June 26, 2016

June 2016

"No two persons ever read the same book." - Edmund Wilson

Here's what we've been reading lately:

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
When We Were Sisters - Emilie Richards
Future Crimes - Marc Goodman
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew - Margaret Sidney
The Gathering Storm - Winston Churchill
The Quartet - Joseph Ellis
Almost French - Sarah Turnbull
God is Not Great - Christopher Hitchens
The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee
Bad Dog: A Love Story - Martin Kihn
Beach Town - Mary Kay Andrews
The Weekenders - Mary Kay Andrews
Speakers of the Dead - J. Aaron Sanders
Mystery of the Lost Cezanne - M. L. Longworth
Winemaker Detective series by Jean-Pierre Alaux
Wine and War - Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup
God Bless John Wayne - Kinky Friedman

From our sister group in OK:


Baldacci, David. The Guilty; Memory Man

Barclay, Linwood. No Time for Goodbye

Bell-Scott, Patricia. The Firebrand and the First Lady

Coben, Harlan. The Stranger

Cole, Henry. Brambleheart

Cooper, Anderson and Gloria Vanderbilt. The Rainbow Comes and Goes

Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See

Edgarian, Carol. Rise the Euphrates

Erdrich, Louise. The Round House

Goldsworthy, Andy and David Craig. Arch

Hot Dudes Reading Blog. Hot Dudes Reading

Lackberg, Camilla. Hidden Child; Lost Boy; The Stonecutter

L’Amour, Louis. Sackett’s Land; To the Far Blue Mountains

Le Carre, John. Night Manager

Lee, Hermione. Willa Cather: A Life Saved Up

Little Thunder, Julie Pearson. Doris Littrell: A Life Made with Artists

Michener, James. The World Is My Home

Penman, Sharon Kay. Falls the Shadow

Penny, Louise. Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder

Poling-Kempes, Leslie. Ladies of the Canyon: A League of Extraordinary Women and Adventures in the American Southwest

Richardson, Wyman. The House on Nauset Marsh

Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

Sides, Hampton. In the Kingdom of Ice

Skiff, Jennifer. Divinity of Dogs

Simpson, Helen. The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea

Smith, Tom Robb. Secret Speech (Child 44 Trilogy)

Walls, Jeannette. Silver Star


McAdams, Dan P. “The Mind of Donald Trump.” The Atlantic, June 2016, pg. 76+

From Mary Lou in MD:

Rosemary Sullivan, Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (2015). This is a carefully researched and well written biography of a very complex personage who definitely captivates the reader. The title, though inevitable, is rather ironic, since Svetlana struggled her entire live to be viewed as herself, not her father’s daughter. Svetlana was born in 1926 and spent her childhood in the Kremlin. Her mother died when she was 10 and she didn’t realize the extent of her father’s cruelties until he died when she was in her 20s. She had a very difficult life, marrying four time and having three children. When she was 40 years old, she defected to the USA but long term happiness proved elusive. Unfortunately she inherited a bit of her father’s volatile temper and her outbursts alienated a number of friends over the years. The notion of her paranoia probably was exaggerated. After all, she was hounded by the press, both the KGB and the CIA exploited her as much as they could, and once in the West her publishers and lawyers did not do particularly well by her. At age 85 she died penniless as Mrs. Lana Peters in rural Wisconsin. This is a thoroughly fascinating book, for both the character and the history.

J. Courtney Sullivan, Maine (2011). The Kellehers are a Boston Irish Catholic family with an unusual talent for saying vicious things to one another. The matriarch is Alice, and when we meet her in chapter one she is well into her 80s. When she and her husband Daniel were young and childless, he won a 3-acre costal property in Maine in a poker game. They built a cottage there and over the years their children and grandchildren spent many boisterous summers there. Their son Patrick is a prosperous businessman married to Ann Marie, a perfectionist who dedicates herself to the needs of her family, whether they want her to or not. She and Patrick built a modern house for his parents on the property and Ann Marie has worked out a schedule for her siblings and their families to spend a summer month in the cottage. Alice’s oldest child Kathleen is assigned to June, Ann Marie and Pat have July, and Alice’s other daughter Clare and her family are assigned to August. In chapter two we meet Kathleen’s daughter Maggie, a New York freelance writer who is planning to spend the first two weeks on June in Maine. In chapter three we meet Kathleen, divorced and living as far away from her hard drinking family as she can get. She left her husband when her children were small, joined AA, and eventually met aging hippie Arlo and moved to Sonoma Valley with him to run a worm farm. The chapters of this novel alternate among the four women, slinging acrimony at one another and revealing a great deal of family history as they consider the conflicts and challenges of the present. Yes, this is a beach book and thoroughly entertaining.

