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My Reviews

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Graphic, Confusing
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

This is a difficult book to categorize. It\'s smart and funny and heartbreaking. It\'s rawer in language and content than what I tend to read. There are several references to science fictional works and untranslated Spanish terms, neither of which I could really understand without help (thanks to Google translate, I\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'ve learned an awful lot of Spanish insults and swears). About the only thing I had in common with Oscar was a love for Tolkien. And yet, I was drawn into the story of this boy very much unlike me, and his family who could not escape a power-hungry dictator. I cared about Oscar and his sister Lola and wanted to see them make good. It\'s the sort of book I\'m hard-pressed to describe an audience for, but one I would recommend for someone who enjoys unique, inventive fiction.

 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Insightful, Informative
Crossing to Safety

Larry and Sally Morgan. Sid and Charity Lang. One couple from the west, poor and hardworking. The other from the east and rich. Larry and Sid happen to work together at a university in Wisconsin; their wives strike up a friendship, the Morgans are invited over for a party and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is essentially the story of an unlikely friendship between four people, sometimes held together by a shoestring, memories, and the force of Charity's personality, but always dear to all. These are rich characters, likable and maddening, and so completely real. The narrative descriptions are pitch-perfect word pictures that made me wish I could write that (seemingly) effortlessly, and what isn't said is as important as what is.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Scary, Confusing
Fun historical mystery

The best historical fiction, to my mind, teaches you something about a time period, a people, or a culture while telling a really good story. This book does that in spades, giving such information about the Church at that time, medicine, and more. Yet there's no time for an information dump, because the story reads fast, at first because there is a lot of dialog and short paragraphs and, as the story progresses, an ever-faster pace as we draw closer to the conclusion. I have to say, the identity of the murderer was not all that surprising to me (one of a few people I had on my own suspects list), but exactly how it happened and how everything was resolved was indeed unexpected. In this sort of book, you're always on the lookout for glaring anachronisms. Adelia herself is the biggest anachronism of all - not so much because she's a woman doctor, which is handled believably, but because of her modern ideas and practices. The others are dealt with well in the author's note. The descriptions of the dead and what had been done to them was a bit much for the squeamish side of me. Granted, I was reading so fast much of this washed over me and I only noticed looking back.

 
Informative, Interesting, Fun
Fantastic book, difficult discussion

Bryson lives (lived?) in a former rectory in England, and one day had the idea of going through every room in the house and researching the history of something related to that room. The result is a fascinating history of all sorts of things from trade to electricity. You can pick it up and put it down almost at random. At 452 dense pages and a range of topics, it was very difficult to discuss. We mostly chatted about what we found to be the most interesting facts in a desultory way.

 
Book Club Recommended
Thought-provoking tale of race relations

Elizabeth was a serious young black teen who was one of the "Little Rock Nine." Hazel was the white teen in the iconic photograph shouting racial slurs. This moment would come to define their lives in different ways, and the dual biography of the women, their friendship and their differences gives a very personal take on race in America.

Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Meaty for discussion

Barbara Kingsolver's latest book is a little on the preachy side when it comes to climate change and environmental concerns, but overall our club enjoyed the book and had plenty to talk about without getting overly controversial. Dellarobia Turnbow feels trapped in her marriage and small town, until monarch butterflies change their migration and turn up on her mountain, causing scientists, environmentalists, and more to come to Appalachia to see them. The writing is beautifully descriptive and evocative, and the various themes not only of environment but also of poverty, belief/religion, and science gave a lot of food for thought.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Epic, Brilliant
Sad read, great discussion

I haven't read King Lear, but it's really not necessary to read first as A Thousand Acres stands on its own just as well. After all the events of the story, Ginny reflects on what happened - what went wrong - after her father's fateful decision to give his hugely successful farm to his three daughters. Because we're in a tight first person narrative, there are so many unknowns and unanswerable questions: What made Larry act as he did? Caroline? Can we ever know or understand another person? The first half of the story is a slow setting the stage, the plotting deliberate, and the writing descriptive. The characters are deeply unhappy. We all agreed that the story was sad and the beginning slow, but in the end we had a wonderfully lively discussion.

 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Insightful, Beautiful
Personal and universal

One day during her chemo treatment, Will asked, \"What are you reading?\" So the two-person book club was born, as Will and his mother discuss books they both read over the course of Mary Anne\'s treatments. The books are just a starting point for larger discussions of life, courage, love, and so much more. Each chapter is the title of a book, whether the book they\'re discussing or one that thematically ties into the subject of the chapter. Will intersperses memories of past days with the treatments and his mother\'s decline, painting a picture of a really wonderful woman I feel like I got to know just a little bit through his eyes. The book is sweet but not saccharine, sad but hopeful. Though it\'s Will\'s personal remembrance of his mother, there are so many universals about a love for reading and connections with others that our book club had no trouble having a lively hour-long discussion!

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Short novel packs a punch

Our book club ran the gamut in reacting to this book, which is written in the first-person plural telling the story of the Japanese "picture brides" who came to the United States in the early 20th century, lived in or near San Francisco, and dealt with prejudice and pain. The style of the book is really different; that and the immigrant experience or being the "other" and thought of as a group instead of an individual kept our group talking quite awhile. It's a short book, but very meaty.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Insightful, Beautiful
Fabulous character study

In the town of Holt, Colorado, a father and his two boys cope with his depressed wife living in bed and then moving out. An elderly woman reaches out to the two boys while they work on their paper route. A pregnant girl is kicked out of her mother's house and turns to a teacher for help. Two gruff brothers live outside town limits working hard raising cattle. The story runs about nine months, weaving in and out of the various lives of these characters as they have joys and sorrows, heartbreak and love. It's a meandering, melancholy tale but it's not overly sad or depressing either. I especially loved the relationships that developed between the pregnant girl, Victoria, and the people who cared for her after her mother threw her out of the house.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Insightful and validating

The American culture lives by what Susan Cain terms the Extrovert Ideal, where we are expected to brainstorm, work in open office plans, and collaborate with peers on school projects. For the third to half of the population that are introverts, however, these scenarios can be difficult. Cain uses both personal stories and scientific studies to argue that introverts are simply wired differently and can bring a unique set of strengths if given the ability to work in their own way.

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dark
Eye-opening reporting

Annawadi is a slum on property belonging to the airport in Mumbai. The people living here are some of the poorest of the poor, living in huts made of scrap metal and falling-apart bricks, doing everything they can to survive in a city rife with poverty and corruption. In Annawadi we meet Abdul, the young garbage sorter who along with his father and sister is accused of beating a woman who set herself on fire; Asha, a woman who uses political corruption to try to get ahead and become slumlord; Sunil, a scavenger who just wants to be able eat enough to grow; and several more people whose lives intersect. Without a doubt this is one of the most difficult and moving books I have read this year. We see the stories of just a few people in this book, which simply illumines their lives as best as an outsider can. Our book discussion group talked less about the specifics of the book and more about the universal topics it brings up, especially poverty.

The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Informative, Interesting
Coming-of-age on a reservation

The short description of a book is that it's about a boy whose mother is raped, and the aftermath of that attack. But it's about so much more - a son's relationship with his parents, his friends, and his tribe; tribal law and the complicated mess that it can be to figure out jurisdiction; and justice. The characters - and there are many - came alive for me from Geraldine's sister Clemence trying to care for her elderly, cantankerous father Mooshum; to the sex-obsessed Grandma Ignatia; to the military man turned priest; and many, many more. The people and their relationships are complicated and true. This was a great book for discussion because it was so layered and meaty.

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