - Linda Spalding
The Detour - Andromeda Romano-Lax
The Land of Invisible Women - Qanta Ahmed
Not Without my Daughter - Betty Mahmoody
Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi
Strange Adventures of the Great Lakes - Dwight Boyer
Beethoven - Maynard Solomon
Mad About the Boy - Helen Fielding

From our sister group in OK:


Adams, Mark: Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
Alexie, Sherman:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Austen, Jane: Sense and Sensibility
Bentley, Peter:  Jaws
Coelho, Paulo: By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness
Conroy, Pat: South of Broad; The Water is Wide: A Memoir
French, Tana: Broken Harbor; Faithful Place; In the Woods
Gwynne, S. C.: Empire of the Summer Moon
Le Carre, John: Smiley’s People; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Musslewhite, Lynn: Historic Mattie Beal Home: A History
Palahniuk, Chuck: Damned




From Mary Lou in MD:

Candace Robb, The Cross-Legged Knight (2002).  The tomb of a knight who dies in the crusades traditionally bears a figure of a cross-legged knight. Sir Ranulf Pagnell is such a knight, patriarch of a powerful York family. The family blames Bishop Wykeham for Sir Ranulf’s death.  The bishop’s townhouse  is mysteriously burned. Archbishop of York John Thoresby wants to know if the fire was an accident or arson to disguise the murder of the woman whose body was found in the ashes.  He asks Owen Archer to investigate. With his wife apothecary wife Lucie, Owen  solves the mystery.  The medieval equivalents of forensic techniques are fascinating.  
Steve Hamilton, Winter of the Wolf Moon (2000), The Hunting Wind (2001), Ice Run (2004), A Stolen Season (2006).  These four novels continue the misadventures of Alex McKnight, a former Detroit police detective with a bullet in his chest, retired to the small town of Paradise on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His sometime private investigator partner Leon, his Ojibwa neighbor and friend Vinnie, and Jackie, Scottish owner of Paradise’s bar, the Glasgow Inn all try to prevent Alex from getting himself killed as he goes after the bad guys.  Hamilton makes the most of the cold hostility of the setting on the shores of Lake Superior.  Even Sault St Marie Police Chief Maven tries to keep him out of trouble.  Once again, the criminal plots spill over the border into Ontario. All of these novels make good reading in a blizzard or two.    
Quintin Jardine, Head Shot (2002), Fallen Gods (2003), Dead and Buried (2007).  Edinburgh Deputy Chief Constable Bob Skinner is not content to supervise investigations from his desk.  When his instincts are aroused, he gets right out into the precincts and hunts the criminals himself. The intrigues within the police bureaucracy provide the subplots, complete with colorful characters. Headshot takes Skinner to upstate New York to weasel his way into the county-state-federal investigation of the murders of his wife’s parents.  The intertwined  plots of Fallen Gods emphasize family relationships:  Skinner’s estranged brother Michael, whose very existence was unknown to Bob’s wife Sarah and his daughter Alex;  the troubled marriage of Detectives Mario McGuire and his wife  Maggie Rose; Mario’s gorgeous cousin Paula Viareggio who runs “saunas” and his Uncle Beppo, who runs the family chain of restaurants and related importing businesses and gets himself murdered gangland style; stately Chief Constable Sir James Proud, who shocks his wife be deciding to undertake an investigation himself for once before he retires.  It seems impossible that a single novel could bring all these complications to conclusion.  Dead and Buried takes Skinner to London to manage a secret inside investigation of treachery within MI-6, with more success than his employers intended.  Meanwhile, his daughter Alex deals with a stalker back in Edinburgh.  The plotting is masterful.  

Charles Fergus, Shadow Catcher (1991).  This work of fiction is illustrated with pictures of real-life historical figures, including Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill Cody, Chief Red Cloud, and Custer’s grave.  Annie Owns the Fire is a teacher who is fired from her position at a reservation school for teaching her pupils about their culture.  Ansel Fry is an Indian Bureau stenographer assigned to travel around the west by train with a 1913 expedition getting Indian leaders to swear allegiance to the stars and stripes.  An official photographer makes posed photographic records of these ceremonies.  Meanwhile, Ansel uses a clever hidden camera for candid shots of the Indians and sends them to an Eastern newspaper.  These “off-message” candid pictures are very upsetting to politicians and leaders of the expedition.  The famous Indian agent assigned to the expedition has Ansel transcribe his memoirs, including the real truth of the death of Sitting Bull.  He is joined on the train by his adoptive daughter Annie, and the inevitable romance ensues. 

