Susan is feeling better, but still a little tired and was unable to attend. Hopefully we will see her in March.

Michael continues to join us via Zoom from Nevada, MO. It was nice to see Sharon after an absence of several months. Also in attendance were Coleen and David, our hosts, along with Peggy, Cynthia, Rodney, and myself.

Strawberry cupcakes for Valentine’s Day were on the menu. My piping is getting imperceptibly better. Coleen, David, and Cynthia shared their experiences at Cabin Fever. It sounded like quite a lineup of speakers.

On to books…

Peggy read Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, by Jamie Raskin, a Congressman from Maryland and a Constitutional law professor. His son committed suicide on December 31, 2020. Seven days later violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election. This is an inside account of Raskin leading the team that prosecuted President Trump in the Senate. The Congressman shares just how close we came to losing our democracy that fateful day.

Peggy also read the 21st novel in the Inspector Lynley series, Something to Hide, by Elizabeth George. When a police detective is taken off life support after falling into a coma, an autopsy reveals the murderous act that precipitated her death. Acting Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley is assigned to the case and must sort through the lies and secret lives of people whose superficial cooperation masks the cause of the crime.

Her next read was Book 24 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, A Game of Fear, by Charles Todd. A murder has been reported, but there is no body, no blood. And the only witness swears the crime was committed by a man thought to have died during WWI. Dun-dun-duuuuun!!!

Continuing the theme of British murder mysteries is Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, by T.A. Willberg. In the heart of London, in the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Not reported but read, All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells.

Saving the best for last, Peggy’s final read was The Promise, by Damon Galgut, winner of the 2021 Booker Prize. Fantastic writing.

Sharon did not read of murder but did read mysteries of a sort. The first is Aging in Places: Reflective Preparation for the Future, by Marian Leah Knapp. The book was written to help readers expand ideas about their future and offer a way to prepare for aging in a constructive, mindful, and creative way.

Sharon’s second book was Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! by Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra, and Martin Zucker. According to the authors, living in literal contact with the Earth’s natural surface charge — being grounded — naturally discharges and prevents chronic inflammation in the body, which affects aging and the aging process itself. This involves always going barefoot to maintain that contact and sleeping on an electric sheet with a grounded outlet.

Based on my enthusiastic reviews from last month, Cynthia read the first four novellas in the Murderbot Diaries series: All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells. Each book is an easy afternoon read. Taken together, they lay out a strong basis for infinite adventures starring the independent, self-aware SecUnit (now hiring itself out as a Security Consultant) who refers to itself as Murderbot.

Cynthia also read Jayne Ann Krentz’s most recent paranormal romance, Lightning in a Mirror. Private detective Olivia LeClair and the mysterious Harlan Rancort join together at the request of The Foundation to find the legendary Vortex machine that was made under the auspices of the government’s discontinued paranormal research project, Bluestone. This finishes up the Fogg Lake trilogy and drops hints that future Krentz novels will bring together the Foundation and the Arcane Society series in the present day.

David usually reports on science fiction, but this time reported on a biography, Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter, by Randy Schmidt. Carpenter died of anorexia nervosa at the age of 32. She grew up in a household dominated by her controlling mother. This prompted a discussion of how this disease is a function of an attempt to control a life that feels out of control. David found it interesting to read about her life and family. Sad story about someone who never felt she had control of her life. Cynthia commented on the Carpenters concert she attended.

Getting back to his roots, David re-read Cibola Burn, by James S. A. Corey, book 4 of 9 in The Expanse series. We have been talking about these books on and off over the past several months, as the final season (season 6) has been showing on Amazon Prime.

Coleen read Reconstructing Amelia, the New York Times bestselling debut novel from Kimberly McCreight. Amelia, Kate’s overachieving daughter, has apparently committed suicide by jumping from the roof of her exclusive private school. But did she really? A story that examines groups of girls bullying the vulnerable.

Reporting from her church book club, Coleen told us about On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process, by Catherine Keller. Her first experience in Process Theology. It reminds her why she doesn’t read philosophy or theology. She did enjoy the chapter on creation.

Derived from Ten Little Indians, by Agatha Christie, The Guest List, Lucy Foley, is the story of a group of people that have been invited to attend a wedding on an island off the coast of Ireland. But all have their hidden secrets, and they begin dying one by one. Who will be next? And who is the murderer? Yikes! Coleen found it entertaining, but the non-linear story telling may bother some.

Michael also did some re-reading, which included the following:

The Last Time I Saw Paris, by Elliot Paul, an American journalist who first visited Paris in 1923. This is the story of the buildings and people on the rue de la Huchette, set against the backdrop of the looming Second World War and the political polarization between right and left. Non-fiction.

In Springtime in Paris, the sequel, after the war Paul revisits the same people and street.

The Life and Death of a Spanish Town documents Paul’s experiences of living in the town of Santa Eulària des Riu on the Spanish island of Ibiza, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Published in 1937.

