We met in person in August in the Chairman’s Office at the Main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. It is the perfect room for us; nice round table, plenty quiet, and it is a library, after all.

John joined us for the first time in several years, since before COVID anyway. He has been doing a lot of work on his condo in Independence and man does it look like a palace!

Peggy and Kat were also there in person. Kat is finally free of her cast & brace from her broken elbow episode and is now busy getting a rental property ready for a new tenant, who is expected to arrive from overseas this fall. The tenant toured the place via Facetime (over a 7-hour time zone difference). Things sure have changed.

Online regulars Linda and Beth were there. Michael was back with us online after a several months’ absence, and David, continuing his recovery from a stroke and cancer, joined us from home with his wife Coleen. Nathan also joined us online, perhaps for the last time in a while, as school is about ready to start. We missed Christina last month, so it was good to see her again. She has a couple of writing projects she’s working on, with a deadline coming up at the end of the month. She wanted to pass on this information to our Colorado readers:

Here’s the website for the Fort Collins Reads program with Brendan Slocumb in November:


Slocumb is the author of The Violin Conspiracy, which several of us have read and all highly recommend.


Delmont joined our group of readers for the first time. For those that aren’t in the know, Delmont is the web editor for Mid-America Mensa. He is the person that posts the full version of this write up, which contains all the books that were discussed and reviewed, to the MAM website.

Jim sent me an email with a list of books he has been reading, and Caroline, who isn’t able to join us in person because she works on Sundays, playing the organ, she sent me a list of the books she has been reading since the start of the year.

In all, 99 books were discussed/reviewed.


Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case September 10. We will meet in person 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.

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 more or less, or when Peggy says, “Let’s talk about books!”

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
Passcode: 844358

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


The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee. The subtitle, “what racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together”, describes the book well.  Ron DeSantis would hate it. Heather, a black woman who ran a mostly white liberal think tank, shows how education, housing, and swimming pools illustrate how benefits whites took for granted were taken away when blacks were included.

Queen Wallis by C. J. Carey. The sequel to Widowland, where the Germans captured the UK in WW II, stresses the suppression of women but has the new Queen strike back by being a good poker player. I stayed up until midnight to finish the gripping tale.

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva. The main character, Gabriel Allon, is an ex-spy and art restorer, who resorts to painting fake masterpieces to upend a Ponzi scheme. (Book 22 of 23: Gabriel Allon).

A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom by Mark Gregory Pegg. The Cathars were the most famous heretics of the Middle Ages.  But what if they never existed?


N is for Noose by Sue Grafton. Grafton writes beautifully about California. Her protagonist is always hopping into her little Volkswagen Bug and driving somewhere. She just writes beautifully about the landscape and the sky. Kat recently moved here from California and misses it in a lot of ways and gets nostalgic when Grafton writes about driving along the 101, because Kat used to do the same thing herself.

Young Bloomsbury: The Generation That Redefined Love, Freedom, and Self-Expression in 1920s England by Nino Strachey. It’s about the Bloomsbury Circle and the group that came right after it, and how they sort of cross-(something) each other.  It’s very gossipy, which Kat liked. She likes that period of English history.

The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family by Kerri K. Greenidge. Peggy spoke about this book last time, and Kat had been on the wait list for it. It’s a history book, really well written. Greenridge looks at the White and Black Grimkes. The sisters were the abolitionists, who, in their minds and in their writings, whitewashed their brother Henry, who was a particularly sadistic slave owner. The Black Grimkes are the offspring of that same slaveholder. The first half of the book is about the White Grimkes and how they came to be. The second half is the relations between the White and the Black Grimkes. These were not particularly comfortable relations for either group. Kat thought it was absolutely fascinating.

The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea by Arthur O. Lovejoy. A beautiful piece of dated intellectual history, which embodies the William James lectures delivered at Harvard in 1933. (The program was initiated in 1930 and has continued to the present.)