Christopher Isherwood, The Last of Mr. Norris (1935); Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Isherwood is a gay British novelist who spent much of the early 1930s in sexually liberal Berlin, at the time when Hitler was on the rise and Nazis and Communists were in competition. After returning to England he wrote and published these two novels, later collected as The Berlin Stories (New Directions, 1963). In The Last of Mr. Norris, the narrator William Bradshaw meets the title character, a very nervous older man, on the train returning to Berlin. For the rest of the novel, covering a period of many months, Mr. Norris flatters and manipulates the younger man into assisting him in various matters while dodging all of Bradshaw’s inquiries as to the nature of his difficulties. While the conversations and situations imply at a minimum, sexual attractions among the male characters, nothing is explicit. Rather, this motif is consistent with the general murkiness of the atmosphere of Berlin at this time. Eventually Bradshaw pieces the puzzle together. Bradshaw’s landlady Frl. Schroeder is a colorful comic character who appears also in Berlin Stories. Here the author narrates in his own name and she calls him, fondly, Herr Issyvoo. Again the

period is the early thirties, the Nazi’s are on the rise, and Berlin is particularly decadent among European cities. There is a notable lack of plot in these stories, each of which is titled after one of the author’s acquaintances. One of these, Sally Bowles, a thoroughly amoral American girl who markets her sexual favors while indulging in the city’s night life, is later portrayed by Liza Minelli in the musical Cabaret. With the war threat engulfing Europe, Isherwood traveled with his friend W.H. Auden to the United States in 1939. Isherwood became a U.S. Citizen in 1946 and lived in California where he died in 1986 at the age of 81.

Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery (1989, 2012). This volume of short, well-illustrated chapters traces the successes of beautiful American heiresses in captivating the society of Queen Victoria’s England, including even her son “Bertie,” Prince of Wales. It is said to have influenced Julian Fellowes in the creation of Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham. There are many entertaining stories about famous American millionaires, their socially ambitious wives, and beautiful, fashionable daughters.

Colleen McCullough, Bittersweet (2013). This is another large family saga by the author of The Thorn Birds. It is set in the Shire and City of Corunda, New South Wales, Australia in the 1920s and 1930s. Church of England Reverend Thomas Latimer has two sets of twin daughters. The mother of Edda and Grace died soon after their birth. A little over two years later, their stepmother Maude gave birth to Tufts and Kitty. All the girls are attractive, but Maude sees beauty only in Kitty. The girls are united in protecting Kitty from the damages wrought by Maude’s doting. As the novel opens, the sisters are about to escape home and Maude by embarking on nurses training at Corunda Base Hospital. Challenges and conflicts involve practices of medical institutions of the period, Tory vs. Labor politics, and the economic depression following the economic crash of 1929. The personalities of the four girls are quite different and they each are molded by their experiences as the novel progresses. In general, their suitors are unworthy of them.

Helen Simonson, The Summer Before the War (2016). In June 1914 Beatrice Nash finds it necessary to support herself after her father’s death and she finds a position as a Latin teacher in the town of Rye, East Sussex. Although the town worthies are reluctant to engage a woman Latin teacher, Beatrice’s candidacy is supported by Mrs. Agatha Kent, whose husband John has a position of some importance in the Foreign Office. They have two nephews, surgeon-in-training Hugh aspiring poet Daniel, for whom Rye is a second home. When the first Belgian refugees arrive in Rye, the town worthies exhibit great self-importance in their efforts to house and assist the refugees without lowering or inconveniencing themselves. Town fetes and parades cause great excitement, but for the Kents, Beatrice, and the cousins the war becomes a terrible reality. The strong-minded Beatrice is a particularly engaging character as she struggles against the prejudices and restrictions facing a single woman without male protection.

May 2016

With the help of modern technology, we were able to chat with author Eve Sandstrom (JoAnna Carl) and enjoy her lovely company.  We hope one day to be able to visit with her live and in person.  Thank you, Eve!