December 2013

In early December we were joined by the wonderful and talented Alissa Nutting.  Our main topic of conversation was about her bestseller Tampa, but we also covered the creative writing process, internet trolls and her new project.  A truly enjoyable evening!

From our sister group:
Lawton Book Bunch                                                                   
Thursday, December 12, 2013 


Gladwell, Malcolm. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
Maclean,  Norman. Young Men and Fire
Matthiessen,  Peter and Robert Bateman. Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes
Matthiessen,  Peter.  Introduction and photography by Maurice Hornocker. Tigers in the Snow
Pollan, Michael. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Thacker, Robert.  Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives

Study Group

Jane Austen Study Group


Dallas Buyers Club


Chadwick, Douglas. Photographs by Steve Winter. “Ghost Cats.” National Geographic December 2013: 64-83.
Kessler, Mike. Photographs by Andrew Zuckerman. “Ghost Cat. “ Los Angeles Magazine” 19 November 2013. http:/www.lamag.com/features/2013/11/19/ghost-cat

From Mary Lou in MD:
Candace Robb, The King’s Bishop (1996). This is the 5th novel in the series of 14th century mysteries set in York.   John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, is at Windsor Castle with King Edward II and his court.  Amid much political and personal intrigue, Thoresby assigns his spy Owen Archer to carry messages north to several religious communities. Owen’s fellow soldier and friend Ned becomes suspected of murder and Owen and his wife the apothecary Lucie Wilton face great challenges in solving the interlocking mysteries and saving Ned from lynching. Once again Magda, the reclusive and outcast midwife brings her wisdom to bear on the puzzles.  
Steve Hamilton, A Cold Day in Paradise (1998).  Alex McKnight is a former Detroit police detective with a bullet in his chest, retired to the small town of Paradise on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. With some reluctance, he has embarked on a career as a private investigator.  McKnight is still haunted by the death of his partner in the incident that nearly killed him as well.  The murderer is in jail, but someone with his trademarks is stalking McKnight and killing people.  Everybody lies to him and Police Chief Maven of nearby Sault St. Marie suspects him in the crimes he is trying to solve. It is not hard to understand how this intricate first novel won two major awards.    
Steve Hamilton, North of Nowhere (2002).  Alex is still reluctant to act as a PI, still haunted by his partner’s death, and still being manipulated by his clients and lied to by his friends.  They have gotten themselves into a proper mess this time.  It all starts with a poker game and some unsavory characters bent on bringing lower-peninsula style development to Alex’s little home community of Paradise on the south shore of Lake Superior.  Chief Maven is still suspicious and hostile.  Things escalate to international intrigue on Lake Superior and it’s a wonder anyone comes out alive.  
Kent Haruf, Plainsong (1999).  This is a novel of character set in a small rural town in Colorado.  Tom Guthrie is a high-school teacher separated from his wife and raising two sons. Ike and Bobby are nine and ten, working a paper route that takes them into contact with many idiosyncratic town residents.  Victoria is a pregnant teenager rejected by her alcoholic mother.  Harold and Raymond McPheron are aging and fiercely independent bachelor farmers.  Somehow Haruf weaves these and other intriguing individuals into a narrative that uplifts both characters and readers in the manner of the choral chant of the title.  Read this book. 
Alice Taylor, An Irish Country Christmas (1994).  The narrator for these descriptive chapters is a ten-year-old girl.  She and her four sisters and one brother live with their parents in a cottage on a farm in rural Ireland.  It is before the days of electricity, indoor plumbing, and tractors.  The huge hearth with its peat fire dominates the kitchen.  All aspects of maintaining the cottage, the livestock, and the family, along with preparations for Christmas, depend on the labors of all the family members.  The mother is the director of these activities.  We are treated to the young girl’s vivid descriptions of dressing the geese, cleaning the chimney and hearth, gathering the holly and ivy, visiting the local store to purchase special baking supplies and presents, reading Christmas cards from relatives in America, and finally the day itself. The book is nostalgic without being overly sentimental and a delightful holiday diversion.     

