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Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Gloomy, Interesting
Revolutionary Road

The writing is beautiful, but the passage of time has weakened the story. It was, without a doubt, a powerhouse when it was first published.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Gloomy
Olive Kitteridge

The collection of stories build a wonderfully three dimensional portrait of the complex Olive, her family and the people she touches both tangentially and directly. It provides insight into many stages of life, but, in particular, the love and the wisdom of loving in our old age is described in a brilliantly written story.It is a truely beautifully written book and comes highly recommended by every member of my group. Interestingly, despite a concensus of opinion, we had a lively discussion. That tends to hold true with opposing opinions, but in this case, with so much to work with, we found LOTS to talk about.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Fun, Adventurous
I love Oddie

Odd Thomas is one of the best characters around. He's sweet, inteligent, and, yes, odd.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Pointless, Unconvincing
A period piece?

A wonderful look at the hight of political correctness in the 90s, refracted through the life of the central character, the choices he made in his youth, in a very different era, and the consequences of that decision. Our group had a decidedly mixed rating of the book, but it generated lively discussion.

 
Unconvincing, Informative, Graphic
Too much and Not enough

For those that didn't know about Nanking, it was informative and interesting. It was not gratuitous in it's descriptions of the violence of the events. It was less than convincing in it's contemporary storyline, which did seem to go over the top, without adding to the power of the novel. However, the imagery was wonderful. Hayder's ability to describe scenery and fill your senses, is terrific.
For those interested in historical fact I would recommend The Rape of Nanking by Chang and for those interested in the themes of modern Japan and the consequences of denial and intentional ingorance, brilliantly portrayed in fiction I recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronical by Murakami.

Shades of Grey: A Novel by Jasper Fforde
 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Epic, Brilliant
Shades of Grey

For those that know Jasper Fforde, through either the Thursday Next or Nursery Crime novels, this is a step into another one of his incredibly imaginative worlds. Unlike the other novels, this isn't a literary world, but a world of color. The class restrictions in this world are set at birth and defined by an individuals ability to see only specific color ranges. This is a serious look at what happens in a society with strict adherence to class rules and the consequences of a driving need for stability and safety over whelming all other societal needs. All of this is tempered by Fforde's wonderful comedic touch to lighten the mood and leave you laughing. It's a story of repression, adventure and love. The only caveat, and one I often find in books that are part of a planned series, he has left us with a rather weak ending. However, I do look forward to the next in the planned trilogy. It will bring a discussion of what a good book is, as the group will probably have a wide ranging rating of the book.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Interesting
The Hunger Games

Our book group was very split on this book, which always creates better discussions. It was felt the relationship of Mother and daughter was the truest to life. The tension of a "failed" parent and her adolescent daughter was wonderfully portrayed. A general complaint was that the book didn't stand well enough on it's own, but was an introduction to the series. We all felt some concern about the graphic violence and the age of readers. It should be carefuly considered when given to younger readers.

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Beautiful, Fun
Garp holds up

Having read it years ago, we wanted to revisit this wonderful book. It has held up remarkably well.

Day After Night: A Novel by Anita Diamant
 
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Day After Night

After The Red Tent, our group expected much more. There was little flow to the narrative and none of us could care about the protaganists, which, as they represented the surviving women of the holocaust, made us feel guilty. VERY DISAPPOINTING.

 
Romantic, Informative, Beautiful
What\'s to discuss?!

Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Insightful, Interesting
Little Bee

The voices of the narators are clear and distinctly defined. Little Bee is a particularly compelling character. The story is grim, but her voice carries you through. The end left much discuss. I will not give anything away, so I must stop here. The group gave it a 4.5 rating and we still talk about it, the characters and the reality that it reflects.

 
Miss Dimple Disappears

Easy read with no real meat. Leaves very little to discuss.

 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Difficult, Interesting
Netherland

We found our ratings had quite a range. We have a 1 to 5 rating scale and this book ran from 1 to 4. It left some of us absolutely cold, others were drawn in and found it a rewarding read. It didn't generate as much discussion as such a diverse response usually does, but the discusion was still fairly brisk.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
 
Informative, Difficult, Confusing
Cleo, a text book

Though the historically accurate portrait of Cleopatra was fascinating to learn. Too often this felt like required coarse work, not a pleasurable read. She was an astounding woman in a time and place where women were not considered the "weaker sex" and religion had yet to relegate them to the position of obedient servants to their male masters. I only wish the writing had been as fluid and colorful as some other historians (David McCullough, Antonia Fraser, etc.)

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Fun
Family Falling Apart Together

Lovely read with laughter and fury. As with any family, their blind inability to see each other and themselves as they are, not as they once were, is frustrating, funny, and lovely to watch. Enjoy the read.

