We had a good group Sunday, but only two people made it in person. The good news is that Christina may be in town next month, so she might be able to join us in the flesh!
Peggy is still having back problems, so joined us online instead. And Christina joined us for the first time in a few months; it was nice to see her face again. Linda, Beth, Michael, Coleen and David also joined us online, as did Jim, who is recovering from a bout of Covid.
Ben wasn’t able to join us but did send along his reading.
In all, 71 books were discussed/reviewed. The full list can be found here:
Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case December 10. We meet in person in the Chairman’s Office at the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The room is immediately to your left as you enter the library. Parking is free in the garage located west of the library, but make sure you use the garage’s east entrance. Just bring your parking ticket into the library to be validated.
14 West 10th Street, 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
Book Lovers 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 Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. An abridged edition of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Summarizes the initial changes introduced by the establishment of printing shops, goes on to discuss how printing challenged traditional institutions and affected three major cultural movements: the Renaissance, the Reformation and the rise of modern science. Beth added that this is free with an Audible membership.
If I remember right Kat read two other books but I’ll be darned if I can remember what they were.
Interstellar: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Our Future in the Stars by Dr. Avi Loeb. **** Professor Loeb gave a talk for the August Theodore Talks, which drew 255 registrants. Loeb’s first love is existential philosophy, which, combined with his immense astrophysics knowledge, makes this an interesting read.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. *** Not my normal kind of read. Maali is a photo journalist in (Sri) Lanka who has been murdered by agents of the government. His spirit is held in limbo for seven days (seven moons). He uses this time to investigate who had him murdered and why. Lots of ghosts and spirits.
The Magician by Colm Tóibín. **** Who doesn’t like magic? Well, this book has nothing to do with magic. Instead, it is a fictionalized biography of the Nobel prize-winning German author, Thomas Mann. As I kept reading, I was saying to myself, hey, this Mann fellow sounds familiar. Took a long time for me to make the connection. [Ed. note: Magic Mountain is a hint too!] Well written, though.
A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II by Adam Makos. ***** Primarily the story of a German WWII ace who shot up a U.S. bomber, yet escorted them to safety instead of finishing the job. Decades later the pilot of that American bomber went in search of the enemy that saved his life, and against almost unfathomable odds, found him. I enjoy history, military history and true stories, so this hit all the marks for me. If you like great true stories this is a highly recommended read.
The Secret Hours by Mick Herron. **** From the author of the Slow Horses series, this is kind of a prequel to those characters, yet also a sideways entry into the present day Slow Horses story line. Took me a long time to figure out what the heck was going on, until he started bringing in some familiar characters.
The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen (translated by David Hackston). ***** I don’t remember how this got on my list, but I’m glad it did. A Finnish actuary loses his job, his meaning, his whole reason for living. But then a few weeks later his brother dies, leaving him a quirky adventure park (not an amusement park). Along with a mountain of debt owed to a loan shark. Applying the only skills he has (mathematics), he brings new life to the park and its employees and brings down the mob along the way. Great fun read. Steve Carell (The Office) is starring in the movie, being filmed for Amazon. Highly recommended.
Making It So: A Memoir by Patrick Stewart. **** An engaging biography, honest and straightforward. It’s as if Stewart was in the room with me, sharing his memories. I enjoyed this very much.
The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts by Loren Grush. **** Grush did a great job of describing the lives of six women before, during and after they became America’s first female astronauts. I was also pleased that Grush didn’t gloss over NASA’s arrogance that led to the loss of seven astronauts in the Challenger accident, including the fact that several of them survived the initial explosion. All in all an easy read.
Prequel: An American Fight against Fascism by Rachel Maddow — the fight in 30s/40s America. Her podcast Ultra is a way to hear the story. If you prefer fiction, Susan Elia MacNeil’s Mother Daughter Traitor Spy covers one part of the story — a Jewish ADL lawyer who recruits German American vets to spy on the German Bund and eventually gets someone in the US Government to listen to him.
The Deadline by Jill Lepore — Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard and a staff writer at the New Yorker. Because the Kansas City Kempers endowed her chair, we always get to see her at the KC Library when she has a new book tour. These essay subjects include Jane Franklin (Ben’s younger sister), her best friend Jane, bicycles, her father’s library of Everyman books, Herman Melville, Eugene Debs, Rachael Carson, and a variety of contemporary history topics.
Enough by Cassidy Hutchinson — the life story of the former aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and witness for the January 6 committee. The early years are less interesting but may explain why she was able to stand up and tell the truth when so many others could not.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann — haven’t seen the movie yet and not sure I will. A truly depressing story of white men’s greed.