November 2013

We didn't meet in November.  But our sister group did:

Lawton Book Bunch                                                                   
November 14, 2013


Adkins, Roy and Lesley. Jane Austen’s England
Bardi, Abby. The Book of Fred
Black, Allida. The First Ladies of the United States of America
Byrne, Paula. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things
Carl, JoAnna. The Chocolate Book Bandit
Conroy, Pat. South of Broad
Ferling, John. Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free
Flagg, Fannie. I Still Dream About You
Gladwell, Malcolm. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
Gordon, Neil. The Company You Keep
Hackworth, David. Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts
Hall, Parnell. Cozy
Hodes, Martha. The Sea Captain’s Wife: The True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century
Hosseini, Khaled. Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns
Kelley, Kitty. The Royals
Le Carre, John. Smiley’s People
McCullough, David. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
Monroe, Alice. Dear Life
O’Nan, Stewart. Songs of the Missing
Phillips, Richard. A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea
Prouix, Annie. Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place
Stolls, Amy. The Ninth Wife

Mary Lou November 2013:
John Grisham, The Racketeer (2012).  I stopped reading Grisham a while back because his novels were written to formula (like Michener). This very suspenseful novel still focuses on the deficiencies of the criminal justice system, but I was pleasantly surprised by its freshness.  Malcolm Bannister is a black lawyer from Virginia who gets swept up in an FBI RICO case and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.  He is, of course, innocent and we are quickly bound up in his elaborate scheme to win his freedom.   How he accomplishes this, and justice besides, is a very entertaining tale.
Clive Cussler, Valhalla Rising (2001).  The best part of this adventure tale for credulous engineers is the opening section about a flotilla of Vikings attempting to settle North America in 1035.  There are fascinating detailed descriptions of the wooden ships and the seamanship of the Norsemen.  Next we come to the South Pacific of the present with Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino involved in rescuing passengers from a stricken luxury cruise ship.  Many (too many) complicated nautical, criminal and political crises must be averted before we finally get back to the mystery of the hidden Viking ships.  
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown, Claws and Effect (2001).  Crozet, Virginia postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen can’t resist a murder mystery and if it weren’t for her clever tabby Mrs. Murphy, her curiosity would be the death of her.  This time the mystery revolves around the local hospital where according to legend the Underground Railroad once had a station. Never mind the talking cats and dogs, their comments on the foibles and shortcomings of humans are deliciously entertaining.   Brown has given us a wonderful series of cozy mysteries.  
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown, Sour Puss (2006).  This murder mystery occurs against the backdrop of the burgeoning vineyard industry of the Virginia Piedmont.  Even more talented talking animals come improbably to Harry’s rescue.
William Martin, Annapolis (1996).  This is a delightful historical saga, especially for readers familiar with Annapolis and Southern Maryland.  It traces the Stafford family beginning with life on their Patuxent River plantation in 1745 through ten generations to the 1990s.  The family tradition was one son for the land and one son for the sea.  Many of the family dramas revolve around their Annapolis stately home, easily recognized as the structure that became the elite Carvel Hall Hotel of my childhood (now restored to its original configuration). Members of the Stafford family and their rival plantation neighbors the Parrishes are active, influential, and often opposing participants in all the events of local and national history from colonial slave auctions to the Revolution to Vietnam.  The sons for the sea are instrumental in establishing the US navy and also the Naval Academy.  
Candace Robb, The Apothecary Rose (1993), The Lady Chapel (1994), The Nun’s Tale (1995).  This series of medieval murder mysteries set in 14th century York features apothecary Lucie Wilton and Owen Archer, a former captain of archers and now a spy for the Archbishop of York.    Other colorful characters including Magda, a reclusive midwife, and Bess, a gossipy inn keeper assist Lucie and Owen in solving the mysteries.  