 
Unconvincing, Interesting
Fractured History

Jane Hamilton's novel has all the ingredients for a great book, but somehow fails to make the grade. The premise sounds unbelievable, yet she creates a realistic family that happens to include the brain damaged first wife as adopted daughter. Unfortunately, the fractured timeline left us wondering just where we were in the life of our narrator and the rest of the family. We assume the device was used to contast Vietnam/Iraq and the 50s-60s family dynamic with today's family. It only succeeded in breaking narrative into a jumble. Perhaps it would have been better to trust the reader to make those connections without forcing the timeline to lay them side by side.

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula Mclain
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Insightful
Paris What?

Our group rating ran from 4 down to 2, averaging out at 3.1. As usual, a wide range brought out the best discussion.

The primary dislike was that it was difficult to find anyone to admire in the book, making it a drag to get through. Some admired the writing, while others found putting words in the mouth of Hemingway, like "we'll always speak the truth to one another", galling.

However, it was a good discussion of the "muse to genius" that so many of the very unhappy women in the novel dreamt of being. Handmaids to creators, versus being creators themselves, and how that role is still one that many women want to play, even as more choices are open to women than in the 1920s.

While this wasn't a great book, it was not a waste of time.

 
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Pointless, Brilliant
Diaz does it again

I may qualify as a stalker when it comes to Junot Diaz. I'm a woman and his stories shouldn't be attractive to any self respecting woman. At the same time, his language (okay, so he curses a whole lot) is beautiful and seductive. You can feel the vibrant life coursing through the veins of every person in every story, feel the heat, the cold, the sweat, the exhaustion. So a man can't keep it zipped, can't commit fully to anyone...who cares? Reading these stories is a delicious delight and I want to eat each one slowly, over and over again. Enjoy!

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Dramatic
US Early days in Vietnam

1951 Vietnam. The French are fighting a loosing battle and the Americans are coming in, undercover, to get things right. Ha! This isn\\\'t an easy read, but Graham Greene\\\'s beautiful writing keeps you going. One of our group commented that she hated the book, until she realized she was unable to put it down...so she must like the book. A wonderful discussion about the time, the place and the characters followed. I highly recommend this book for all book groups.

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark
 
Beautiful Lies, Not So Pretty

This novel, set in the political world of 1887 London, tells the story of Maribel and her husband Edward. They met and married, letting no one know the true story of their meeting. I admit, as a review, I have a severe handicap. I couldn't get though the book. Out of our group of 10, only five finished the entire book.

The primary question asked: Was this book too long and unfocused or is it just me?
The answer: It isn't just you.

Conclusion: Skip this read.

 
Book Club Recommended
Fantastic, Beautiful, Dark
Little No Horse, Little Excitement, Good Discussion

It\\\\\\\'s 1900, a woman of faith and a love of music, looses her man, her home and herself, to become a priest and serve on an Indian reservation. Her transformation from Agnes to Father Damien is almost total, leaving Agnes behind. Erdrich\\\\\\\'s use of language is lovely and descriptive. The first 100 pages are magical, but the story then becomes rather tedious and, after the first round of \\\\\\\"horrible things are done to the Indians\\\\\\\", it seems to be pointless repetition. However, this is my review, not the entire group\\\\\\\'s. Our opinions were varied, the ratings ran from high to low, which always leads to good discussion. I finished the book, sure I wouldn\\\\\\\'t try another Erdrich, but The Roundhouse has gotten such fabulous reviews, that I\\\\\\\'ll have to give it a shot.

Requiem by Frances Itani
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative
Requiem

This novel flows through the memories of Bin \\\"Ben\\\" on a road trip across Canada to revisit the site of the internment camp his family was relocated to following Pearl Harbor. We learn about his life during those years, the fracturing of his family, the building of his new family and the shadows that have followed him. It was both instructive, in that we were unaware of many of the aspects of the Canadian internment system and, in part, beautifully written. Bin is a painter, Ms. Itani\\\'s descriptions of his work is quite beautiful, as well as the music of his second father. However, there were moments of cliched writing and uninspired stretches of story telling. In general, the book was liked, but not found to be particularly exceptional.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Keeps you reading

Brain on Fire, a reporter's research into her own life changing battle for sanity, is a fast read, difficult to put down. Though we know, at the outset, that Ms. Cahalan will recover, the book retains an element of suspense as her illness and the search for it's source and cure rolls out across the page. The desperation of family and loved ones faced with the sudden onset of a devastating illness, struggling to understand what is happening and fighting the medical system for answers is beautifully presented. Ms. Cahalan's recovery and the "new" person that she now is, is difficult to comprehend for all those who have known her "old" self. It will be interesting to hear from her again, some years down the road, and find out how she has built her life after this sharp turn in the road.