Finally, Kat and Michael both have embraced Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov, apparently considered one of the finest Russian novels every written. Oblomov made Goncharov famous throughout Russia on its publication in 1859, as readers saw in this story of a man whose defining characteristic is indolence, the portrait of an entire class in decline.


Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell. A fairy tale in reverse, this is the story of Huguette Clark, the bright, talented daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, who was nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls.  The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health. (This sounds like a fascinating story; can’t wait to read it.)

I Took a Lickin’ and Kept on Ticking (And Now I Believe in Miracles) by Lewis Grizzard. From the book blurb, “When Lewis Grizzard went in for his latest heart surgery — a replacement for his much-publicized pig valve — he assumed it would be another ordinary, humdrum hospital nightmare. He’d been through plenty of those. Little did he dream that, while on the operating table, his heart would stop. And stop dead in its tracks — the key word here being “dead.” For Lewis Grizzard was, in fact, as good as gone. His ticker didn’t work for three days. He was in a coma for weeks. His doctors said his chances of survival were nil. He even saw the glowing white light at the end of the tunnel. For most people, that would be a sign that heaven was just around the corner. For Lewis — just his luck — it turned out to be a K-mart tire sale.”


Shift (Silo #2) by R.C. Sherriff. Second in the series, but the precursor to Silo. Initially set in the not-to-distant future, the Senate Majority Leader believes that perceived enemies have developed the same nano bioweapon as the United States. Convinced that the U.S. will be destroyed if the bioweapons are released, he decides to destroy the entire world instead. But before he does so, he establishes 50 seed colonies, silos buried deep into the earth in his home state of Alabama. Once they are complete, his cohorts in the military begin a nuclear war. The rest of the book describes what takes place in the early days of the silo community, how people live and survive, but hardly thrive.

The Dark Remains: Laidlaw’s First Case by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. According to GoodReads, McIlvanney is regarded as “the father of ‘Tartan Noir’” and has been described as “Scotland’s Camus”.   Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991) are crime novels featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Laidlaw is considered to be the first book of Tartan Noir. The Amazon summary says that when McIlvanney died in 2015, he left half a handwritten manuscript of Laidlaw’s first case. New York Times–bestselling author Ian Rankin then finished what McIlvanney started. And that’s what drew me to this book in the first place, Rankin’s name listed as co-author. Otherwise, I’d never heard of McIlvanney or Laidlaw.  Pretty standard stuff. Detective Inspector Laidlaw is a loner who plays by his own rules. Good story, but nothing original here. A bit of a twist at the end, that only Laidlaw saw coming. Satisfying read set in 1970s Glasgow.

The End of All Things (Old Man’s War #6) by John Scalzi. I really enjoyed the first three books in this series, but the final three veered further and further away from the origins of the series. I still enjoyed it, because Scalzi is such a darned good writer.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow, a book I really loved. Story about a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society. Not normally a book I would read, but Towles continues to impress me with his writing. Nathan reported on this last month and enjoyed it; I did as well. Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2011).

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. Goodreads Choice Award Winner for Best Science Fiction (2020). Oh, well, Goodreads Choice Award for Best Science Fiction?  You bet I’m going to read it. Big mistake. 856 pages. According to Libby, average read time of 20 ½ hours. This thing just drug on forever. Took him nine years to write, then rewrite. He should have just thrown it away. And there’s a sequel! Hard pass on this one.

Linda (Zoom)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot, #4) by Agatha Christie. No more needs be said.  ***
The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War, #2) by John Scalzi. Sci-fi, part of a series.  ****

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. Speculative fiction — what Hillary’s life might have been like had she met, but not married, Bill Clinton. Pretty melodramatic and a LOT of sex scenes. I can’t help but wonder if the real Bill & Hillary have read this and what they think!  ***

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever. A posthumous compendium of quotes from Anthony Bourdain about a lot of places and food. Plus, gratuitous advice on flights and transportation. Only read it if you REALLY like reading about food. Probably should have been 2 stars.  ***

