Busy time of year, so not as many members were able to report on books this month.

First, Nathan turned 40! He has been VERY busy playing in various Christmas concerts in different bands. Fortunately, there is only one week of school left in the semester; I think he is ready for a break. Nathan joined us for the start of the meeting to say “Hi” before heading off to join his family (and hopefully some cake). I sang him a birthday song I wrote several years ago. Crazy talented as he is, he immediately was able to play it back, just by listening for 30 seconds. Amazing. Always a pleasure, Nathan.

Barbara joined us briefly but has been going through some tough times with her parents. Her dad is in hospice, back with her mother in lockdown at Mission Chateau. She ended up hiring a private duty nurse, so that has helped relieve the stress a bit. So, not much reading, but she is making cookies for her grandkids. Save some for me!

Cynthia had nothing but bad news and was unable to join us. Her uncle Harold, a second dad to her, died following a fall that broke his hip and caused bleeding in the brain. Then her uncle on her dad’s side, Eddie, died of COVID-19 complications. Also fighting the COVID is her Aunt Pat, her dad’s sister and Eddie’s wife. Just too much.

Caroline was also unable to attend. She plays organ at various churches around town and was trying to get some extra practice as this is a busy time of year for her.

A new member to the chapter, Michael Denison, TRIED to join us, but I didn’t read his email request until after book club was over! So hopefully in January we’ll all have a chance to meet him and discover what he enjoys reading. Hang in there, Michael.

That left a core of Coleen, David, Peggy, and me to discuss the books we’ve read in the last month.

On to books…

Coleen read Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs. This is the first book in a series featuring Dr. Temperance Brennan as a forensic anthropologist working in Montreal, Quebec. The TV series Bones was based on this character, but apparently didn’t really follow the books. I enjoyed the book. I think it was an early mystery to use forensic science to solve murders. The author is a forensic anthropologist herself. She spoke at the 2014 Colloquium in Boston — the topic of the Colloquium was forensic sciences.

Coleen’s next book was Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, a young adult book that covers the last two days of a high school senior’s life as determined by the death date computed at birth using DNA and other things. Almost everyone gets a death date calculated. Some people choose not to find out and sometimes the process just doesn’t work. These people are the undated. Advantages of knowing when you are going to die include being able to attend your own funeral! Denton has an eventful two days with lots of adventures. Fun to read.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a novel of a 15-year-old growing up in NYC. The story is told in free verse poetry which is very compelling. The story covers several months in her life when she is trying to push the boundaries just a little bit. Her mother is very strict and very religious. Xiomara is allowed to go to school and church and pretty much nothing else. The story is in the first person because we are hearing her thoughts. Things happen in the book, but are always portrayed by how Xiomara perceives what is happening. Definitely deserving of its place on lists of notable books for young adults.

Coleen had also read the third book in the Griffin and Sabine series, The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock. Originally this was the last book in the series. Later he wrote four more. Also read, The Joy of a Peanuts Christmas, a Hallmark book compiling Christmas comic strips from the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. Fun, quick read for these trying times.

David read The Man from the Train, a nonfiction serial killer investigation by Lawrence authors Bill James and his daughter Rachel McCarthy James. The term “axe murderer” must have been created for a fiend responsible for at least a hundred deaths in families murdered with the blunt end of an axe in homes near train tracks early in the twentieth century. One of the murders was a family in Martin City, MO in early December 1910. Three members of the Bernhardt or Barnhardt family were killed along with a young visitor and a hired hand. In almost all the murders the killer broke into a farmhouse on a Saturday or Sunday night and then vanished without stealing money or leaving any clues to motive. The victims might have the bed sheets pulled over their heads, and sometimes the house was then set afire. Another incident occurred around June 5, 1912 in Paola, KS when Rollin and Anna Hudson were similarly killed. Between the two events another seven attacks could be attributed to the killer. But then the most notorious multiple murder in the spree might be the one day later on June 9, 1912 in Villisca, IA. Eight people, including two neighbor girls on a sleep-over, were murdered. Joe and Sarah Moore and their four children and the neighbor girls are still remembered by the community horrified by the butchery. In those days there was no FBI or communication between jurisdictions, and the authors rightly concluded the killer may have known this. We do find a suspect at the end of the book, but we won’t spoil it for you.

The last of the Harry Turtledove epic series about the Lizard invasion of Earth in 1942 brings us to a human starship in 2031 arriving at the Lizards’ home world orbiting Tau Ceti. An original character from the first book, Sam Yeager, and his son and daughter-in-law have all been revived from cold sleep. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge doesn’t survive the revival process, and our former baseball player and Lizard expert Sam Yeager is tapped by the Lizards to replace Lodge. We’ll report on the result from Homeward Bound later, and let you know if the truce holds.

David also read Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo for the Young Adult Files group from our other book club left over from the Mysteryscape bookstore going out of business. This tale follows a ballerina hoping to share a professional life as a dancer in San Francisco with her best friend when the friend suddenly gets a job in New York, leaving her aimless and feeling betrayed. So of course, she goes to Antarctica. The story is actually quite good, and the author does admit through her notes at the end that she realizes no one is ever going to send a skinny teenager to Antarctica. You have to increase your caloric intake a lot just to survive in the McMurdo station’s facilities. So, a ballerina would not make it there long enough to make friends or find romance. But the novel does offer a satisfying resolution to the turmoil in the two girls’ friendship.

Peggy reported on two–three books, but I didn’t take notes and did not receive her emailed list in time to insert them in this report.

Jeanette had oral surgery, leaving her unable to speak, so she didn’t join us either. She did send us a written list though. Several interesting choices!

The Flight Attendant (there’s a movie by that name so don’t read it if you’ve seen it), by Chris Bohjalian. A female flight attendant meets someone on the flight to Dubai. She meets him at a hotel, they spend the night together (she’s a probable alcoholic) and wakes up to find him stabbed to death next to her. [Oh no!] No more. It’s a real page turner till the end.

Jeanette is in the middle of reading John le Carré’s final novel, Agent Running in the Field. Le Carré uses a light-handed, almost flippant tone to describe the situation, but one has to imagine it’s anything but!

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson, is a saga of Churchill family and defiance during the Blitz. Despite this being lengthy (502 pages and I’m only 100 pages in), this is wonderful writing that describes all the machinations and political nuances including Churchill and his distinctly dysfunctional family as well as all the many players. Even though we know how it ends it makes fascinating reading.

Even though he couldn’t hang around, Nathan emailed in books he’s read.

The Devil and the Dark Water, by Stuart Turton, was okay, but was nowhere near the quality of Turton’s first previous book, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Jack, by Marilynne Robinson, is the fourth novel in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead series. It tells the story of the relationship between Jack Boughton and Della Miles. Their relationship is illegal due to segregation laws (Jack is white, and Della is black, and they live in 1950s St. Louis). Their story is also unexpected, as Della is a respected teacher and Jack is a thief and general ne’er-do-well. Other than being children of clergy and enjoying poetry, they don’t have much in common. Jack makes Home (the second of the series) better in much the same way that Lila (#3) made Gilead even better. It wasn’t the book I expected it to be, but it told a good story that touched issues like racism, separatism, recidivism, eminent domain, and hypocrisy without distracting from Robinson’s usual themes of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova, ended up being a pretty typical cognitive psychology book, citing the same information but tying in Holmes. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow still seems to be the book that all other cognitive psychology books lean on, to the point that every book in the genre feels like that author’s explanation of Kahneman’s work.

I (Brad) read five books, two I could recommend and three you could just skip over.

Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State, by Barton Gellman, a former reporter for the Washington Post, is a deep dive into the surveillance of American citizens. Gellman was one of three journalists that was contacted by Edward Snowden when he left the NSA, but the only journalist that had been reporting on this subject for decades. I was aware of some of what was revealed in this book, based on my many years in the defense industry, but was horrified to learn just how extensive this surveillance has become. If you prefer the head-in-the-sand approach to life, don’t read this book.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, by Ben Macintyre. Jeanette recommended this book last month, so I took her up on it. This is one of the rare titles, that, if anything, understates just how dramatic this real-life story was. Gripping, gripping, gripping. You can’t make this stuff up.

Other books read include Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5), by Pierce Brown. 784 pages of why am I reading this? The first book in the series, Red Rising, was truly special, but each book since then has not been quite as interesting. Dark Age, on the other hand, drives the series off a cliff.

All Those Things We Never Said, by Marc Levy, an all-too-predictable sappy story, written along the lines of a Harlequin romance. Shoot me now.

Rebel World (Eternal Frontier, #4), by Anthony J. Melchiorri, is the fourth in a series of five books. Just another space opera, a quick read while taking a break from lengthy and/or more serious books.

Book Lovers SIG meets the 2nd Sunday of each month at 2:00 p.m. If you would like to join our literary chat fest, please email me so I can add you to the invite list for the January Book Lovers SIG. Happy New Year, everyone! ~Brad Lucht