October 2013

In October we were gearing up for Alissa Nutting's visit with our group, and so we talked a lot about her latest book and other various topics:

Tampa - Alissa Nutting
The Telling Room - Michael Paterniti
Driving Mr. Albert - Michael Paterniti
Lucky Peach Magazine
After Thermopylae - Paul Cartledge
The Phoenix and the Mirror - Avram Davidson
Musings From the Bay - James Milton Hanna
Coming Apart - Charles Murray
Mumbo Jumbo - Ishmael Reed
Tampa - Alissa Nutting
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Weaponized - Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim
Nine Inches -Tom Perrotta
Pause, Play: A Higher Consciousness Handbook -K.P. van der Tempel
Five Against Arlane -Tom Purdom
The Thing From the Lake - Eleanor Ingram
From Tom: The Ingram is the book I kind of wanted to recommend to everyone ... it's available at Project Gutenberg (all formats, Kindle, ePub etc.) and as an audiobook at Librivox.
Royal Secrets - Traci Hunter Abramson
The Eleventh Commandment - Jeffrey Archer
Guest House - Erika Marks
Lords of Discipline - Pat Conroy
Burgess Boys - Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
Amy and Isabelle - Elizabeth Strout
Abide with Me - Elizabeth Strout
Priceless How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures - Robert Wittman
The Art Forger - B. A. Shapiro
Brooklyn - Colm Toibin
Knockemstiff - Donald Ray Pollack
To Die For (movie)
The Great Degeneration - Niall Ferguson
History of Political Thought
The Boy in a Suitcase - Nina Borg
The Blue Flower - Penelope Fitzgerald
Mysteries by Elizabeth George
Bad Monkey - Carl Hiaasen
Paw Prints in the Moonlight - Denis O'Connor
Silencing Eve - Iris Johansen
Wild - Cheryl Strayed
Curious Man Robert Ripley - Neal Thompson
The Hit - David Balducci
It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis
Christian Nation - Frederic Rich
Paris - Edward Rutherfurd
Family - Ian Frazier

From our sister group:

Lawton Book Bunch                                                                   
October 10 2013


Clark, Williard. Remembering Santa Fe
Diamant, Anita. Red Tent
Floyd, Patty Lou. The Silver DeSoto
Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, Maurice Sendak and Lore Segal. The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm
Hackworth, David. Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts
Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior, La Cuna, and general discussion
Le Carre, John. Smiley’s People
Raven, Margo Theis. Angels in the Dust

AliceMunro: Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/11/books/alice-munro-mining-the-inner-lives-of-girls-and-women.html?_r=0

From Mary Lou in MD:

Terry McMillan, How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996).  I’m not sure how I overlooked this delightful novel for so many years.  It is primarily a novel of self-discovery via midlife crisis.  Stella finds herself without a job and in need of diversion and books herself a trip to Jamaica where she becomes romantically involved with a young Jamaican. One of her sisters totally disapproves of Stella’s irresponsible action, while the other cheers her on.  The dialog between the sisters is hilarious and the romance is tender.  
Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog (1999).  Kathy Nicolo is trying to keep her house from foreclosure.  Colonel Behrani is a struggling Iranian immigrant trying to restore his family’s wealth.  Sherriff Deputy Lester Burton is trying to assist Kathy.  The characters were at first sympathetic but lost my investment as bad decision after irrational bad decision spiraled them downward toward disaster.  This is a well-regarded novel and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, but the more of it I read the more depressing it became.   
Candace Robb, The Riddle of St. Leonard’s (1997).  This medieval mystery, set in 1369 in York England, is aided by two town maps and a glossary.  The town has been ravaged by a failed harvest and the plague.  Political spy Owen Archer is commissioned to investigate thefts of rare treasures from St. Leonard’s and the suspicious deaths of aged residents of the infirmary and orphanage.  Meanwhile his wife, the apothecary Lucie, is exploring possible truth behind town gossip.  Three apparently unrelated mysteries are eventually resolved in a satisfactory manner.  This novel is not quite in the class of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, but it is enjoyable enough to lead me to other novels in this series.  
Graham Greene, The Captain and the Enemy (1988).  On his twelfth birthday Victor Baxter is taken from his boarding school for the afternoon.  The stranger introduces himself as The Captain and tells Victor he won him from his father, The Devil, in a poker game.  Victor’s mother is dead, his father travels, and Victor hates his boarding school, so after a delicious luncheon and a movie, he decides to accompany The Captain to London to live with his friend Liza.  Since he hates the name Victor, he becomes Jim.  The Captain supports Jim and Liza erratically by imaginative but less than honest means.  Sometimes he takes on a disguise and disappears for months or even years, in hiding from the law.  Over the succeeding ten years, Jim learns or guesses a bit about The Captain’s activities and the nature of his relationship to Liza, but never learns his real name.  As a young man of twenty-two, he goes to meet The Captain in Panama.  Here he realizes that the real question is not The Captain’s identity, but his own.  The novel revolves around the delicate ethical complexities for which Greene is justly admired.    
Catherine Coulter, Backfire (2012).  This novel in the FBI thriller series featuring agents Dillon Savich and Lacy Sherlock, his wife, is set in San Francisco. They rush off to investigate the nearly fatal shooting of a federal judge (also a friend) and the disappearance of the federal prosecutor in the judge’s current trial.  Their efforts are aided by the judge’s bodyguard U.S. Marshall Eve Barbieri and FBI agent Harry Christoff.  Inter-service rivalry and the battle of the sexes provide both humor and romance.  The plot holds plenty of surprises despite this trite and thoroughly predictable subplot.    

