No one was motivated to drive to the downtown library.  Peggy’s back is still bothering her, and John was working on his taxes, so we all ended up meeting virtually for our book discussions.  Beth and Christina called in, and Linda was back with us after missing January, so it made for a manageable group, with plenty of time for extra discussion.  We learned that Christina is in 22 book clubs!

Plus!!!

Christine send in a list of books she has read as part of the Mensa for Kids “Battle of the Books” Reading Bracket Challenge.  We haven’t heard from her in quite some time, so this was a nice bonus.

The sad news is that David has gone into hospice.  Coleen thinks his time is short, but hopes to have a memorial service for him in March.  In the meantime, no time for reading.  Fortunately their son Nathan has been able to take an extended leave from work and is helping Coleen out.

In all, 103 books were read/discussed/reviewed.  The full list can be found here:

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

Book Lovers SIG always meets the second Sunday of each month; in this case March 10.  We usually try to meet in person in the Chairman’s Office at the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library, but at this point it really depends on how many people can make the drive.

The Chairman’s Office 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 St., Kansas City, MO  64105

We generally start at 2 pm with a bit of a chat and some snacks.  Book discussions begin around 2:30 pm, more or less, or when Peggy says, “OK, 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

Remember, 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.

*****

Linda

Northwest Angle (Cork O’Connor Mystery Series Book 11) by William Kent Krueger.  4*
Vermillion Drift (Cork O’Connor Mystery Series Book 10) by William Kent Krueger.  5*
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.  5*
Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears by Michael Schulman.  Lots of insights if you’re an Oscar fan or just a movie history buff.  4*
To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2) by Connie Willis.  4*
All Clear by Connie Willis – couldn’t finish.
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit.  A story of murder in the Plymouth Colony.  3*
Live to Tell: A Detective D. D. Warren Novel (D.D. Warren Book 4) by Lisa Gardner.  4*
Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry.  A retired Irish detective is revisited by an old crime.  Beautifully written.  4*
Defending Jacob by William Landay.  3*
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann. A true story.  4*
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. 4*
Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.  3*
The Exchange by John Grisham.  Typical John Grisham but maybe a little dryer than usual.  3*
The Running Grave (#7 in the Cormoran Strike series) by Robert Galbraith aka J.K.Rowling.  Robin goes undercover in a religious cult.  Very good but the denouement a little rushed.  4*
The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore.  3*
East Jesus South by T.R.Pearson. 5*

In addition to the books Linda reported on, she wanted to share with everyone one of her favorite authors, T.R.Pearson, a somewhat obscure author that she fell in love with and keeps trying to get other people to like, so far with no success!  Maybe you’ll be the first.  He tends to have a sort of dry, tongue-in-cheek humor that reminds her a little of Mark Twain.  And maybe Dickens. (Some people compare him to Faulkner, but she doesn’t see it.)  The books tend to fall in several categories.

The following are just basically novels about fairly ridiculous southern people.  They’re long and they tend to meander and never quite reach any conclusion.  They are quite dense and have a lot of long, complicated sentences and scenes that go on for pages.  I find most of these hysterically funny.  I think there are some repeated characters in a couple of them but they don’t need to be read in order.  You might not want to start off with these – I love them but they can be challenging if you’re not used to his writing style.  Plus they’re long.

  • A Short History of a Small Place (Linden Press, 1985)
  • Off for the Sweet Hereafter (Linden Press, 1986)
  • The Last of How It Was (Linden Press, 1987)
  • Call and Response (Linden Press, 1989)
  • Gospel Hour (William Morrow, 1991)
  • Glad News of the Natural World (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

Examples of some of those long passages:  A guy who thinks there’s a snake in his house, a bunch of rednecks attending a strip show, a guy whose wife is in menopause and insists she needs a garden gnome which he has to find.

These are mysteries with a repeating character, Ray Tatum (cop/detective).  Read in order.  These are some of her favorites and more accessible than the ones above.  One might classify them as “redneck noir”.

  • Cry Me a River (Henry Holt, 1993) — the first one I read.
  • Blue Ridge (Viking, 2000)
  • Polar (Viking, 2002) A redneck guy is channeling the Scott Antarctica expedition. Very funny.
  • Warwolf (A Ray Tatum Mystery) (Barking Mad Press, 2011)
  • First in Flight
  • Brigade

And miscellaneous:

  • True Cross (Viking, 2003) — the character is Paul Tatum, I don’ t remember if he’s any relation to Ray.
  • Red Scare: A Novel of Venomous Intrigue (Barking Mad Press, 2008) — a sweet love story, Venice, and magical sinister lizards – hard to classify. Maybe whimsy.
  • Jerusalem Gap (Barking Mad Press, 2010) — A man and his dog. I can’t remember if something bad happens to the dog.
  • East Jesus South (Barking Mad Press, 2014) — misc. mystery. (I love the title.)
  • Low Lords — one of the strangest things I have ever read – kinda sorta sci-fi or fantasy. Cave monsters and a cult that hunts them.
  • Sleepaway — misc.
  • Theory of the Case — a nameless detective, could be Ray Tatum or not.

A trio of Westerns:

  • Devil Up
  • Joy to the Just
  • Bone Eye

Eaglesworth — misc. small-town story
Serpent of Old — serial killer story in the backwoods
Confederate States

Published under the name Rick Gavin.  Humorous crime.  Read in order.  If you like Carl Hiaassen you should like these.

