Mother’s Day plus other happenings limited us to five members as we met online to discuss the books we have been reading. Regulars Peggy and Kat signed on, and Cynthia was also able to join us once again after a short absence. In all, 65 books were reviewed.
The great thing is yet another new member joined our group, Sally from Manhattan, Kansas! She joined Mensa just a couple months ago, after being encouraged by her friend to do so for years. Sally … is a polymath, in the true sense of the word. I always tell people Mensans aren’t that smart, they just happen to have scored well on a test. Sally is one of about four people I have met in my lifetime that truly are brilliant. She has 14-year-old twins; the family reads everyday out loud in their household.
Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case next June 11. We continue to meet virtually while David, our in-person co-host, recovers from his recent stroke.
We generally chat for a bit, starting around 2 p.m., then book discussions begin around 2:20 p.m., more or less.
To join us on Zoom, simply click on the link shown below:
You can also open your Zoom app and use these parameters:
Meeting ID: 946 0436 4344
The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee. It gave her an interesting perspective on North Korea and what it was like to grow up there, go in and out of, and finally escape from. She also found it interesting to read what it was like for a North Korean to become a South Korean, and the resultant racism against the ethnicity difference.
Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel by George Orwell, adapted and illustrated by Bernardi Odyr. It got her to thinking about the whole role that the graphic novel has evolved into as a form of communication, particularly for people in high school and university. In many cases they’ve read the graphic novel version of something versus the original because of the whole sound bit style of our society and the reliance they have on the visual as well as the written word. She thought it was a good rendition of the story, and the way it was interpreted though the illustrations was fascinating.
How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith. She read this as part of a book club she attends out of her undergraduate alma mater, Dartmouth College.
The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert J. Waldinger and Marc Schulz. Released in January, it is a distillation of an incredible amount of data, from an ongoing Harvard research study that began in the 1920s, that determines how and why people are happy. Sally just started reading the book; I am really looking forward to her final report, and in the meantime intend to add this title to my list.
Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg. A good book for those who care about how we are going to feed ourselves in the future. The fish discussed are tuna, salmon, bass, and cod, which in many cases is a completely collapsed fishery.
Ode to a Nobody by Caroline Brooks DuBois: written entirely as a poem, part of a new category of Young Adult fiction which looks at a snapshot in time of an adolescent’s life and what they are thinking. She finds this interesting because she has kids that age.
Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls. West VA moonshiners merged with a Henry VIII biography. Listed as a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by Oprah Daily.
Widowland by CJ Carey. Alternative WWII History blended with Handmaid’s Tale. Once again, those darned Nazis have won the war and rule England. 2023 Philip K. Dick Award Nominee. Dark and dystopian, sounds like it is right up my alley.
Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfield. A modern retelling of this classic, set in contemporary Cincinnati. Named one of the best books of 2016 by the New York Times.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. An alternating story, set in Louisiana in 1875 and in 1987. Cynthia learned a lot about how families sent search for lost members after the civil war had ended.
The Last Restaurant in Paris by Lily Graham. A young woman has inherited a long-closed restaurant from a grandmother she didn’t even know existed. She learns that the last night the restaurant was open all the people that dined there died, including many German staff officers. Her grandmother, who was a server at the restaurant, disappeared, then reappeared, confessed to the crime, and was executed. But what really happened? You’ll have to read the book and find out. Recommended.
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects — the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind — and writing stories about them. Cynthia thought it was a pretty interesting story until the last 25%, when suddenly it jumped the shark and started focusing on a ghost. For that reason, she does not recommend it.
A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan. Just released in April, this is a detailed telling of how a con man in the 1920s became the Grand Dragon of the KKK with a plot to take over the country. Riveting stuff. Another one to add to my list.
Kat read a Jack Reacher mystery by Lee Child. So unimpressed was she that she didn’t mention the title. She will not be reading another Jack Reacher novel; she is done.
The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard. In her 50s, after so many heartbreaks in her life, Maynard finally met the love of her life. One year after becoming married, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is her story of coming to understand true love through the experience of great loss. Beyond tragic.
Teacher Man: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. Kat found it an enjoyable book, notes that he writes incredibly well, but is ultimately a disposable book for three reasons. One, he is sexist, without realizing it. When he talks about his male students he talks about their problems. When he talks about his female students, he talks about how they look. Number two, he seems to think the problems that teachers faced in the 50s and 60s are similar to the problems they face today. Kat feels the problems are very different and are much worse. She forgot the third, so disgusted was she.