The Burgess Boys: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Slow, Insightful
Who Cares for The Burgess Boys

Elizabeth Strout's lovely and eloquent writing, so beautifully demonstrated in Olive Kitteridge, isn't enough to make this book less forgettable. Set in NYC and Maine, it presents the story of middle aged brothers facing their pasts. A call from their sister in Maine, brings them back to their hometown. Working to defend their nephew, who's thoughtless but malice free act of vandalism has terrorized the immigrant community, begins a journey to uncover what has formed them into the men they are. Bob, the less successful younger brother, and his sister look to Jim, the family savior to guide them all through the crisis.

Jim is a highly successful, telegenic attorney with an anger that scatters acid across the page. His dismissal of his Bob, with his "slob-dog" "Bobness", is an easy and easy going target. Susan, their sister and mother of the accused, has a bitterness akin to Jim's anger, without Jim's grace and good timing, to make others admire her. Watching the passing on of the family

While all the characters are drawn clearly and the Maine and NY settings are brought to vivid life by Strout, the story turns into a predictable melodrama. Saviors with fatal flaws, flawed men with unrecognized strength and bitter women with soft and loving hearts. We have come to expect more, perhaps too much, from this gifted writer. We do. however, look forward to trying her next book, story collection, or any other writing she may care to put her hand to.

West with the Night by Beryl Markham
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Beautiful, Inspiring
Lover of Africa and Life

Beryl Markham's life is, from childhood spear hunter, to race horse trainer, to distance flying ace, always remarkable. Whether she wrote the book or her third husband did, is insignificant. The work stands the test of time and her life remains extraordinary. Happy Valley of the 20s, that boiling cauldron of outcasts, the wounded and the villainous, has been the subject of many books and films. Ms. Markham provides an insiders view of that community. The community that lived outside the norms of it's time and, most certainly, outside of Great Britain. Always, this book is a love poem to Africa and a wonderful read.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
 
Dark, Interesting, Slow
Beware the End

You\\\'ll know what\\\'s coming long, long, long before you get there.

Still Life by Louise Penny
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Fun, Addictive
Three Pines Charm

This first book in the Three Pines series is an introduction to Inspector Gamache of the Surete du Quebec and his team of homicide investigators. It\\\'s also, and more fully, the readers entry into the village of Three Piines, so small its been left off the maps. It\\\'s murder that bring Gamache and crew to Three Pines, but that\\\'s not what makes the book interesting. It\\\'s the village itself, inviting the reader to stay, to learn its beauty and its secrets, that kept me reading. This is a first novel and has many of the problems of first novels. The characters are sketched, not painted with detail. The village is a fully realized landscape with the light in the woods captured, the village green waiting for us to settle on a bench, and the cafe fire ready to warm us. This is what brought me through this first novel and into the next. Not everyone in my group felt that compelled to continue. Three of the ten of us found the writing too incomplete, the \\\"telling\\\" rather than \\\"showing\\\" characters too indicative of poor writing. I can\\\'t actually argue against this, but I wasn\\\'t willing to leave the village, nor were the rest of the group. I am happy to say, having completed reading the series, that the writing improved with every novel, the characters becoming layered and complicated, and the mystery much, much bigger than any of us knew when reading this first book.

The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin
 
Slow, Insightful, Gloomy
A Mixed Lot

As the descriptive words indicate, our group was pulled in different directions by this novel. Unfortunately, this didn\\\'t lead to a very stimulating discussion. The story is of a lone man, the orchardist, in the Pacific northwest, who finds two run-away, pregnant, young girls on his land, hiding. He takes them in, like wild animals, and with infinite care, calms them and makes them a home. Their damage is grave and his continuing campaign to give them \\\"normal\\\" lives is the run of the story. Some of us found it profound and moving, others frustrating and pointless. The novel gave us wonderful sense of place and of who the orchardist was, but left us wondering what the point was, what his journey meant, what any of it led to.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
 
Book Club Recommended
Walking through the Unnamed

A man with an unnamed condition, an undeniable compulsion to walk, finds himself loosing extremities to the cold, drying out in the baking sun and leaving his wife and daughter behind. This sounds so bleak, so pointless, so heartbreaking. It is and it isn\\\\\\\'t. Like all of us, a man and woman planned their lives and life went in directions never anticipated. Tim is a workaholic partner in a law firm. He has suffered brief bouts with his compulsive behavior in the past and consulted specialists worldwide, with no help. His wife, Jane, has done everything in her power to protect and help him. She has built a career during his \\\\\\\"dormant\\\\\\\" period. She has shielded their daughter from what is happening, inadvertently locking her out of her parents lives and helping her slide into an anti-social, self-loathing, parent-hating adolescence. Despite the gloomy setting, the brilliant sun of marital love blazes through. Physically separated, exhausted, frightened and frustrated, this couple still love one another. The unnamed is a part of every life. We have no answers and there are no reasons, but that doesn\\\\\\\'t make it a horror, it just makes it unpredictable and, sometimes, completely out of our control. This couple\\\\\\\'s love is always there, always a safe place to rest, even as they are pulled apart. It\\\\\\\'s what everyone wants, a love that is home, no matter where we are.

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