Roman Stories by Jhumpra Lahiri — the author, born in England to Indian parents, and raised in the US, has been writing in Italian for the past 8 years. These short stories, set in Rome, include both long-time residents and newly arrived immigrants.
Freedom’s Ghost by Eliot Pattison — the 7th book in the Bone Rattler series, mysteries of the American Revolution. A Highland convict sent to America as an indentured servant gets caught up in 18th century wars, battles between Iroquois and settlers, and slavery. Mysteries involve his medical training (hence his Indian name of Deathspeaker) and real-life characters like Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Crispus Attucks give it a good sense of place.
Africatown by Nick Tabor. The last slave ship landed in Mobile in 1860, illegally. This is the well documented story of that last group of Africans brought to the US as slaves. From their native villages to their current situation in their own embattled town in Mobile, it reads like a thriller. It is a picture of the challenges of trying to be a human in Alabama while black.
The Untitled Books by CJ Archer. The latest in the Glass Library Series, solving magical crime in London in the 1920s.
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Time travel gone wrong. Ambitious and resourceful student gets a trip back to 1348. Things go wrong before anything happens. Post Pandemic (written in 1992, and set in 2054), and no cell phones.
Sister Song by Lucy Holland. One generation after the Romans have left Britain, and the Christian Priests have arrived. The magic is dying as people turn to Christianity. Explores other themes of power, manipulation, willful blindness, and gender.
Liberty is Sweet by Woody Holton. History of the Revolution with lots and lots of detail, not arranged in a fully coherent fashion. It reads more like newspaper clippings, but highlights how many more players there were: Native American tribes (lots of them, not all on the same side), Brits, French (the Great Game again), Africans: free and enslaved, merchants vs everyone else, trade circles and restrictions, and the trials of George Washington and his fellow land speculators, and how many times we almost won or lost the war, right at the get go.
The Witch’s Lens by Luanne Smith. World War I with magic. Magicians as ordinary people with skills, exploitation. This is a fresh look at magic and how it could be used in war. Very delicious. Book 1 of 2. Next book comes in May 2024.
The Lost Bookshop by Evie Woods. A story of three women tied together by place, circumstance, and a bookshop. This goes on several timelines at once, but you can follow it. There are some things that will make you jump up and down and look for weapons. This is a story about belief and hope when it all seems gray and hopeless.
At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien. Flann O’Brien (Myles na gCopaleen) was an Irish writer and a contemporary of Mark Twain. This book, considered his masterpiece, is like most of his books very Irish, with references to Irish culture and traditions, mythology, music, etc. This book includes a history of Finn Mac Cool, a sort of Irish Paul Bunyan figure.
The Best of Myles by Flann O’Brien. An anthology of his columns from the Irish Times newspaper, including the services provided by the WAAMA (the Irish Writers, Actors, Authors, Musicians Association) which will dog-ear your unread books and put coffee cup stains on selected covers to make them appear much read and loved. They can also provide ventriloquists to accompany you to the opera or other high-toned events who will carry on an intellectual conversation with you, speaking both parts.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. A Pulitzer Prize winner about various related family members who all work in the music industry. Basically, a bunch of related short stories.
Artaud for Beginners by Gabriela Stoppelman. A biography of Antonin Artaud, one of the most important people in 20th century theatre. He spent most of his life in insane asylums, but appeared in the film The La Passion de Joanne d’Arc.
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor. Gordius the Finder is the First Century BCE equivalent of a private investigator in Rome. This is the first book in a series of 13 books, plus three more volumes of short stories. He also wrote two books of history set in Rome as well. I’ve always enjoyed his books.
The Listeners by James Gunn. People on Earth receive messages in (far distant) 2027 from somewhere in space that echo signals sent to space decades before. This starts a conversation of sorts between Earth and a different planet. Dr. Gunn founded the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU.
Tunnel in the Sky is a juvenile book by Robert Heinlein. The character goes to another planet to participate in a survival course. Then he realizes there is no plan to return to home.
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa, is a new take on vampires. There are two additional books in the series. I will report on those later.
Starter Villain by John Scalzi. Charlie is a divorced substitute teacher who lives with his cat in a house his siblings want to sell. His great-uncle Jake dies and leaves his super villain business to Charlie. He needs to deal with a league of super-villains, volcanos, sentient cats, and an exploding house! Fun book.
Ain’t Burned All the Bright is a collaboration between Jason Reynolds (text) and Jason Griffin (illustrations). Authors are African American. Reynolds writes the text and sends it to Griffin for the illustrations. This book concerns what happened to a young man during all the craziness of 2020–from COVID to George Floyd to isolation.