We also talked about the books we've ready lately:

The Aviator's Wife - Melanie Benjamin
What You Really Need to Know for the Second Half of Life - Julieanne Steinbacher
The Chocolate Moose Motive - JoAnna Carl
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon
The Prodigy's Cousin - Joanne Ruthsatz
The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton
All the Stars in Heaven - Adriana Trigiani
The Japanese Lover - Isabel Allende
Fat Girl Walking - Brittany Gibbons
Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly
The Sword of Damascus - Richard Blake
The Core of the Sun - Johanna Sinisalo
I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson
Morning Star - Pierce Brown
To Live Forever - Jack Vance

From our sister group in OK:


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus

Chevalier, Tracy. At the Edge of the Orchard

Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See

Le Carre, John. Night Manager

Michener. James A. The World Is My Home

Montgomery, Sy. The Soul of an Octopus

Morton, Frederic. Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914

Murray, Pauli. Song in a Weary Throat

Poling-Kempes, Leslie. Ladies of the Canyon: A League of Extraordinary Women and Adventures in the American Southwest

Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

Scott, Paul. Staying On

Smith, Lane. It’s a Book

Smith, Tom Robb. Secret Speech (Child 44 Trilogy)

Social Register Association. Social Register of Philadelphia 1947

Urquhart, Brian. Ralph Bunch: An American Life

Walker, Alexander. Audrey: Her Real Story


Miller, Jennifer. “Men Have Book Clubs, Too.” New York Times. May4, 2016.

Television & Videos

Le Carre, John. Night Manager

Masterpiece: Mr. Selfridge

Scott, Paul. Raj Quartet


From Mary Lou in MD:

Laurie Fabiano, Elizabeth Street: A Novel Based on True Events (2006, 2010). The central characters in this novel are based on the author’s grandmother and great grandmother. The novel or fictionalized biography begins in the small island fishing town of Scilla, Calabria, Italy, 1890 – 1901. Despite austere living conditions, Giovanna Costa enjoys a happy childhood and marries her childhood sweetheart Nunzio. The declining economy leads Nunzio to seek a new life with his cousin in New York, leaving his wife behind. Things do not go well. Eventually Giovanna also journeys to New York. Life there is also difficult but Giovanna finds work assisting a midwife. Elizabeth Street is the location where she raises her family. The description of immigrant life begins with the Ellis Island experience and progress through language and cultural difficulties and labor exploitation. Familiar historical events also influence the lives of the characters. The family history is traced through the 1970s and 1980s, but the majority of the story occurs during the first two decades of the 20th century. The story is engrossing and the characters are especially vivid.

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847, 1848, Norton Critical Edition 1971). The novel was originally published under the pseudonym Currier Bell. It was quite successful, going through three editions in Charlotte’s lifetime. Contemporary reviews were favorable, although some found the melodrama and plot coincidences excessive. Yes, it is melodramatic and yes, the coincidences are excessive. The characters are roundly drawn, however, and Jane’s first person narrative sustains the suspense over her situational difficulties and ethical crises. I re-read the novel for a class on the Brontes and found it every bit as good as I remembered.

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847, 1850, Norton Critical Edition 1963). The novel was originally published under the pseudonym Acton Bell and the 1850 edition was edited by Charlotte, since Emily had died by that time. Contemporary reviewers found Jane Eyre melodramatic? Her sister’s novel is decidedly gothic. I found it a faster read than Jane Eyre, which may be an indication of my inferior taste in novels. Where Jane firmly governs her emotions with reason and ethical principles, Catherine Earnshaw has no such restraint. As for Heathcliff, he is beyond Byronic and positively demonic. The love between the two is intense, but they bring out the worst in each other. The dual levels of narration, first the Thrushcross Grange tenant Lockwood and then the housekeeper Nelly Dean, take us from the opening chapter in 1801 back some 30 years into the histories of the Linton family (The Grange) and the Earnshaws (Wuthering Heights) before the final resolution of the family conflicts. Both narrators have their misconceptions and Bronte is very skillful at revealing the distortions to us. I am hard pressed to declare which Bronte sister has written the better novel.

Margaret Coel, Eye of the Wolf (2005). In 1874 in the area that later became the Wind River Reservation, a group of Shoshone led Captain Bates’s US cavalry unit onto Arapaho tribal grounds and almost everyone there was massacred. Now Father John O’Malley receives a threatening anonymous message about revenge against old enemies and telling him to go to the Bates battlefield. There he discovers three dead Shoshone positioned to mimic warriors fallen in the battle. His friend Vickie Holden, Arapaho attorney, is representing the main suspect in the deaths. Someone is attempting to disrupt the peace that has endured for decades between the Arapaho and Shoshone on the Reservation. Father John and Vickie must solve the murder mystery to restore harmony. Coel has produced another master blend of history and suspense.

April 2016

In honor of National Poetry Month, special guest Dave Lucas joined us for an evening of poetry and laughter.  We thank him for sharing his writing and insights!