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Sort of romance-ish but better than that. Hard to describe.  ****

Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis. This is an amazing story of a British spy. Fascinating.  *****

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. The title pretty much describes it. Very interesting.  *****

The Snakes by Sadie Jones. A bizarre sort of quasi-horror story about a couple taking over a hotel in France. Very uneven.  ***

Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls. I love Jeanette Walls’s biographical books, but this novel did not live up to the other books like them.  **

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1) by Agatha Christie.  Agatha Christie again. ***

Beth (Zoom)

Books she enjoyed the most:

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America by Christopher Hitchens. It is a delight to get nuanced views of our founding fathers. This looks at how TJ was certainly ahead of his time in getting away from royalty and religion, even when it is baked into his existence. It also shows a piece of “The Great Game” that is still playing out today in the competition/cooperation between the US, France, the UK, and Russia. TJ helped move the needle towards democracy, a new concept, but still with all the polish of the aristocrats being in charge.

Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty. I’ve dabbled in the mindfulness/meditation genre, but this has practical application. I liked it so much; I bought it after reading it from the library.

Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy by Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman. More history, from a different angle. We are at a tipping point because democracy depends on people and how they act. The Constitution can’t save us if we won’t save ourselves. These authors argue that we’ve never faced all four threats at the same time before. We’ve been polarized before (Civil War), and it didn’t go well.  We still haven’t solved that problem, and Donald Trump and lots of others are using it for their own ends. But the wide and pervasive reach of communication in the 2020s and the refusal of some politicians to be people of good character (which is who our founders assumed would always be in charge) is putting our experiment in democracy in peril.

Antisemitism: Part One of The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. I have found a new author:  Hannah Arendt is awesome; I now have a stack of her books to read. I am filling in my knowledge of Jewish history, but still looking for more information. The book I read was the first of a trilogy starting in the late 19th century and going into WWII.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb. This was a great read, as recommended by Brad, I believe. I have attached a review with some hints on whodunit.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. This looks at world (EuroAsian) history from the perspective of a European. It discusses what was going on in the world in the last 3000 years with an emphasis on how trade made the world go round and affected the story of who was in charge and what wars they fought. I’m about halfway through. This is all the stuff they didn’t teach us in high school, mostly because they had to teach us the reference points first.

The rest…

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler. Exploring a coming of age and the lives of sea creatures. The departure from the received wisdom.

Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter. Woke Racism: it’s a religion. Not discussed but obvious, so is the backlash. It is all or none, and no shades of gray. Treats everything and everyone as only part of a group either for or against the idea of the day.

I’m Waiting for You: And Other Stories by Kim Bo-young. Abstract and real science fiction about coming together and splitting apart.  What to save and what to discard. The world of the mind and the world of things.

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li. Exploring bonding and energy meets a world with its own agenda.

Christina (Zoom)

The Tea Dragon Society by K. O’Neill. All-ages graphic novel (1st in a trilogy, I believe) about characters who care for little dragons that grow tea leaves on their heads. If you are looking for a warm hug of a cozy fantasy story, this is it.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Nonfiction about sustainable materials. Lots of intriguing concepts here, but I don’t have the background to have any idea how realistic they are.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. A fantastical take on Old Hollywood and the dark forces that lurk there. Read for Strange Worlds Book Club.

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. A mini course in critical thinking. I originally read this for Administrative Research Methods in grad school, and I re-read it for Stranger Than Fiction book club. I’d like to see it updated or perhaps annotated to discuss the author’s 1950s obsession with cigarettes and Ivy League alumni.

Reprieve by James Han Mattson.
Cupcakes, Bats, and Scaredy Cats by Pamela DuMond.

The Keeper of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis. Kind of a comfort read for me. Dual timeline romance featuring a French Resistance story and a family of witches. Extremely predictable and sappy, but sometimes I need that.