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War by Deborah Cohen. The story of four your American reporters prior to, during, and immediately after WWII who landed exclusive interviews with Hitler and Mussolini, Nehru, and Gandhi, and helped shape what Americans knew about the world. Kat found it an interesting look at a period from a group of people we don’t often hear about who threw themselves into abnormal situations and how they grappled with them. New York Times Editor’s Choice. Winner of the Goldsmith Book Price. Winner of the Mark Lynton History Prize.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. Kat didn’t know much about President James Garfield, and cared even less, but after reading this book she knows a lot more and feels intensely sorry for him. He grew up incredibly poor, yet due to the sacrifices of his mother and brother, became President of the United States. What Kat found horrifying was the fact that the doctor that treated Garfield did not believe in sterilizing his hands or his instruments. She wouldn’t buy the book to own, but definitely thinks it is worth a borrow.
The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas. Winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award. Incredibly, thoroughly researched, more so than anything Kat thought could ever be, of the depiction of the spoils of war. You would have to be a real art nerd, with pocket protectors in both pockets, to get into the weeds of this book. Having said that, she found it page-turning and compelling.
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen by Wilfred Owen. Kat has a love of the English poets of World War One, all of whom were very young men and most of whom died. These were people who were writing on the academic, intellectual side of poetry versus the people who were writing because they were trying to describe something they couldn’t put into words (or any other way). After the second year of the war, in a letter to his mother, Owen describes himself as having become a poet’s poet, as opposed to a reader’s poet. That, to Kat, makes him somewhat more difficult to read, yet still really worth it.
The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton. Burton wrote The Miniaturist, which I reported on some years ago. This purportedly is the second in the Miniaturist series. It did not live up to the original. I would not recommend it.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. I originally started this book several years ago, and finally had a gap in time to finish it. I found the story convoluted, with way too many characters and story threads that only loosely tied together. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2020).
All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business by Mel Brooks. The only book I read this month that I didn’t dislike. He talks about his early days, writing jokes, and working on Your Show of Shows. Great stories. The most enjoyable portion of the book was his anecdotes of how his various movies came to be made. For example, did you know that Richard Pryor was one of the writers of Blazing Saddles, and was Brook’s choice to star in the role of the sheriff? The studio said no way, that Pryor was too unstable. Instead, a friend of Brook’s wife, Anne Bancroft, recommended a young man who was making a name for himself on Broadway, Clevon Little. All About Me is full of stories like this. If you like reading about an earlier time in comedy, read this book. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Humor (2022).
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson. Possibly the best opening of a book I have ever read.
“Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.”
Unfortunately, it was not sustained. Instead of just telling a clever murder mystery, Stevenson decided to show us just how darned clever a writer he thinks he is. This is a story about an author who is telling a story in the story. Constantly breaking the fourth wall, with the author in the story talking to a reader of the story in the story about how this is a clue, this is a clue, and I’ll share with you further clues on page 127. No. Just write the darn story. Could have been so much better.
Reports from people who couldn’t join us but did get some reading done.
Michel Tournier: excellent recommendation got through Gemini and The Four Wise Men. These are on the dark side, but excellent writing and interesting point of view. Gemini is a look at the connections of twins; and the Four Wise Men is an alternative Bethlehem story.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others by Sarah Bakewell. A good intro to philosophy, but it eventually goes down the nitpicking rabbit hole of philosophy. Very enlightening in any case. It does keep coming back to Husserl and Heidegger and Sartre and their conflicts and connections, especially their reactions to WWII, Nazis, and communism. Not enough Simone de Beauvior, so I am also reading The Second Sex (unabridged translation) for a different viewpoint.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews. A fictionalized version of a true story about the women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia in the 2000s who are anesthetized with cow tranquilizer and raped by their menfolk and their reaction to it. They invent their own philosophy and then carry it out. The movie was also excellent (that’s how I found the book).
Michael said he has been working on a show (play) but has been reading Kawabata.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Highly recommend for any sci-fi lovers out there. The book is comprised of a series of vignettes that range from hilarious to downright dark. Sometimes they have a mixture of both, and the humor is also kind of sad. My favorite chapter was an homage to several of the well-known short stories by Edgar Allan Poe.
Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences by Bev Vincent. Quite a mouthful, but this biography was really interesting to me. I learned a lot about my favorite author, including what kind of childhood he had, what sort of college student he was, some inspirations for some of his stories and novels, and so on.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I have a beautiful illustrated limited edition of this book that I read to my daughter who will be four years old in July. She absolutely loved it and kept asking if I could read more whenever I had to take a break to help with the two-year-old. It was perfect for her age, and I hope she becomes an avid reader like her dad.
Ben also says he is also in the middle of a couple other nonfiction books which always take me a bit longer to get through (I hear you, brother), we’ll see if I report those out next month!
Verity by Colleen Hoover. Breeder lit. Misogynist anti-choice propaganda masquerading as romantic suspense. I was going to give it the benefit of the doubt for trying to be a different take on Rebecca even if it didn’t really succeed, but then the author doubled down on the anti-feminist angle in an interview, and I am done making excuses for her. Read for High Tea Book Club.