Permanent Parisians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of Paris, by Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall, offers a guide to the burial places of writers, heroes, and others in the cemeteries of Paris. Bring out your dead!

The Four Wise Men, by Michel Tournier, is a retelling of The Gift of the Magi, but imagines a fourth, “the eternal latecomer,” whose story of hardship and redemption is the most moving and instructive of all.

This story reminded Rodney of a book he read, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. It is a merchant’s first-hand description, dating from about the 50s or 60s A.D., of the peoples and sellable materials to be encountered on voyages along the eastern coast of the continent of Africa, and from the Red Sea around the Arabian Peninsula almost to the southern tip of India. The edition he read some fifteen years ago was the 1989 edition by Lionel Casson. BTW the Greek root word here is seen in “erythrocyte” or red blood cell. Rodney highly recommends reading the Wikipedia entry on this periplus.

The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., by George Steiner, is an alternative history of what happened after the end of World War II. Thirty years later, Israeli Nazi-hunters, some of whom lost relatives in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, find a silent old man deep in the Amazon jungle. He is Adolph Hitler. What follows is an exploration of the nature of guilt, vengeance, language, and the power of evil — each undiminished over time.

Rodney reported on four books from the Modern Library series he is collecting.

Great Modern Short Stories (publ. 1943), with an introduction by Bennet Cerf, includes stories by Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, W. Somerset Maugham, that Hemingway dude, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, William Faulkner, Pearl S. Buck, and John Steinbeck. Great stories indeed!

Leo Tolstoy Short Stories (1964), including all he wrote prior to penning War and Peace. Among them he emphasized his three Sevastopol Sketches, notable as 1853–1854 war-correspondent descriptions of the Crimean War. Rodney brought a Nat Geo map of Europe, showing that Russia today has poor access to the sea from its Arctic shoreline boundaries, and more useful access via Leningrad / St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea, but that it much desires access from the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea and from there, through the Dardanelles or the Straits of Bosporus, to the Mediterranean, and from thence to the Seven Seas. But the only way it can procure access to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is through the Ukraine. Rodney opined that highways and railroads through the Ukraine, built from Ukrainian and Russian labor, would seem a win/win for all, but Vladimir Putin sees otherwise. Russia lost the Crimean War, by the way, something not lost on Vlad.

Plays by Moliere include Tartuffe and The Doctor in Spite of Himself. 2022 is the four hundredth anniversary of Moliere’s birth, so we may hear more about him this year. Rodney’s report brought to mind for Michael several short plays of Moliere that he has enjoyed and would recommend:

La Jalousie du barbouillé –The Jealousy of le Barbouillé
Les Précieuses ridicules –Two Precious Maids Ridiculed
Le Mariage forcé –The Forced Marriage
Le Médecin volant – The Flying Doctor

Four Plays, by Lillian Hellman, includes The Children’s Hour, about two women who run a school for girls. After a malicious youngster starts a rumor about the two women, the rumor soon turns to scandal. As the young girl comes to understand the power she wields, she sticks by her story, which precipitates tragedy for the women. It is later discovered that the gossip was a pure invention, but it is too late. Irreparable damage has been done. The 1961 movie adaptation, directed by William Wyler, starred Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Miriam Hopkins, and Veronica Cartwright. Wyler won the Directors Guild of America and Golden Globes Award for his direction. MacLaine won the Golden Glove Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.

I only completed one book this month, The Dark Hours, by Michael Connelly. This is the fourth Renée Ballard story, the 35th in the Harry Bosch “universe.” Bosch, even though long retired, serves as a mentor of sorts to Detective Ballard. It’s New Year’s Eve and Ballard has been called to the scene of what appears to be a tragic accident. What comes up must come down, in this case a celebratory bullet has entered the skull of a hard-working auto shop owner (and former gang member). However, a found casing links the gun to a decades old unsolved murder originally investigated by Harry Bosch. Another great story from Connelly. Always believable, which is critical to a detective story. I do think the frequent references to COVID and masks will date it a few years down the line.

It’s been a real slog reading Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. The guy that writes The Washington Post weekly book review recommended it as a great humorous read. The New York Times called it “hilarious.” I call it dren. It was written by a writer for the sole purpose of impressing other writers. I have yet to laugh, guffaw, chuckle, smile, or grin. I thought it was just me, with an engineering mindset, that couldn’t stand this book, but Michael agreed with me, calling it terrible. And he’s educated! Can’t wait to finish and forget it.

Book Lovers SIG meets the second Sunday of each month. If you join us in person, please wear a mask. General chat begins at 2:00 p.m. Book discussion begins at 2:30 or when Peggy rings the bell. If you live out of town or don’t feel like making the drive, we also simulcast on Zoom.

If you would like to join our literary chat fest, please email me so I can add you to the invite list for the March Book Lovers SIG. St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes will be featured! ~Brad Lucht