May 31, 2015

May 2015

Many thanks to poet Dave Lucas for spending time with us!  Very appreciative to be able to share Weather with him both in the literary sense and meteorological.  Thunderstorms rolled in from the lake while we listened to poetry.

Here's what else we discussed:

The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan
The Greek Myths - Robin Waterfield
7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey
Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
On Leadship - John Gardner
Drunk Tank Pink - Adam Alter
Fault in Our Stars - John Green
An Abundance of Katherines - John Green
Paper Towns - John Green
The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins  (boo!)
Books by Kent Haruf: Benediction, Plainsong, Eventide
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford
War and Peace - Tolstoy
Ten Thousand Saints - Eleanor Henderson
The New Testament - Jericho Brown
Weather (VQR Poetry Series) - Dave Lucas

From our sister group in OK:

Lawton Book Bunch
Thursday, May 8, 2015
The next meeting will be: June 11, 2015


Fitzgerald, Penelope. The Book Shop
King, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes; The Stand
Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Oller, John. American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague …
Rappaport, Helen. The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra


Water Diviner

From June Rain reports on Netflix:

* Daimian Lewis (Henry VIII of Wolf Hall) headed the cast in 3 seasons of Life, a series based on the premise that a cop was erroneously convicted and served 12 years of a life term before he was freed—only to return to his job. Very interesting & well done and not a bad actor in the bunch. Watched all episodes
* Midway through 15 seasons of Midsomer Murders; almost completed season 6 of Inspector Morse; all 6 seasons of George Gently. Surprised there’s anyone alive in the U.K. who isn’t in prison or a member of the police force. I’ve seen every conceivable means of offing someone under the Union Jack. I hope they keep making and exporting them.
* 42 episodes of The Killing. Wish there had been more. Murder and mayhem done in the U.S.
* TED talks – Mind-bending, hilarious, enlightening, inspiring – never a waste of time.

From Mary Lou in MD:

Booknotes Laura May 2015

Jane Hamilton, The Book of Ruth (1988). Ruth is not very bright, but she is extremely perceptive. As she narrates the story of her life, she describes her reality with vivid, earthy and surprising similes. Pick a page, any page: “she was so happy . ., she felt like a spring fed cow pond.” Ruth’s mother May is a bitter and verbally abusive woman. She dotes on her math genius son Matt and never misses an opportunity to tell Ruth how stupid she is. Still, Ruth understands a great deal about her family, her neighbors, the minister, and the social dynamic of her tiny town of Honey Creek in northwest Illinois. There are few bright spots in Ruth’s young life – an elderly neighbor with whom she listens to recorded Dickens and Austin novels and her Aunt Sid in St. Louis. There is no doubt that things will end badly, but Ruth’s point of view remains fascinating throughout all the turmoil and tragedy.

Claude Izner, Murder on the Eiffel Tower (2003; English translation 2007). The brand new Eiffel Tower is the centerpiece of the 1889 World Exposition. Much of the action of this murder mystery takes place in and around the tower at the Exposition. The amateur detective and narrator Victor Legris runs a bookstore with his foster father, who happens to be Japanese. A couple of Russians and a couple Americans also figure in the tale. The setting and the historical milieu should have made this novel more engrossing than it was for me. I found Victor comical and tiresome as he chased one improbable theory after another in his attempts to identify the murderer. Maybe the novel lost a lot in translation.

Deborah Crombie, Leave the Grave Green (1995); And Justice There Is None (2002); No Mark upon Her (2011). New Scotland Yard’s Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant (later Inspector) Gemma James need their combined talents to solve the brutal and puzzling homicides that confront them in these novels. The murders are properly mysterious, the plots are cleverly suspenseful, and the subplots of bureaucratic politics and an emerging love affair weave effectively through the tales.

Jane Sanderson, Netherwood (2011). This is the first in a series of novels set in a Yorkshire coal mining town in the early 1900s. The poverty of the mining family of Eve and Arthur Williams contrasts starkly with the opulence of the huge estate of Teddy Hoyland, Earl of Netherwood. The novel begins with the eviction of striking miners from their company-provided cottages in nearby Grangely, where Eve grew up. Teddy takes pride in the fact that his three mines are much better managed and free from labor troubles. Still, they are not as safe as they could be and Arthur’s friend Amos Syles is trying to organize the men. The earl’s wife Clarissa is planning a spectacular celebration of son Toby’s 21st birthday. Toby is frivolous and self-indulgent, in great contrast to his sister Henrietta, who has a very unladylike interest in the business of the mines and the estate. The plots involving the activities of the two families are sufficient to hold the reader’s interest, but the strength of this novel is in the vitality of the characters.