The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1847, the main character is a medical student starting an apprenticeship with a well-known OB/GYN. Ether and the beginning of chloroform are part of the story, as well as the murders of several young women around town. Also important is one of the housemaids at the doctor’s home who helps out with the clinic and has dreams of becoming a doctor herself.
Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts. I’ve read this several times over the last 50 years and it has helped shape my view of reality. ‘Seth’ is a multidimensional ‘personality’ who speaks thru Jane Roberts while she is in trance. The book is a transcript dictated by Seth. It describes the multidimensional nature (not in a physics-sense) of ‘reality’: that our inner thoughts and feelings create what we see as objective reality. The description is highly compatible with Hinduism and Buddhism.
Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps by Barbara and Allan Pease. This married couple writes about how we’re different and what to do about it. Their focus is on how the provable biological differences manifest in behaviors. (This is my second reading of it)
Laughter is the Best Medicine (Readers Digest). This contains (what I call) the best parts of Readers Digest — the humor sections. Great for light reading and sharing with family and friends!
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope — My first Trollope and I will definitely read more from him. The main plot is bizarrely timely, and the myriad subplots are highly entertaining. Don’t be put off by the length. Think of it as binging a mash-up of The Golden Age, Bridgerton, and Downton Abbey. I read this for Victober, and I listened to the Timothy West narration, which is in the Plus Catalog on Audible. (They will try to sell you a different narration first, and you have to search for the free one.)
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray — An historical fiction take on J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian, a Black woman passing as white. It was very interesting and seemed well researched, but I don’t know how I feel about some of the narrative decisions authors make in these fictional autobiographies of historical figures. I’d almost rather read a dry biography that just shrugs and says, “Your guess is as good as mine.” Read for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s book club.
The Path of Thorns by A.G. Slatter — A witchy and unsettling tale of a new governess in a household with lots of secrets. Of course, she brings a lot of secrets with her, and this is full of surprises. Read for Strange Worlds.
Life Is So Good: One Man’s Extraordinary Journey through the 20th Century and How He Learned to Read at Age 98 by George Dawson with Richard Glaubman — What it says on the tin. Fascinating story, much of it being Dawson and Glaubman in conversation. Read for the Old Town Library’s book club.
Malice by Keigo Higashino — The first Detective Kaga book to be translated into English. This was even better than The Devotion of Suspect X. If you’ve read much Christie, or at least her most famous stuff, you’ll recognize where this is going right away. But Higashino goes there without delay and then you have most of the book left, so now what? Interesting structure as well as commentary on narrative control. Read for Traps and Trench Coats.
The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore — Sweet story about friendship and books. Features a chipper young librarian and a grumpy old man and the community they create when the old man fails to show up for their daily arguments. Read for High Tea Book Club.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna — Another governess story, this time about a young witch hired to tutor three young witches on a magically obscured estate. Much wackiness and romance ensues. Strong found family vibes. If you liked The House in the Cerulean Sea, you’ll probably like this. Read for Becca’s Spookoplathon game.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A trio of male sociology students go looking for the girls-only land of lore. And they find it. It does not go as anticipated. Lots of humor and social commentary, but I would have liked it better had the authorial voice not been so strong. I read up on the author and decided she was kind of awful. Read for the Fucked-Up Book Club.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson — A young Black girl in DC is upset when her best friend doesn’t show up for school. And nobody else seems to notice or care, even when it is clear there is something sinister afoot. It bounces around confusingly in time, and that is very purposeful. Read for BYOBook’s meeting on the theme of banned books.
The Angel of Khan el-Khalili by P. Djeli Clark — A short story set in Clark’s steampunk Cairo. More vibes than story, but short enough that that’s just fine.
A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde — A relatively serious play from Wilde. Read for the “New Woman” prompt for Victober.
Rouge by Mona Awad — Like Bunny, another WTF book. It’s a surreal look at the beauty and skin care industry. Think Mary Kay meets Scientology. But weirder. If you don’t read French, you might want to have a dictionary or translation app ready to look up a few things for a little extra meaning. Read for The Midnight Society.
How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing by K.C. Davis — A truly different take on self-care and housekeeping from a neurodivergent mother of two small children. It’s about reframing self-talk about expectations and needs, while giving concrete examples you can customize to your own family situation and flavor of neuro spicy. Highly recommended.
The Family Game by Catherine Steadman — Completely nonsensical domestic thriller, but it has some fun bits, especially the batshit things rich people do. I gather it’s an excellent representation of pregnancy brain, so I kinda hated it, but ymmv [Ed. note: ‘your mileage may vary’]. Read for Literally Dead Book Club.
