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My Reviews

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
 
Book Club Recommended
Inspiring, Interesting, Beautiful
Winter\\\'s Tale : Should have read it long ago

First of all, this is my opinion, alone, since our meeting was once again ruined by \\\"the polar vortex\\\" that is keeping most people inside. -45 windchill does not make for an evening bookclub gathering.
Second, this is a VERY long book - over 700 pgs - and if your club is interested in reading it, you might want to take 2 months to read it, if you meet once a month. But it is beautifully written, and contains stories within stories, and is definitely a book you\\\'ll want to spend time with, savoring Mr. Helprin\\\'s talented way with words.

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Confusing
Great Set of Short Stories

The Red Garden is made up of many stories that each connect to the other in some way. Many characters are mentioned several times and the stories are told chronologically, from a determined woman who refuses to give up and die, to a young woman who takes a different path than she'd expected and ends up loving a man who's always believed he's a monster. As usual, Alice Hoffman's writing is beautiful and engaging. The words she uses allow her readers to see an eel-filled river or a garden that turns whatever is planted there red.

Range of Motion: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg
 
Book Club Recommended
Realistic story and characters

Really, you can't go wrong with Elizabeth Berg...she writes so descriptively that you are drawn into the book immediately. This wasn't my most favorite book of hers, but the story presents many different situations that will be interesting to discuss for book clubs. Imagining what you might choose to do, or how you would react if something occurred in your own life is always a great way to start a discussion. We have had several instances when our discussions led to some very personal stories being shared.

Range of Motion examines traumatic brain injury as any non-medically trained person would...overall shock, abject fear, trying to resume a "normal life", just being confronted with the overwhelming possibility that your spouse could be rendered unresponsive and might never regain any semblance of the life you were sure you were living that very morning...the author takes you through all of that and more, even giving us a glimpse of what's happening within the husband's mind as he struggles to come back to his former self. The dialogue is extremely realistic and true to life.

 
Insightful, Optimistic, Slow
Let me tell you about The Telling Room - in my opinion

It was touted by my fellow book club members as a fabulous, we-just-loved-it! book. I could not get into it, and I really tried. I don't know what I expected after hearing all the kudos, but it just didn't float my boat, ring my bell, or make me want to turn another page. I didn't finish it; from what I did read, I think it was about a writer who becomes obsessed with a particular type of cheese, and pretty much uproots his life and family to find out all he can about it. The biggest question for me was WHY? And why was this interesting to read about? Then there were the footnotes. Often longer than the actual writing on a page, sometimes carrying over to AN ADDITIONAL PAGE!, completely segueing to a different subject - lots of historical research is included here - and if I took the time to read a footnote I usually lost track of whatever I had been reading about, and had to re-read the original footnoted paragraph. I felt like I was completely out of my depth - I was obviously not intelligent or erudite enough to "get" the fabulousness of this book. Whatever the attraction was it was totally lost on me, and to make matters worse, I was hosting the meeting! I loved Under the Tuscan Sun, a non-fiction travelogue adventure, but I'm telling you, this book just gave me a headache!

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
 
Gloomy, Boring, Difficult
Please stop WHINING!!!!

I had great hopes for this book, because it had gotten such great reviews, but I was really disappointed with it, and had to push myself to finish it. If you read the first 2 pages you\\\'ll be able to pick up the gist...Nora says \\\"I\\\'m angry, I did everything I was supposed to, I wanted to be an artist, I was always a good girl, nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I\\\'m gonna go eat dirt.\\\" And after the first few pages, that\\\'s all she keeps on saying. It\\\'s sooooo tiresome and really doesn\\\'t make for an interesting plot. Nora is simply unlikeable, and it\\\'s completely understandable why she is alone as \\\"the woman upstairs\\\". I don\\\'t like reading books like this, because I feel as though my time has been wasted. I don\\\'t know why this book received so many accolades - no one in my book club liked it. But strangely, we talked about this book much longer than any of our recent reads. Of course we were all expressing our displeasure, and saying things like
\\\" she could have used a good shaking\\\".

 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Scary, Dramatic
Strange Story with Sadness Below

Although this isn't her most atmospheric story, Ms. Jackson still sets a scene full of oddly "off" characters with quirks untold. The story of Merricat and her family (those that are left) is told matter-of-factly by Merricat herself, and you will get the feeling that everyone, dead or alive, has something to hide. I originally read this when I was young, probably 10 or so, and I remember being impressed by Merricat and writing about her in my diary. Now that I'm older, I wonder if what I wrote had more meaning than I realized at the time. I guess that will have to be discussed with my therapist one of these days. This story is not as terrifying as "The Haunting of Hill House" but more disturbing, as you come to see that all of these characters are imprisoned in the "castle" one way or the other. I think it would easily be considered a psychological thriller, although it is rather slow and plodding at times. It makes you wonder what was going on in Shirley Jackson's life at the time.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Inspiring
A Wonderful Novel!