The Impossible Resurrection of Grief by Octavia Cade. Hopefully the last of my cli-fi reading for a while. Really intriguing concepts, and some cool visuals that I’d love to see on the big screen, but the story is a jumbled mass of confusion that would need one hell of a script doctor to make that happen. Read for Strange Worlds Book Club.
The End of the Ocean and The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde. Books 2 and 3 in Lunde’s “climate quartet.” Gorgeous prose, but too much focus on awful family dynamics and overall doom and gloom for me to appreciate it. It’s hard to say which I liked least of these first three, but the third book’s extended traumatic childbirth scene completely ruined the entire book for me. Read for Strange Worlds Book Club.
Chasing Cody by Terry Shepherd. I was on the fence about reading more in this series, but this was an auxiliary short story available on Hoopla, so I bit. It’s a strange mix of copaganda and heartwarming holiday story. It features a gentleman with down’s syndrome (and a lot of autistic traits) whose observational skills are key in catching bank robbers just in time for Christmas. I enjoyed the Holmesian side of the story and the way Cody’s character was written, but it’s not enough for me to buy the rest of the books in this series.
The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed. More cli-fi, easily the best of this batch. I ended up liking this story for what it was (mostly dithering over a decision) but I am still grieving for what I wanted it to be (making the hard decision and showing us the result). Read for Strange Worlds Book Club.
A Brief History of Fascist Lies by Fedrico Finchelstein. Not bad for what it was, I guess, but I don’t feel like it did nearly enough to show its teen audience just how dangerous these lies were and still are.
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. Very interesting re-examination of all the stuff I learned in middle school social studies and undergrad anthropology classes. My main problem is that I was in a time crunch listening to it on audiobook (at 2x speed) and didn’t really have a chance to analyze why I thought some of their ideas were a stretch. The structure of the book also did not work well for me. Read for Stranger Than Fiction Book Club.
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss. I am NOT and never have been a fan of Dr. Seuss. But I happened upon a video of a rapper performing this book, and it was delightful.
Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady by Susan Quinn. I found the oscillation between “did they?” and “duh of course they did” annoying and repetitive, but this gave me a really different perspective on the first half of the 20th century. Read for Old Town Library Book Club.
Hershey’s Brownies and More by Hershey Foods Corp. A nice little collection if you find yourself wanting to make a chocolaty treat.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. I’m glad I finally got ahold of a copy of the book, which was far more interesting than its summary led me to believe it would be.
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez. This is a bizarre collection of magical realism stories mostly set in Argentina. This is way more body horror than I can normally handle, but the writing is compelling and darkly humorous. Discussion with book clubbers who were more knowledgeable about the Dirty War greatly increased my appreciation for the themes woven throughout.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. I feel like I should have enjoyed this story of Gen X nerds designing video games a lot more than I did. It was good and I did enjoy it, but I suspect full appreciation requires having played Oregon Trail.
A Cat Called Hope by Oliver Clarke. A short story without dialogue, featuring the cat’s perspective of some intense scenes, written by CriminOlly, a BookTuber I follow.
Where Billy Died by Earl Staggs. A violently amusing short story about a hunt for a bail jumper by a man I remember fondly from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Features an interesting secret history bit from the Wild West.
This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew. A deeply personal look at activism in art and museum curation.
Feeding the Dragon by Sharon Washington. A Black woman’s memoir of growing up living in a library with an alcoholic father.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Except for a stunningly stupid confrontation with the bad guy, this was a beautifully executed mystery within a mystery. If you listen to the audiobook, be sure to look at the chapter titles to understand the overall structure. Read for Traps and Trench Coats Book Club.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. I highly recommend the audiobook to hear the spot-on narration of Marcellus the mystery-solving octopus. This is a sweet story about bringing people together and the bored octopus who makes it all possible. Read for the LHR Society.
Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. This is the picture book that Scholastic wanted to promote, but only if the author removed all that disturbing talk of racism. In a story about the concentration camps for Japanese Americans. Last I heard, Scholastic had backpedaled and made a new offer, but the author was still eyeing them warily.
The White Rose: Munich,1942-1943 by Inge Scholl. I’d heard of the White Rose, but this was my first detailed look at who they were and what they accomplished in a short time. Very sad, moving, and inspirational.
P.S. Wanna join my Mysterious MAYhem readathon? Details included in my book recs video: https://www.youtube.com/live/MljVqYlSUmg?feature=share
I Will Find You, by Harlan Coben *****
Spare, by Prince Harry ****
Small Mercies, by Dennis Lehane ***
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee ****
The Beauty in Breaking, by Michele Harper ****
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith *****
We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian *****
What Happened, by Hillary Clinton ****
A Flicker in the Dark, by Stacy Willingham ***
Storm Watch, by C.J. Box ****
Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain ****
The Last Orphan, by Gregg Hurwitz ****
The Law of Innocence, by Michael Connelly *****
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi *****