We met in person in July for the first time since David’s stroke cancer detection. Our new temporary meeting site is the Chairman’s Office at the Main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. No cigars allowed, though. Peggy showed off her new Kansas City Public Library book bag. Quite the swag!

Kat was also there in person, while Beth, Linda, Nathan, and Coleen joined us online. We hadn’t seen Linda in a while, so it was great to see her again. And music teacher Nathan is on summer break, which meant he was able to report in as well.

Michael, Ben, and Stina were otherwise occupied, but did send in a list of the books they read.

Cynthia was feeling a bit tired but hopes to join us next month.

In all, 63 books were discussed/reviewed.

You can find the full list of books we have discussed on the Mid-American Mensa website:

https://www.mamensa.org/category/book-lovers-sig-book-talks/

Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case August 13. We will meet in person once again in the Chairman’s Office at the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. Parking is free in the garage immediately to the west of the library but use the east entrance. Just bring your parking ticket into the library to be validated. (East? West? Let’s call the whole thing off. <g>)

14 West 10th St., Kansas City, MO  64105

We generally chat for a bit, starting around 2 pm, then book discussions begin around 2:30 pm or when Peggy says, “Let’s talk about books!”

To join us on Zoom, simply click on the link shown below:

https://tinyurl.com/BookLoversSIG

You can also open your Zoom app and use these parameters:

Meeting ID: 946 0436 4344
Passcode: 844358

Please note: Book Lovers SIG is an ideal way for Mensa members who do not live in large metropolitan areas or who can’t make it to local events to get more out of membership.

Kat

The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943 by Inge Scholl. Written by the younger sister of two of the members that were killed, this is a moving account of the lives of two young students who protested the Nazi regime, what they decided to do, how they decided to do it, and the ultimate price they paid. Includes documents from the trial, which resulted in their death sentence.

Death at the Bar: Inspector Roderick Alleyn #9 by Ngaio Marsh, a New Zealand mystery writer who was in vogue in the 50’s and 60’s. Kat is interested in the evolution of the genre. The series features an upper-class Detective Inspection with a lower-class Sergeant who accompanies him everywhere. Kat thought it was well plotted but she was more interested in the interactions between the characters rather than the whodunnit parts. Curiously, Marsh is more well known in New Zealand for her work with the Shakespeare Festival. Kat was living in England when she originally came across the author, but now finds the books in used bookstores. All in all, a fun read.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. A detailed recounting of Churchill’s first year in the war. His biggest problem was getting Roosevelt involved. Kat had never read Larson before, in the belief that someone that popular couldn’t possibly be worth reading. After reading this book she now admits that was a mistake. Larson does unbelievable amounts of research. She was gob smacked at how good it was.  “Don’t be a book snob,” said Kat. “Read Eric Larson.”

Peggy

Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris — recommended by someone last month. Current New Mexico and its links to Converso Jews that immigrated from Spain/Portugal with Columbus and later.

The Late Mrs. Willoughby by Claudia Gray. Second in a series of Jane Austen mashups with characters from Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice. This time the very unpleasant wife of the very unpleasant Mr. Willoughby in S&S is poisoned.

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson. Set in post-WWII Edinburgh as the National Health Service starts up.  A working-class woman who has trained as an almoner (social worker) gets involved in a series of suspicious deaths. Great sense of time and place.

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks. A series of stories of cartoonist, actors, makeup artist, director, production assistants that create a superhero action film.  Covers WWII to the present.

African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideas by David Hackett Fischer. Recommended by Crosby Kemper (former head of KC Public Library and now head of IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services). Visions of America, hosted by Kemper, is a 3-part series on <pbsbooks.org> celebrating the US Semi-quincentennial (America 250).

AND. Since several of us have read and reported on The Maid, Peggy let us know that a sequel is coming out soon.

Brad

The Human Division by John Scalzi. I’m guessing this was the opening for the next section of the “Old Man’s War” series. It is set in the same universe but introduces us to an entirely new cast of characters.  The Colonial Union is on the skids; earth has broken ties. The Conclave has stabilized. But a new entity is picking off both CU and Conclave ships. Lots of double crosses and political intrigue. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction (2013).

The Hopkins Manuscript by R.C. Sherriff. A middle-aged man who lives by himself in a small English village spends his time breeding a special breed of chicken.  But he is also a member of the Society, which meets in London once a month to discuss all things about the moon. Then one day in October a special meeting is called, and all members are sworn to secrecy.  It turns out the moon is getting closer to the earth, and that the approach is accelerating. It looks like the moon may collide with the earth; best case scenario, graze it. Either way, bad news for humanity. So, the story proceeds on how the government prepares its citizens by having them build these deep, intricate bomb shelters. The cover story being this is in case the Germans invade. Everyone in villages across England pitch in; it becomes a real community effort. But come New Year’s Eve a full moon appears, and it becomes obvious to the most casual observer that hey, that moon looks a lot bigger than it usually does. So, the cat is out of the bag. Still, stiff upper lip and all that. Preparations continue. The shelters are packed with food, water, and air. And then the moon collides with Earth. Not catastrophically, as had been anticipated, because the moon wasn’t solid as thought, but still! It struck in the Atlantic off the coast of England and created enormous tidal waves across the globe. There is much death, but there are survivors. Hooray! And the few survivors pitch in together and start rebuilding society. A very uplifting story. But unfortunately, not the end of the story. Because politicians start organizing one country against another once again. Which leads to a final world war. In the end it was the greed and avarice of man himself that brings about the end of civilization. I learned after I finished the book that it was written in 1939, which I found stunning.  Strong recommendation.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb. Story of a young Black man from a poor family that learns to play the violin in high school. He receives no support from his family. His mom wants him to drop out and start earning money by working at Popeyes so she can buy herself a flat screen television. His grandmother is the only family member that gives him encouragement. He is talented enough that his school sends him to a statewide orchestra performance, where a Black woman professor of music from a small college hears him play and ends up offering a full-ride scholarship. His mom says now, but grandma is thrilled, and tells him the story of pop-pop, who used to play the violin for his master when their family were still slaves. His playing was so good that it kept him out of the fields and the brutal beatings. Once the civil war was over, the master gave his ancestor his freedom and the violin. Now all these years later his grandma gave him that same violin as a Christmas present. It is old and beat up, but it is his. He has a little money set aside from playing side gigs like weddings and such, so pays to have some rudimentary repairs done on the instrument. Then it’s off to college he goes where he continues to develop his skills. So much so that he is encouraged to enter the Van Cliburn competition, held every four years in Russia. Musicians from around the world hope to appear in the competition, but only 25 are selected. Our protagonist is one of them.  At this point his professor says, you know, you really need a much better instrument than that old thing you’ve been playing, so she introduces him to someone she knows in New York City that specializes in high quality violins. Which cost thousands of dollars. Which he does not have. But he does ask the shop owner if he can repair the violin he has been playing, only properly this time. So, he drops off the violin and they return to the college. Well. After cleaning off literally over a hundred years of dirt and grime, replacing the strings and bridge, the shop owner informs him that this isn’t just any violin, but a Stradivarius. Wow. It hits the news and becomes a big media sensation. And suddenly, his family decides this is great. Sell the violin and we can split the money between us. Nope. No way. AND. Distant relatives of the slaveholder come out of the woodwork and demand that he gives them the violin, claiming his great-grandfather must have stolen it, because there is no way their relative would have just given a violin to a slave. THEN!!! Just a few months before the competition the violin was stolen. Wow. I won’t tell you the rest because I definitely want you to read this book.  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Mystery & Thriller (2022) and Nominee for Best Debut Novel (2022).

Flux by Jinwoo Chong. George Martin famously produced, amongst many other songs, “Magical Mystery Tour” for the Beatles. He recorded a calliope, then cut the tape up and tossed the pieces into the air. He then picked them up and spliced the now random bits of music back together and used this creation to end the song.

That’s what reading this book was like. A story cut into pieces and randomly put back together. NOT recommended.

A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella. A simple, quiet story about the almost unfathomable grief three people face. An old man has lost his wife to cancer and has a hard time finding a reason to keep going. A younger woman has her daughter kidnapped by her estranged husband. A young woman’s father is murdered during a robbery at a convenience store. Their stories become intertwined, but not in a way that feels forced, and they all end up supporting each other. I loved this book. Strong recommendation.

Linda (Zoom)

Linda has been reading ebooks because her library is closed; but they’re building a new one!

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted. Sociologist Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor. Linda is not optimistic about eliminating poverty, as Desmond recommends some pretty radical changes that would never get through our gridlocked Congress.

Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby.  A series of essays by a woman who is mainly a writer for television. Snark, self-deprecating. She devotes a very long chapter to what she would do to change “Sex and the City”. Some of it’s funny, some got a little old.

The Racketeer by John Grisham.  If you read John Grisham, you know what it’s like. Just another Grisham story. She likes them and finds them very inventive. Typical Grisham.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Story about a small-town bookstore owner who is a bit of a curmudgeon and the changes that happen in his life when a foundling child is left in his bookstore. Linda found it charming and just loved it.

Swamp Story by Dave Barry. So bad she couldn’t finish it. She usually likes his books, but this one seemed forced. She just lost patience with it. Many of us were surprised to learn that Barry is still alive.

A Morning for Flamingos (Dave Robicheaux Book 4 of 23) by James Lee Burke. All these are set in Cajun country. Basic crime story.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. Currently reading. Fiction, but about the ladies that did the code breaking at Bletchley Park during WWII. A fascinating story about how all that happened. Set in an environment of intelligent people doing wonderful things for the war effort. She likes it a lot.

Beth (Zoom)

Books she enjoyed the most:

Three Guineas by Virginia Wolf. This was her first time with Ms. Wolff. Wow! Why didn’t anyone tell her about this? She wields her pen with such precision and hits the spot every time by saying the quiet part out loud about how the order of the universe is just begging to be rearranged. Born a boy — the world falls over itself to hold you up. Born a girl — and you are an ornament.

The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill. How Jewish history has affected Western thought. This book started to answer some of her questions about the history of the Jews. How do they stay together as a group, even though scattered, and why does everyone hate them.

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller. Very interesting story about a person who is trying to navigate her own anger with the story of the first president of Stanford. It’s a story about clinging to a truth internalized in childhood and how that colors your life, and how she broke through.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. This was so well done; it was hard to tell the difference between history and fiction. Hillary finally finds her center. It was tedious in the beginning, but then got interesting. It also highlighted to me why I would never do politics: fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.

On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory by Thomas Hertog. Stephen Hawking’s ideas about the origins of the universe. No whiff of God. Serious cosmology without math. Every time she thought she was getting it, she would look away and it would disappear. But it was very interesting. It made the news about gravity waves a little more relevant.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. A very interesting novel that includes quantum entanglement about a girl and her family in Japan, and a couple in western Canada.

The rest…

Voices Against Tyranny edited by John Miller. Collection of essays and poems written about the Spanish Civil War.

Educated by Tara Westover. Rising {partially) out of the muck of abuse and dogmatic thinking.

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. China’s Belt and Road initiative and other international relations in the 2010s.

Silver in the Bone by Alexdra Bracken. A different take on magic hunters and Avalon.

Accidental Czar: The Life and Lifes of Vladimir Putin by Andrew Weiss. A graphic tale about the long view of Russian tactics and strategy.

Artemis by Andrew Weir. Economics in an isolated environment.

Pirate Enlightenment by David Graeber. How pirates impacted the politics of northeast Madagascar.

Nathan (Zoom)

Books he’s reading with his 16-year-old:

St. Augustine of Hippo: The City of God by St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine answers the pagans, who attributed the fall of Rome (410) to the abolition of pagan worship. Essentially, he creates the philosophy of history.

Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace. Part history, part philosophy, part love letter to the study of mathematics, Everything and More is an illuminating tour of infinity. Wallace takes us from Aristotle to Newton, Leibniz, Karl Weierstrass, and finally to Georg Cantor and his set theory.

His son read The Republic by Plato, so Nathan read it to discuss it with him.

Book he’s reading with his 3-year-old:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. It’s about a mouse who falls in love with a princess and is banished by the mouse council to the rats. Quirky, but a great story with lovely illustrations. This is one of Nathan’s favorite kid’s books, and his son’s first read-aloud book.

With his 6-year-old he’s reading:

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is his fifth trip to this book out loud.

With the 8-year-old,

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. With Harry Potter it’s just a matter of getting through it. He doesn’t like it as much, but it teaches a kid to love a story.

With his 11-year-old,

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book One) by C.S. Lewis. It tells the adventure of Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic, who is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the “silent planet” – Earth — whose tragic story is known throughout the universe!

Nathan is trying to get better at listening to audio books. He listened to Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and really liked it. He liked it better than A Gentleman in Moscow (which Peggy and I both loved). There’s not really a character one could side with; they’re all pretty flawed. Nathan thought the woman who read it, Rebecca Lowman, was fabulous. There was a great line that stuck with Nathan: “I’ll offer this brief aside. In situations that are emotionally charged, if the next thing you say makes you feel better, it’s probably the wrong thing to say. I offer this advice for free because it has never done me any good.”.

Nathan was sad to hear that Cormac McCarthy died, but he wanted to read one of his books, so he read Cities of the Plain: Book 3 of Border Trilogy. He found it difficult to get through.

BUT… It gave him a mind to read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. With O’Connor’s writing he finds that there is this perpetual notion that suddenly something violent and terrible could happen at any moment, unannounced, in a dead pan delivery. Nathan found the book to be surgically precise in its language; the images were very vivid. He learned after reading it that chapter one was her master’s thesis. It tells the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old who heads into a town, doesn’t know anyone, and starts becoming a sort of street anti-preacher, trying to convert people to a god-less church. A difficult, but worthwhile read.

A farmer friend of his who used to be a band director recommended The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry. Deals with consumerism, farms being grouped together and being owned by fewer and fewer people. It deals with exploiting resources instead of tending them and the cultural implications of that. A challenging read, but thought provoking.