The Invention of Wings is a beautifully written book, and Sue Monk Kidd, as in The Secret Life of Bees, takes us to a place and time where human beings committed unbelievable atrocities upon other human beings. But the easy acceptance of slavery by the majority of the white people in the South is only a part of this excellent novel. The two main characters are Sarah, the daughter of a family of comfortable means, and Handful, the daughter of one of the slaves who are owned by Sarah\\\'s family. We first meet Sarah and Handful when they are young, and spending their days together playing and dreaming about their futures. But reality ends up changing their innocent friendship forever, when Sarah is presented with a beribboned Handful as her 11th birthday gift. Unable to go along with what is expected of her, Sarah balks and gets a taste of what it means to stand up for what she believes in.
The book examines the laissez faire attitudes of the white people of the house, who, except for Sarah, and eventually her youngest sister, consider the slaves nothing more than chattel. They dole out severe punishment to any slave who dares to disobey with more cruelty and hatefulness than they would to their livestock, often because the slaves longed for freedom and were willing to risk their very lives in order to obtain it. Those parts of the book are very hard to read - what horrors human beings inflicted upon other human beings! - I was left with all sorts of feelings and emotions : guilt, shame, anger and most of all the sad realization that a lot of what allowed slavery to continue stays with us like a foul and sour odor even today. Sarah\\\'s increasing need to fight for what she believes is truly right is what propels the story along to it\\\'s edge of your seat climax. There is heart wrenching pain, and disillusion, confusion and second guessing herself all through the book. And Handful is always near, although for a time a rift is left between them. Handful\\\'s mother instills in her a belief that she will one day be able to fly - escape the inhumanity and evil that really had no reason to exist at all. In a way both Sarah and Handful eventually find their own form of freedom, without realizing how much of an effect they had on each other\\\'s life. The ending is by turns exciting and hopeful, yet full of sadness because unfortunately people\\\'s attitudes toward one another haven\\\'t really evolved very much at all.

 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Interesting, Dramatic

The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin
 
Book Club Recommended
Slow, Insightful, Gloomy
The Orchardist

All but one of our members really enjoyed this book. The person who didn\\\'t like it thought the story was the strangest one she\\\'s read in a long time. I and the majority of others felt the writing was very good, and the novel was full of unusual characters put into some traumatic situations. Most of the people in this book are damaged - emotionally especially, but physically too. Subjects covered ran the gamut from child abuse, dealing with death, the strenuous work of running an orchard and the kindness of strangers. Also the many ways a family can be formed. Very interesting and lots to discuss. This book was a pleasant surprise, even though some of the scenes were difficult to read.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
 
Book Club Recommended
Dark, Dramatic, Interesting
Mysteries of A Reliable Wife

This book has hints of Gothic and Victorian novels throughout. Our book club had mixed reviews, although most thought it wasn't the best read. I thought it could have been a good ghost story if the author had made the house or the property haunted. I was concerned when I first read some reviews because it sounded like it was going to be very graphic sexually. That is where I thought the Victorian influences came through the most...each scene was described but left a lot to one's imagination. The extreme isolation, the bitter weather and all the secrets everyone is keeping from each other are almost characters unto themselves. Probably would have made an interesting Lifetime Movie.? All the characters seemed to have glimpses of what their lives could be if only they'd have been able to lose all the guilt and greed they carried around with them.

 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Interesting, Adventurous
Something Fun for Summer

This was just a quick and easy, no stress and no pressure read. Everyone who attended felt pretty much the same. The book's premise had just the right sense of fun and adventure, a little bit of mystery and devil may care sort of attitude. I enjoyed reading about San Francisco and anything about a bookstore can draw me in, even if it's on a lark.

 
Book Club Recommended
Insightful, Interesting, Dark
How Well Do You Know Your Family?

A sad story of a family adrift in every direction but towards each other. No one really listens to the other. But then sometimes nothing is really being said,,,it's all being kept inside. Some of the characters will seem completely unlikeable and easy to blame. Some illicit empathy almost immediately. Layer by layer is peeled away until the raw reality of each family member's heart is revealed. The author skillfully takes us from the past to the present, until you can easily how this could happen to a family, even your own.

 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Beautiful, Insightful

We Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
 
Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Unconvincing, Interesting

 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Interesting
Was it just a different time?

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter is an interesting read. Although I knew a little about Rosemary Kennedy because I live in Wisconsin, where St. Coletta's is located, I had no idea of the manipulations that had gone on in her life before she ended up living there. Overall, our club's members felt surprised at what can only be considered the mistreatment of Rosemary, beginning with her horrific birth, and continuing throughout her life. Both Rosemary and Joe Kennedy seemed more interested in how things were presented to the public - the effect that a less than perfect child might have on their own reputations and ambitions. Another thing we discussed at length was how Rose was really not the grand dame matriarch we had grown up with hearing about, at least not during her actual parenting years. Her obsession with physical activity, competition and her children's weight made her seem more like a temperamental ruler in the extreme and none of us could think of a single word in the book that remotely suggested affection or familial love from either her or her husband. Regarding Rosemary, we wondered if she may have been autistic, or considered much more disabled than she really was, because there were no excuses accepted for anything less than perfection. So many things throughout this book were difficult to read, but one passage struck all of us as especially cruel. When Rose is talking about losing her three boys and then being left with "her", one member said it broke her heart.

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