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My Reviews

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
 
Beautiful, Insightful, Romantic
Lively discussion with interesting and sympathetic characters

Our group rated it an average of 7, which for our group means "recommend to others". We also read "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" as a group and really love Murakami's (and his translator's) style. We really enjoyed discussing the connection between all the music and literature that is integral to the book. We wish we'd made a CD of it to listen to during the discussion.

There are many strong female characters, (male author and narrator). Be prepared for discussion of several sexual scenes, suicides, and mental illness.

 
Intense book that will give you an interesting perspective on the history of Bosnia

Our group rated this an overall 7.4 out of 10 - individual scores ranged from 6.5 to 8.5. Many heart-wrenching moments, not for those who can't handle violence. Fascinating portrayals of leaders, religious figures, and everyday townspeople. Vivid, descriptive writing.

The Love Wife by Gish Jen
 
OK to read on own but not worthy of book club discussion

Huge disparity in group ratings: overall 5.6, range from 3 to 7.5. Reads a little like an after school special, except for the good insights on American/Chinese culture.

 
Confusing, Adventurous, Slow
So much fun to read and discuss on many levels

We found that people with some knowledge of the Bible and Jewish culture appreciated this book a bit more, as there is a great deal of humor if you "get it". So some of us laughed out loud, some read it as a straight detective story (it's Dashiell Hammett style, very clever).

The fun comes in figuring out what "really" happened in history and what is fictionalized. Chabon creates a realistic portrayal of the culture that probably would have arisen had Jews actually been relocated to Alaska.

The end of the book feels rushed, some of the Messianic story line felt forced to some of our group members.

Overall an enjoyable book and GREAT discussion! Very close on ratings, it was 7.7 overall and scores only ranged between 7.5 and 8.5.

 
Boring, Difficult, Pointless
Some loved it, some didn't - helps if you know French and food

Big range in scores, from 6 up to 9 with an average of 7.4. I personally laughed out loud -- a lot -- but it just didn't do much for other group members.

Read it carefully, there are lots of early clues that seem like random details but are key to figuring out what's really going on in this story/narrative.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
 
Dark, Dramatic, Gloomy
Quite depressing but interesting

Scores ranged from 6.5 to 8.5. McCarthy's style is stark, to say the least. Less violent than some of his others, but also less rich in character development because of the narration style.

But lots to discuss, especially many "what would you do" situations.

Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
 
Beautiful language but story didn't appeal to everyone

We rated this a 6.9 out of 10, normally just shy of a "recommend" rating overall, but scores only ranged between 6 and 7.5 so we were fairly close to a recommend score.

This story depicts the personal and spiritual journeys of several characters, against the backdrop of native peoples struggling against poverty, discrimination, and government railroading.

The settings and the characters are vividly described. Much of the action is fantastical, and there is a lot of Native American spirituality and connection to the earth and animal and plant world that was interesting, if a bit heavy-handed. We had some trouble coming up with good meaty discussion topics.

Overall this is more of a book someone could read on their own.

Tree of Smoke: A Novel by Denis Johnson
 
The guys (and one gal) loved it!

Our ratings on 1-10 scale ranged from 6.5 to 9. Quite a bit of violence, and a sometimes confusing narrative, but overall a highly engaging and eye-opening book.

 
Interesting, Beautiful, Fun
John Irving at his (almost) best!

Absolutely hilarious and heart-rending at the same time, quintessential Irving.

 
Would be difficult for discussion over only one night

Fascinating and intense, but not for the casual reader. I read it with a class and otherwise probably wouldn't have made it through. Loved it once I did and with lots of guidance on rich references, allusions, themes, etc.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
 
Adventurous, Dramatic, Boring
Beautiful book - but long!

Depending on your attention span, you will either love this or think it's just OK. Found it much easier to read than the same translators' War & Peace, but still needed a crib sheet for characters and their relationships to one another. Helps to have some knowledge of Russian history as well. Great characters, amazing inner dialogue, and interesting insights into a society I knew nothing about before starting the book.

Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Mitchell
 
Brilliant, Interesting, Insightful
Absolutely loved it and a great discussion too!

What a fascinating book. Great concept, to take character archetypes and follow a timeline forward and then back again during times of crises. Beautifully written, amazing characters, can't wait to read it again!