Finally, a book recommended to him by two different people on back-to-back days, one a 19-year-old medical student, and the other his mom!  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. Understandably a heavy read, it contains the story of Gawande’s 110-year-old grandfather, who only died after falling off a bus as he was going into town. Strong recommendation.

Michael was working a local music concert so was unable to attend, but here are the books he read in the past month:

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. A fictional book-length confession of a Vietnamese double agent who becomes a refugee and then an American citizen. Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016. A great book.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past (trilogy: The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s End) by Liu Cixin. Hugo Award-winning sci-fi trilogy made into a limited series by the same team that produced Game of Thrones. Premiering in January 2024 on Netflix. The teaser is already available. The books are heavy on science and theory, like Carl Sagan’s Contact. The three-body problem is a real astrological problem concerning the impossibility of predicting the movements of planets within a solar system with three suns. A system with one or two suns is stable. One with three is unstable regarding length of seasons and even days. The dark forest is another real theory explaining why we are not aware of any other intelligent beings in the universe. Like animals in a dark and possibly dangerous forest, the safest policy is to remain hidden.

In every example so far in our own earth’s history, whenever a more technologically advanced culture has discovered a less technologically advanced culture, the less technologically advanced culture has been destroyed.

Michael also let us know that the Chinese have already made a TV series of 3 Body, 30 episodes, each 44 minutes long, available on YouTube. As is always the case when filming a novel, much gets left out. The video game doesn’t appear until episode seven, for example.

Ben also couldn’t join us, but as he said, each month something seems to get in the way. That’s family life with a 2-year-old.  He just started the Three Body Problem so is motivated to be able to report back at least on that book for next month!

Finally, Stina had planned to attend virtually Sunday, but had one of her epic nosebleeds that landed her in the ER in Bethany on the 4th, then again here in Fort Collins the night of the 6th and the wee hours of the 8th. That doctor put me on bedrest until she could follow up with my regular doc. She tried to join on her phone, but the Zoom app was giving her grief and she didn’t have the energy to fight with it. So far, these have happened in 2011, 2019, and (now) 2023, so the developing pattern suggests that I’m good until 2025. 🙂

She finished 14 books between meetings. No stinkers this time, but she had a hard time getting into The Rider of Lost Creek by Louis L’Amour, which she read for the June on the Range readathon.

Half of the books fell into the fair-to-middlin’ range:

Betty Zane by Zane Grey. Also, for June on the Range. Interesting to realize that I probably had family involved in these historical events in that area.

Murder at the Spring Ball by Benedict Brown. Read for the Messy Middle summer reading challenge.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield. Interesting reading during the search for the Titan sub. Read for #SciFiJune.

Big Trouble in Little Rodentia by Disney. Cute little Zootopia cash-grab for Amazon’s quarterly Kindle challenge. I do them to get myself to read from my massive stash of Kindle books, but I ran short on time and had to buy something short and cheap to fit the prompt.

The Light Princess by George MacDonald. Weird little 19th-century fairy tale about a princess who is robbed of her gravity (in every sense of the word) by a bitter aunt. Read for the GenreLand book club.

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah. Entertaining adventure but a little too much going on and too many characters for me to keep track of while driving.

Agatha’s First Case by M.C. Beaton. A prequel to the Agatha Raisin series. I downloaded this before watching an episode of the TV show, which I thought was awful, and I almost deleted it. But I needed a short audiobook for Summerween. It’s better than the show, I’ll give it that.

I quite liked the other six books on my list:

Heartstopper, Vol. 1 by Alice Oseman. A sweet YA gay romance graphic novel. More vibes than plot. Another Kindle challenge time-crunch pick, but the library had it on Kindle, so I didn’t have to buy it.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Very different from the film, and as usual for PKD, a lot of it didn’t work for me, but I could say the same of Blade Runner. Overall, a hit, though. I read it for #SciFiJune but I also counted it for June on the Range because it’s set (mostly) in San Francisco, it has bounty hunters, it has shootouts, it has a ghost town, and it even has livestock.

The Likeability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed as You Are by Alicia Menendez. Mostly a depressing analysis of why and how much it sucks to be a woman in America. But there is some practical advice at the end. This was on the Sirens Conference reading list.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. Think Peggy Sue Got Married meets Groundhog Day. It’s a sort of memorial for the author’s father, Peter Straub, as well as a celebration of father-daughter relationships in general and a fun meta examination of the time travel and time loop genres. I was visiting my father at the time, so this one hit me in the feels. Read for the High Tea Book Club.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. A sobering look at the great disservice done to a woman who unknowingly made huge contributions to science and the impact it has had on her family ever since. And that barely scratches the surface of what this book explores. Read for the Stranger Than Fiction book club.

Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream by Julissa Arce. A moving memoir of what DACA meant to one of the first Dreamers. Read for the 52 Book Club’s summer reading game.