We also talked about the latest books we've read:

After the First Death - Lawrence Block
Disasters of Ohio's Lake Erie Islands - Wendy Koile
Deep Shaker - Les Roberts
The Chocolate Falcon Fraud - JoAnna Carl
Ancillary Mercy - Ann Leckie
Cockpit Confidential - Patrick Smith
When You are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris
The Martian - Andy Weir
The Finest Hours - Michael Tougias
The Nightmare - Lars Kepler
The Great Bridge - David McCullough
The Girl in the Ice - Robert Bryndza
The 6:41 to Paris - Jean-Phillippe Blondel
Dark Corners - Ruth Rendell
Doc: A Novel - Mary Doria Russell
Miller's Valley - Anna Quindlen
Go Tell it on the Mountain - James Baldwin
A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler
The Beat Goes On - Ian Rankin
The Steal Kiss - Jeffery Deaver
Confucius and the World He Created - Michael Schuman
Apple Turnover Murder - Joanne Fluke
Annie Dillard
1916 Easter Rising
Sonny's Blues
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden - Jonas Jonasson
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson
My Life in France - Julia Child
Ruhlman's Twenty - Michael Ruhlman
Market Garden Brewery's Brews and Prose

From our sister group in OK:


Baldacci, David. The Sixth Man
Chabon, Michael. Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Goldsworthy, Andy. Arch
Hyland, William. George Gershwin
Indridason, Arnaldur. Outrage
Kaufman, Sarah. The Art of Grace
Macmillan, Gilley. What She Knew
Nimura, Janice P. Daughters of the Samuri
Penny, Louise. Discussion of books and of Inspector Gamache
Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt
Scakzi, John. Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future
See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Sime, Ruth Lewis. Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics
Simenon, Georges. Books in general and Inspector Maigret
Smith, Tom Bob. The Secret Speech (Child 44 Trilogy)


Eleanor Roosevelt


At our February meeting, I mentioned the kitchen scene from Bandits with Cate Blanchett in relation to the book The Art of Grace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC6rilb9RN0


Call the Midwife
Father Brown

Official Name of our Book Group

Any Book Book Bunch

From Mary Lou in MD:

Jane Austen, Emma (1816; Lionel Trilling, editor, Riverside 1957). Austen said Emma was “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” I agree more with the author than the critics who rave about this novel. Emma is snobbish, insensitive, deluded, and egotistical and most of the time I wanted to smack her. Her character only shows favorably in contrast to the even more snobbish, insensitive, deluded and egotistical Mrs. Elton. Where Emma manipulates young and beautiful Harriet Smith into refusing a loving match in hopes of one with more social standing, Mrs. Elton positively bullies the refined but penniless Jane Fairfax into accepting a governess position she does not want. Austen’s irony and narrative skill flourishes in her use of dialogue to reveal the misconceptions of Emma, Mrs. Elton, and other characters. Many of the characters speak at cross-purposes to highly comic and sometimes disastrous effect. Eventually, Emma recognizes and acknowledges her mistakes and the harm she has done to others. Alas, unlike more sympathetic readers, I remain unconvinced that Emma is a reformed character by the end of the novel. I am confident that continuation of her story would have made me want to smack her again.

Anne Tyler, If Morning Ever Comes (1964). At the age of 25, Ben Joe Hawkes left his home in Sandhill, North Carolina, to start law school at Columbia. Three months later, dissatisfied with the scanty news from home contained in his sister Jennifer’s letters and worried by the discovery that his older sister Joanne has left her husband in Kansas and come home with her baby, he takes the overnight train home. His family is a collection of improbable characters including five sisters, his grandmother, and his widowed mother. No one knows what he is doing home, not even Ben Joe. Nobody understands anything about anybody else and yet they all love one another. There us a great deal of comedy, some of it resulting from the characters’ blindness to their own motivations and much of it provided by the outlandish statements and actions of Gram. In the course of Ben Joe’s visit, we learn the bizarre family history and the things he has done in largely futile attempts to shield his relatives from pain. Already in this early novel Tyler is skillful in portraying family dynamics.

Regina O’Melveny, The Book of Madness and Cures (2012). Gabriella Mondini is the daughter of a prominent Venice doctor in the 16th century and a medical practitioner in her own right. Her father disappears and she is no longer permitted to treat patients. Taking his letters and her own medical manuscript and supplies, she sets off with her maid Olmina and Olmina’s husband Lorenzo in search of her father. They journey through northern Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France and Scotland, staying in places her father had mentioned in his letters. Olmina and Lorenzo remain reluctant but faithful companions. The news of Dr. Mondini is increasingly discouraging. Hardships increase and resources diminish, but Gabriella continues her quest. Illustrative maps are provided of this journey through Renaissance Europe.