Jane Sanderson, Ravenscliffe (2012). This novel carries forward with the characters from Netherwood and introduces a few new ones. Eve’s friend and housemate Anna Rabinovitz, widow of a Russian Jewish miner from Grangely, encourages Anna to lease a spacious house on the common – Ravenscliffe. The family moves there and Anna reveals her talents as a decorator. The baking business has moved from Eve’s kitchen to the old flour mill, generously rehabbed and outfitted by Teddy Hoyland. Eve, widowed in the first novel, now has a suitor, master gardener for the Netherwood estate, Daniel MacLeod. Eve’s son Seth is a troubled and troublesome teenager, breaking his mother’s heart with his determination to follow his father’s path in the coal mines. Amos Sykes becomes a Labor candidate for parliament and falls in love with Anna. Up at Netherwood Hall, Toby continues his irresponsible ways and annoys his mother by falling in love with a convention-flaunting American. Henrietta continues to push her father toward safety improvements at the mines and eventually becomes interested in the woman’s suffrage movement. The events of the plot provide the impetus for a satisfying degree of character development. Sanderson sustains the high standard she established in her first novel.

Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells (2007). In the small town of Bascom, North Carolina, the members of the Waverley family are viewed with some trepidation because of their magical powers. The apple tree in their back garden shows the future of a person who eats its fruit, so Claire Waverley buries them. She is a very gifted caterer who uses the flowers and herbs of her garden for her specialties. She also can devise recipes that will cause a particular emotional reaction in the persons who eat them. Her elderly cousin Evanelle has a strange compulsion to give things to people. Soon the person will need the peculiar item. Evanelle never knows why. Understandably, any town resident who receives a gift from Evanelle is a bit apprehensive. The plot is a basic romance with a gently humorous magical twist. This is a very Southern novel and delightful reading. 


May 23, 2015

April 2015

"April hath put a spirit of youth in everything."
William Shakespeare

Here's what we discussed:

The Alphabet House - Jussi Adler-Olsen
Swansong 1945 - Walter Kempowski
Family - Ian Frazier
My Travels in Siberia - Ian Frazier
The Most Dangerous Book - Kevin Birmingham
A History of Byzantium - Timothy Gregory
The Janus Stone - Elly Griffiths
The Story Hour - Thrity Umrigar
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie
Death of Yesterday - M.C. Beaton
When Books Went to War - Molly Guptill Manning
Death of a Policeman - M.C. Beaton
The Death of Caesar - Barry Strauss
Invisible City - Julia Dahl
The Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art - Kurt Behrendt
The Blues, a Visual History - Mike Evans
The Book of Strange New Things - Michel Faber The Armed Services EditionsGreek sculpture of Buddha
The Lovesong of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce
The Undertaker's Daughter - Kate Mayfield
The Lady and the Unicorn - Tracy Chevalier
The Phantom of Fifth Avenue - Meryl Gordon
Empty Mansions - Bill Dedman
Etta and Otto and Russel and James - Emma Hooper
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabon
Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler
See Jane Run - Joy Fielding
Someone is Watching - Joy Fielding
Let's Just Say it Wasn't Pretty - Diane Keaton
Pictures at a Revolution - Mark Harris
1967 Best Movies:  Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Heat of the Night
Thoughts on Design - Paul Rand
The Laughing Monsters - Denis Johnson
Invisible City - Ken Schles
Vertigo 42 - Martha Grimes
The Late Scholar - Jill Paton Walsh
A Walk Among the Tombstones - Lawrence Block
Last to Know - Elizabeth Adler
Girl Next Door - Ruth Rendell
Down Don't Bother Me - Jason Miller
War and Peace - Tolstoy
The Last Station movie

From our sister group in OK:

Lawton Book Bunch
Thursday, April 9, 2015, 2015
The next meeting will be: May 8, 2015


Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers (June Rain)
Brown, Daniel James. The Boys in the Boat
Fitzgerald, Penelope. Beginning of Spring; The Book Shop; Human Voices; Offshore
Henderson, Caroline. Letters from the Dust Bowl
Jost, Lora and Loewenstein, Dave. Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide
Lee, Hermione. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (June Rain)
I Love You to Death
My Old Lady
Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Wallender - series in both English and Swedish


Emperor of All Maladies
Inside the Court of Henry VIII
Twice Born
Wolf Hall

From Mary Lou in MD:

Booknotes Laura March 2015
Jude Deveraux, Lavender Morning (2009), Days of Gold (2009), Scarlet Nights (2010), The Scent of Jasmine (2010), Heart Wishes (2011). This series is set in the fictitious town of Edilean, near Williamsburg Virginia, named for the Scottish woman who helped found the town in the 18th century. I read them in the order written, but it might have been better to read them according to the chronology of the family saga. The cast of characters in each novel is large, varied, and well-drawn.

* In Lavender Morning Jocelyn Minton is astonished to inherit all the possessions of her elderly neighbor Edilean Harcourt, who nourished her spirit through a difficult childhood in Boca Raton. The inheritance consists principally of Edilean Manor, in a town Jocelyn has never heard of. Miss Edi’s final letter to Jocelyn instructs her to move there, make the acquaintance of the two female tenants in their respective wings of the house, and let herself be courted by the town attorney, Ramsey McDowell. The letter also hints at Edilean mysteries going back several generations. It is only the beginning of the surprises awaiting Jocelyn.