The Running of the Tyrannosaurs by Stant Litore. This far-future short story is an intense look at a girl’s last chance at glory in the tyrannosaur races. A brutal indictment of the commodification of young female athletes.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin. A fun picture book about dragons and tacos and salsa.

The Odds by Jeff Strand. A story of gambling addiction gone very, very wrong. Simultaneously horrific and bonkers. Read for the Midnight Society Book Club.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Amusing picture book, but I had a hard time with the meter.

Rat Race by Becky Clark. Mystery novella linking Clark’s screwball comedy Mystery Writers series to her new Sugar Mill Marketplace series. The humor is still wacky but a little toned down to reflect the shift from Charlee to her mother as the series sleuth.

Go as a River by Shelley Read. Read for Book Snobs.

The Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings. Jazz-inspired chaos in a magical parallel reality New Orleans. Three youngsters (no, this is NOT middle grade or YA) take on a magical quest to save their city by retrieving the songs stolen from the Doctor Professor’s piano and made incarnate. Sort of. Life and death are very fluid concepts in this world.

Nathan (Zoom)

Lots of books this month, as he is trying to finish as much as he can before school starts back up.

The Lock-Up by John Banville. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous Banville book I read. Not memorable.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  Always good to re-read. Read for a book club.

Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley. His reflections on the novel decades later. Worth reading. He gets a lot of things right. And some things very wrong. The foreword by Christopher Hitchens deals with both.

Technopoly by Neil Postman. Also a re-read, and because of Brave New World. Every technology has its downside. Highly recommended,

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory by Alasdair MacIntyre. Thick reading, ambitious and wide in scope, worthwhile. One of those books that leads to reading lots of other books.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Hadn’t read it, glad I now have read it. A book that continues to talk in my head.

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf.  Good overview of the development of reading in history/culture, also covers reading development in individuals, dyslexia, etc.

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. Also a re-read for a book club. I should read it every year. Great. (Nathan is a big C.S. Lewis fan, so much so that he named one of his sons Lewis).

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Deals with “choice architecture,” exploring methods for influencing people’s choices and the ethics involved in doing so. Frustrating at times due to the authors’ assumptions about what people should want, also too broad a definition for what is a nudge and what crosses the line ethically.

Light Bringer by Pierce Brown. The sixth book in the Red Rising series. Been waiting for this one for a long time. Twisty, thought-provoking, really enjoyed it. Worth the wait. Looking forward to the next (and final, I think) book.

Ways of Attending by Iain McGilchrist. A short summary of Dr. McGilchrist’s work dealing with the differences between the hemispheres of the brain in how they attend to things and how they are manifested in our world. Exploring his thought leads to reading his The Master and His Emissary next.

Michael (Zoom)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 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.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.
Doom Day Book by Connie Willis.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories. Willis has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and was recently awarded the title of Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. All ten of the stories gathered here are Hugo or Nebula award winners — some even have the distinction of winning both. “Even the Queen” and “The Soul Selects Her Own Society” in particular stood out for Michael.

Delmont (Zoom)

I’m currently reading through the poetry book Poetry: Inspiration, Punctuation, and Beating Writer’s Block by MAM member and former MAM Board member Don Norris. Don is a retired mechanical engineer and his topics of imagination and subject matter reflect this. It starts out with the poem “Little Green Men” and ends with a poem titled “Remember Me”. This book covers a lifetime of experiences and is a collection of his best poetry. Available from Amazon. This is Don’s first published book of any sort. I’m enjoying it!

David (Zoom)

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Current movie Oppenheimer based on this Pulitzer Prize winning book. Excellent book.

The Geeks Guide to World Domination by Garth Sundem. Collection of short articles about science and pop culture.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Read for young adult book group. Actually written for late grade school/middle school readers. Soon to be released as a movie.

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Salt has been as important a commodity as gold over the centuries. Good read.

Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand by Yoko Komori. Read for young adult book group. Japanese Manga book

Coleen (Zoom)

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough. Based on a true story of a woman artist during the Renaissance; raped by an associate of her father; persuaded her father to take the man to court for damage to her father’s property. Well worth reading.