 
Informative, Graphic, Confusing
History of the Dominican Republic/All about Trujillo/Poignant characters

A "novel" that was actually a series of short stories about characters interconnected over several generations. Full, real, well-developed characters, quite graphic in language, sex and violence. We had a great deal to talk about and could have gone on for several hours! Scores ranged from 6-8.5.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
 
Inspiring, Beautiful, Insightful
Highly rated, endless things to discuss, real human characters!

There's almost no group we can imagine who wouldn't like this book. We've read other Russo books, both in and out of book group, and he tends to be one of our favorite authors. Highlights of the discussion included an intimate look at the relationships of parents and children (especially fathers and sons), a poignant vision of a town/America in decay, class and race divisions, the ache of unrequited love, and portraits of real characters in real situations. There were some contrived plot devices in order to achieve balance, karmic echoes, children repeating or correcting parent's past mistakes, and the book dragged in some places (though, interestingly, for some at the beginning, for others at the end). Russo's ability to "get" the individual nuances of each character, through dialogue and observation amazes us every time. Enjoy!

 
All over the place, too much to look up!

This was a tough book to just sit back and relax. It's work to read it, and may or may not be worth the effort...

The Wrestler's Cruel Study by Stephen Dobyns
 
Slow, Pointless, Poorly Written
Can't recommend it but a passionate discussion book

Our group had trouble with this one. The fantasy world of wrestling plus early Christian theology/philosophy & way too many colorful characters. Not sure what the author was trying to say except comment on man's dual nature (angel/devil) which was a theme throughout. It just wasn't fun enough, unlike other "fantastical" books we've read where the reader can suspend disbelief because there's payoff with the humor, message, or language.

Cutting for Stone: A novel by Abraham Verghese
 
Book Club Recommended
Epic, Beautiful, Interesting
A Delight to Read from Beginning to End!

It's been a while since we had this kind of agreement on a book, by our scale all 9s and 10s (out of a possible 10). An amazing first novel (though not first book) by an extremely talented author. Evocative, emotional, fantastic characters we really cared about. There are some admittedly contrived "coincidences" that come up in the book, but we loved this book so much we were able to overlook it!

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
 
Dark, Dramatic, Slow
OK book, but can't fully recommend it to others

Our group gave all 6s and 7s. We thought the book was fairly well written but not terribly compelling. Slow start, and we couldn't come to consensus as to what is was really about. We wish we had read "Lacuna" instead!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Fun
An Interesting Read, but maybe not the best Alexie?

Our group ranged from a 10 to a 6.5 with most people rating it about an 8. We found some of the themes a bit repetitive but overall liked the poetic writing -- these are not poems but short stories that are easy to read and character-driven. We found the insights to life on the reservation very interesting, though overall fairly depressing to read about. Great discussion about favorite characters and stories.

Citrus County by John Brandon
 
Dark, Dramatic, Insightful
So-So book; read a different one by this author

This book was very difficult to find!

 
Confusing, Informative, Difficult
Not the best Ghosh

People just couldn't get excited about this one. Three people started and didn't finish it. Others started it multiple times and had to force-finish it. Books should be more enjoyable!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Slow, Dramatic
Slow in parts, but interesting depiction of life as a soldier

Our club was a bit divided on this one. Overall people liked the characters, and we experienced the frustration the characters do in the book, that war is a lot of sitting around and waiting for something to happen, but when it does happen, it is very intense and unsettling. We had great discussions of what this book was all about, what the characters choices were, who was a hero or a villain, and what Mailer was trying to say about war and society in the 1940s

Just Kids by Patti Smith
 
Interesting, Informative, Pointless
What was the point?

Patti Smith at once draws you in and pushes you away. She narrates seemingly endless details about people you may or may not know of, but doesn't really tell you how she FELT during this time. She glosses over things we wanted to know more about, like her affair with Sam Shepherd, but doesn't really delve into her feelings or details that might have added a lot to this book. This book definitely had its moments but in the end it was difficult to discuss because the motivation for certain decisions by both herself and Mapplethorpe were not really explored in the narrative.

I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek
 
Slow, Interesting, Beautiful
Slow to start, but some of the stories were stunning.

Our group, for the most part, doesn't seem to like short stories. This was more like a novel, with common characters and themes. Some of the stories were outstanding (Blue Boy, Orchids, Que Quieres). Some were odd and seemed more like novellas (Breasts, A Minor Mood). But all were emotional and most were very well written. You don't need to read all of them to enjoy the ones that were really good.

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