* Days of Gold is set in the 1760s and 1770s in Scotland and Virginia and features Edilean’s founders, Edilean Talbot and Angus McTern, who according to legend immigrated there with a wagon load of stolen gold. Their escape to the New World from Edilean’s avaricious and unscrupulous Scottish relatives and suitors requires all their ingenuity.

* Scarlet Nights is the story of Sara Shaw, tenant of one of the wings of Edilean Manor who is planning her wedding to a charming newcomer, Greg Anders. Mike Newton, an FBI agent, is the brother of the tenant of the other wing. He has never been to Edilean, but he is sent there undercover to investigate and bring about the arrest of an elusive and deadly team of criminals, a mother and her son, alias Greg.

* Scent of Jasmine is set in 1799 in Charleston, SC, where Cay Edilean Harcourt has gone to visit her godfather. He is bedridden with a broken leg and asks her to deliver a packed horse to an old friend’s son. This son turns out to be Scotsman Alex McDowell, escaped from custody after false accusations of murder. Things do not go as planned and Cay and Alex are driven into the Everglades as they attempt to escape pursuit.

* Heartwishes centers around the legend of the Heartwishes Stone, reputed to grant the wishes of anyone named Frazier. History graduate student Gemma Ranford learns of the legend when she takes on the job of cataloging the family documents of one of Edilean’s founding families. The eldest Frazier son Colin is even more fascinating than the papers Gemma is deciphering.

All of these romantic novels are intricately plotted and suspenseful and quite entertaining.

Marcia Talley, Sing It to Her Bones (1999). This is the first novel in a mystery series featuring Hannah Ives. She lives in Annapolis where her husband Paul teaches math at the Naval Academy. Hannah has just been “reorganized” out of her 20-year paralegal and administrative position with a K Street law firm and she is in a very angry mood. She is recovering from a mastectomy and the subsequent chemotherapy and Paul’s sister persuades her to go spend a few weeks waiting for her hair to grow out in a family cottage in a small fishing town in Southern Maryland. Instead of peace and quiet, she finds the body of a girl who disappeared from town 8 years before. Her sleuthing nearly gets her killed, of course, before she solves the mystery. Other novels in this series include Unbreathed Memories (2000), This Enemy Town (2005), Through the Darkness (2006), All Things Undying (2010) and The Last Refuge (2012). The stages of Hannah’s recovery from breast cancer and her interactions with other survivors are traced throughout these novels. Her propensity for going in harm’s way strains credulity but the settings, in and around Annapolis, are very entertaining for a reader who knows the area. The best use of this locale is in The Last Refuge, where Hannah has joined the cast of Patriot House, a TV reality show seeking to replicate life in a prominent town mansion in 1774. The portrayal of upper-class colonial life is fascinating and the tensions among cast members are quite humorous.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (2013). This sprawling 5-part novel about the fictitious Whittaker family illustrates the scientific explorations and theories of the 18th and 19th centuries and the religious uncertainties accompanying them. Henry Whittaker’s father is employed at London’s Kew Gardens, “a botanical Noah’s Ark,” and Henry learns a great deal about the value and propagation of rare plants. Kew’s director sends young Henry as a botanical collector on Captain Cook’s 1776 voyage to the Pacific. Thereafter, Henry makes his fortune in the South American quinine trade. He marries and fathers a daughter, Alma, who becomes a gifted botanist. Part One focuses on Henry, the roguish adventurist, but the remainder of the novel tells the story of the Alma’s life-long studies of the natural world and her quest to understand the nature of life, “the signature of all things.” Alma is an intricate and fascinating character. She is no beauty and she is very practical, orderly and intelligent. This is no recipe for a woman’s success in love in the 19th century, but eventually, nevertheless, she finds it. Meanwhile, through years of detailed, meticulous, observation and study, she becomes an international authority on mosses. When through this endeavor she does indeed discover “the signature of all things,” we gradually recognize that she has grasped the most cataclysmic concept of 19th century thought. This novel is an outstanding imagination of 19th century intellectual history.

John Sherwood, Flowers of Evil (1987); A Bouquet of Thorns (1989). These are two novels in a series of cozy British mysteries with a horticultural theme. Celia Grant, a petite widow, runs a premier nursery in Sussex. She is regularly commissioned for landscaping jobs for the would-be gentry. In Flowers of Evil, a prominent entrepreneur wants the neglected garden of his estate returned to perfection for a pretentious party. He has attracted unwanted attention by his apparently demented or drunken behavior at public events. Tabloids are buzzing and stock prices are falling. Celia wonders if someone in the family is using a plant based poison in an attempt to drive down prices and gain control. The members of the family are equally nasty and suspicious. The Medieval language of flowers weaves delightfully through the plot of A Bouquet of Thorns.