September 2013

From Mary Lou in MD:

Patrick O’Brian, Desolation Island (1978).  This British naval historical adventure novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars, after the great battle of Waterloo.  Captain Jack Aubrey is commissioned by the Admiralty to sail the newly refurbished Leopard to Australia to bring home Governor Bligh, formerly captain of the Bounty.  The novel is part of a series featuring Captain Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin, a surgeon and a dedicated naturalist.  Challenges of the voyage include a deadly fever, a chase and battle with a man-of-war, a disabled ship, uncharted Antarctic waters, and a beautiful female spy.  There is enough description of seamanship and rigging to satisfy the saltiest devotee with the added bonus of Stephen’s descriptions of whales, seabirds, and strange vegetation.  
Maeve Binchy, The Return Journey (1998).  The short stories in this volume are not united around a single location or overlapping characters.  The title story concerns a daughter’s journey to Ireland to the village where her mother grew up.  It is in the form of letters between the two women, revealing a good bit of tension and misunderstanding that is tidily resolved. All of the stories have Binchy’s gift for revealing through brief dialog more about the characters than they realize about themselves.  
Clyde Edgerton, The Floatplane Notebooks (1988).  The Copeland family lives in western North Carolina.  Every summer the entire family gathers to clean the family graveyard.  Every winter they gather at Uncle Hawk’s in Florida for bird hunting.  The narrative begins in the 1950s and continues through the period of the Vietnam War in the 1970s. The story also reflects back over five generations to the first Copelands to be buried in the family graveyard.  It is reputed to be haunted and the novel includes a few conversations among the ghosts.  It also includes some hilarious incidents from the boyhood of cousins Mark and Meredith. Many involve Papa Copeland’s efforts to fly the floatplane he has been building in the barn for decades.  
Janet Evanovich, Thanksgiving (1988).  This is one of twelve short romantic novels Evanovich wrote before her mystery series.  She dubs them “red-hot screwball comedies” and this one is indeed funny.  It is set in Williamsburg, Virginia and features extravagantly red-haired Megan Murphy and the new pediatrician, Patrick Hunter.  They are introduced by Pat’s pet rabbit, who eats the hem out of Megan’s ankle-length wool skirt, part of her Historic Williamsburg costume for her weekend job.  Both of them are marriage-averse, but eventually become a couple as they work their way through a series of comic misadventures.  The humor is every bit as delightful and zany as Evanovich’s One-Two-Three series.  
James Patterson, When the Wind Blows (1998).  Dr. Frannie O’Neill is a veterinary in Bear Bluff, Colorado, on the edge of the Front Range.  Kit Harrison is an FBI agent who is supposed to be on Nantucket recovering from PTSD.  Instead he has rented Frannie’s cabin in Bear Bluff, ostensibly to hunt and fish but actually to continue, against orders, his investigation of the murders of several doctors who specialize in genetics, possibly including Frannie’s husband.  He suspects there is a secret laboratory somewhere nearby where illegal medical and genetic research is being pursued.  The reality is more diabolical than he anticipates.  

Thank you and see you in February!

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