More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez. A bestseller, not really my thing, though; did not connect with any character.

Reading, not finished:

Eleanor the Queen by Norah Lofts. One of my favorite authors, Lofts writes historical fiction. Eleanor was Duchess of Aquitaine in the 12th century. Married to French King Louis VII, and later to English King Henry II. Mother of Richard the Lionheart.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Evelyn has been murdered. Main character wakes up in the body of a different houseguest each day. To escape, he must solve Evelyn’s murder in no more than 8 days.

Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand by Yoko Komori. Japanese Manga story

Ben couldn’t join us, but he did read The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest both by Cixin Liu. His take:

I’m not really sure how to describe this trilogy without spoiling anything for interested readers, so I’ll say it’s a brilliant sci-fi story with lots of cool ideas about intelligent life, space travel, and the distant future. I highly recommend it! It’s got some “smart science people” terms that I don’t fully understand but get the gist, enough to enjoy the story and the humor. Next month I’ll likely report back on the 3rd book of the series.


It’s been a busy few months. I missed coming to visit with you all.  Here is a partial list of what Jim’s been reading.

The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. This is ageless Hindu scripture and guidance. I’ve read it every 3-5 years for the last 50 years or so. I’ve read it several times these last few months. You might know the quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer that came from this: “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

Religions of the Axial Age: An Approach to the World’s Religions by Mark W. Muesse. Based on 24 lectures given by Muesse at Rhodes College. The time period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE was marked by great intellectual development around the world. Confucius, Buddha, Aristotle, the Upanishads, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and more. Very interesting period of history. I had not put together those different timelines.

The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. Edited by Ainslie T. Embree and William Theodore de Bary, and published by The Modern Library, 1966. This provides a comprehensive summary of Hinduism: evolution, heresies, dogma, sects, key teachings. I highly recommend it to anyone studying comparative religion.

The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics by Gary Zukov. This is an excellent explanation of quantum physics for those without a mathematical or physics background. Even though ‘the new physics’ of 1978 has evolved a lot in the last 45 years, this is still a wonderful guide to understanding the complexities of quantum physics.

The Greatest Science Stories Never Told – 100 Tales of Invention and Discovery to Astonish, Bewilder & Stupify by Rick Beyer. This tells the stories about the people who invented important things and never got proper credit. The introduction starts: ” Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb. Alexander Graham Bell did not invent the telephone. The first real car was careening around Paris before George Washington was President…” Lots of wonderful things to learn about, and accidents of discovery!!!  Part of a six-book series, The Greatest Stories Never Told, published by the History Channel.

Don’t Yell Challah in a Crowded Matzah Bakery – The Book of (Kosher L’Pesach) Humor & Stress Relief by Mordechai Schmutter. Everything you didn’t know about Jewish customs and traditions surrounding Passover. This book pokes fun at Jewish customs, written by an observant Jew. If even some of this is true, then I have learned a lot!


Here are some of the books she has finished this year.

Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life by Shirley du Boulay.
Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh, edited by Irving Stone.
The Writings of the Virgin St. Catherine of Sienna by St. Catherine of Sienna.
Words Without Music: A Memoir by Phillip Glass.
Fires in the Dark: Healing the Unquiet Mind by Kay Renfield Jamison.
Duruflé’s Music Considered by Ronald Ebrecht.
The Collected Letters of St. Teresa of Avila by St. Teresa of Avila (Translator: Kieran Kavanaugh).
Oliver Sacks: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) by Oliver Sacks.
Sister Wendy on Prayer by Wendy Beckett.
Exuberance by Kay Renfield Jamison.
Corey’s Kent by Rose Pacatte.
A Thousand Voices Hildegard von Bingham Last Chants (sample).
Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, by St. Teresa of Avila.
The Man Who Thought his Wife was a Hat by Oliver Sacks.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks.
On the Move by Oliver Sacks.