Chasing Justice by Kathleen Donnelly — Police procedural featuring a Forest Service K-9 in Colorado. It starts with an exploding drug lab that kills the dog’s handler, leaving the dog’s handling to a new trainee with survivor’s guilt surrounding the death of her military K-9. Lots of great misdirection. Read for Sisters in Crime Colorado’s book club.
From Below by Darcy Coates — Haunted shipwreck story set mostly at the bottom of the Gulf of Bothnia. Odd pacing and lots of missed opportunities, but some really cool concepts and great atmosphere. I know nothing about diving, and I gather that worked in the book’s favor for me. I feel like this is the sort of thing that a good screenwriter and director could adapt into a fun movie. Read for Strange Worlds.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho — Acho’s digital series on anti-racism transferred to book form. Excellent introduction to (or refresher of) anti-racist concepts with resources for learning more and being a good ally. Read for LHR Society and Nonfiction November.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles — I’m glad I had to read this for Book Snobs. I’d been avoiding it because it sounded like plotless navel-gazing. Nobody ever mentions that it has an actual plot! It’s an understated plot for much of the book, but it’s beautifully written and I enjoyed watching it all come together with great observations and character development.
The Last Colony (Book 3 of Old Man’s War) by John Scalzi. ****
The Human Division (Book 5 of Old Man’s War) by John Scalzi. ****
Zoe’s Tale (Book 4 of Old Man’s War) by John Scalzi. Found out this was just a retelling of book 3 from the viewpoint of a teenage girl — was really a YA type of book. Didn’t finish.
A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. **** A re-read. Anne Tyler’s books always seem to be about people whose lives take unforeseen turns. A chance encounter in a railroad station finds a young man in an unexpected relationship. And I love his job — I could use someone like him!
Suspect by Michael Robotham. ***** A classic whodunnit, very suspenseful. I like this author.
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. **** Family dramedy involving some quirk* families, an Asperger’s boy, and an origami club. Interesting characters. The plot seems like something Anne Tyler might write.
Zero Days by Ruth Ware. *** A woman is falsely accused of a murder and goes on the lam to try and solve it herself. But who can she trust? This has been done a hundred times of course. This one is pretty good and includes a lot of modern tech as variety.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. **** The first book I’ve read by this iconic author. A post-apocalypse story without the usual pandemic or war preceding. Very dark.
In One Person by John Irving. ** I was a huge Irving fan when I was younger but gave up on his overwritten work years ago. I only read this because I picked it up at a free book trade. Mostly a waste of time.
And how about reading 2 books by the same name in a month!
The Watchmaker’s Daughter by C.J. Archer. *** Crime, timekeepers, a bit of romance and magic in 19th century London. Kind of lightweight. It’s the first of a series — I may or may not continue.
The Watchmaker’s Daughter: The True Story of World War II Heroine Corrie ten Boom by Larry Loftis. **** The story of Corrie ten Boom and her family who sheltered Jews and other at-risk people in their home in the Netherlands during WWII. Didn’t realize till I finished it that this author also wrote Code Name: Lise which I reported on a few months ago.
MUST BE STEPHEN KING MONTH
The Stephen King Ultimate Companion: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences by Bev Vincent. *** I’m a fan so I enjoyed it.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. ***** A re-read. Stephen King always sucks me in from page 1 even if I’ve read the book before. I almost finished the 800 pages in 2 days. Everyone knows what happened on that date, and when I say the book involves time travel you can guess the theme but the pleasure is in the details.
Holly by Stephen King. ***** Featuring a character from the Mr. Mercedes series and others. A very creepy serial killer story.
Ben was able to read just two books, but they were both very good reads (well written, not “feel good” stories) … both non-fiction which isn’t my typical preference unless highly recommended:
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi — nonfiction graphic novel detailing the author’s childhood growing up in Iran during the cultural revolution, moving to Vienna as a teenager and struggling with her identity, then eventually moving back as an adult under the strict rule of the Ayatollah. 5 stars!
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann — I haven’t seen the Scorsese adaptation yet, but the film’s release made me finally read this one and I’m glad I did. Even though it’s not a “feel good” story, there is an insane amount of history I had no awareness of. From the immense wealth of the Osage tribe due to oil found on their land to the mistreatment of the Osage to get at their money to the eventual targeting of the Osage by white men to obtain their headrights by any means necessary to the involvement of Hoover’s FBI before they were even called the FBI. 5 stars!