  • Ranchero (Minotaur Books, 2011)
  • Beluga (Minotaur Books, 2012)
  • Nowhere Nice (Minotaur Books, 2013)

Beth

The Winternight Trilogy: The Bear and the Nightengale, The Girl in the Tower, the Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden.  This combines Russian History and Russian Fairy tales; much darker than the sanitized Grimm brothers version.  This is very early in formation of the Russian state (about 1380), and the magical creatures are still around and wielding power, but losing out to the church.  Women, of course, are valuable only as baby machines, and cloistered.  One girl, frightened horribly by this prospect runs into the forest and meets the winter spirit, who saves her from freezing, for his own reasons.  You navigate this world with Vasilisa as she takes incredible risks to avoid the fate that awaits her as a woman.  There are lots of twists and turns as people make difficult choices where the right choice is never clear and oftentimes missed.  At the end it is about winning and not losing your history.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.  Risk management people the world over take a valium before reading.  The (elf) emperor and his three male heirs are in one airship coming home from a wedding of the neighboring prince.  The ship crashes, and the only heir (of the blood) left is his half goblin son in relegation (exile).  Rules being rules, this son becomes the new emperor, and needless to say, many people have a lot to say about it, and palace intrigue ensues.  Excellent world building, and exploration of what makes a great leader.  I’m going to keep on with this author.  BTW, the original edition of this book is on Amazon for $508.

The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell.  In remote Michigan, a remnant swamp, with a remnant medicine woman and her daughters navigate the defining of good and evil, rules and custom, as life goes on, and the world changes.  This is a delightful story about how people learn and change and deal with bad choices.  (The book if full of people making bad choices, some heartbreaking and some just plain funny.)  It looks at how community exerts its push and pull, and how people buy into the community, reject it and change it.

Demon Daughter by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This is the latest novella installment of the Penric Series.  There are 12 stories so far, all ebooks, the first being Penric’s Demon.  Set in a pretechnological world of the Five Gods, the series starts with a youngest son on his way to his bethrotal who stops to help a traveler who falls ill on the road.   Good Samaratin, no good deed goes unpunished; the ill traveler houses a demon who jumps to our protagonist as she dies.  This series follows Penric as he learns about his demon rider who has had 10 previous hosts and carries their lives into his head.  Declining the demon is really not an option, although plenty of people, including Penric would prefer life without another person in his mind.  The author is terrific at world and character building, and finding impossible situations for her protagonists to find creative ways of dealing with.  Most are also on Audible, but not this one yet.

Leviathan Wakes by James Corey.  This is the book that is the basis for the show The Expanse.  Humans are out and about in the solar system and have carried their squabbles with them.  We join our protagonists as skirmishes are breaking out in the belt, and a space ship is summoned by a distress call.  It goes downhill from there, and the story is about finding the perpetrators and how to deal with them.  There are two main characters that have very different ideas about right and wrong, and where is the line when deciding how hard to hit back when you are threatened.  This is a good space opera and an examination of moral action, and how people change when faced with hard choices.  Excellent start to the series.

Caliban’s War by James Corey.   Another good rocking space opera.  Politics and survival of humanity are at stake again, as the protomolecule that absorbs (and uses) everything humanity throws at it.  People behaving well, people behaving badly.  Characters you can root for despite their thinking, and a monster you don’t see how to defeat.

Antisemitism Here and Now by Deborah Lipstadt.  Written as a series of letters between Professor Lipstadt and a compositive student and a lawyer friend, this investigates what is antisemitism and some advice on how to deal with it.  This reads like Caste: the origins of our discontent with lots of heart wrenching and thoughtful examples of antisemitism.  Animosity against various groups – women, blacks, LGBTQ+, Jews, old people, young people – or any other “out” group, seems to be the same.  “We” are right, good, etc. and “You” are the opposite and must be kept out.  This is baked into our language and our culture.  Books such as this help to unwind that by pointing it out.  Like “Caste” it doesn’t really offer any solutions because it doesn’t look at the underlying dynamic of in groups and out groups, and how we get past that.  It also just assumes that antisemitism just is, and always has been.  So, I’m still looking for the answer to the question:  How have the Jewish people maintained their identity as they moved out into the world, and why does everybody hate them?  It seems to have something to do with having a religious and genetic binding, but no homeland, and for whatever reason, seem to resist complete assimilation. Maybe it is because they have managed to maintain their group identity, not fully assimilating, so behaving as a permanent outgroup that won’t fully assimilate.  Circular thinking, so still looking.

Shadow Magic: A Lyra Novel & Daughter of Witches by Patricia C. Wrede.  This is an interesting story, definitely YA, which I usually like, but found this wanting.  I just couldn’t figure out how to root for any of the characters.  Both of these should have been a lot longer or a lot shorter.  These were the first two books she wrote, so maybe they get better.

Christina

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez — A different perspective on the medieval era.  I really enjoyed all the archaeological detail and the shifting interpretations as more women join that field.  Read for Stranger Than Fiction.

We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper — The first third was riveting.  The second third started going around in circles.  The final third provided an unsatisfying solution, a #metoo analysis of the field of archaeology, and a big shrug.  Read for my mystery book club.

Alone: Illustrated Version of the Classic Edgar Allan Poe Poem by Edgar Allan Poe and Phoebe Hawthorne.  I was underwhelmed by the illustrations, but this is my favorite Poe poem, so I’m happy to have this in my digital collection.  Read for the Nevermore Readathon.

Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere by Maria Bamford — Another memoir from a popular comedian I’ve never heard of.  Also on a depressing subject, but this one is more obviously intended for laughs.

One’s Company by Ashley Hutson — A deeply disturbing story of a woman who discovers a love of Three’s Company reruns while recovering physically from a traumatic incident.  Then she wins the lottery and sets about building her dream world.  Read for the F*cked-Up Book Club.

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold — A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  With werewolves.  This is YA with graphic teen sex scenes, so if you aren’t in the target audience you will be (or at least you should be) extremely uncomfortable reading this.  As an adult, I have been very “been there, endured that, huge yawn” about both of the Arnold books I have read.  They are also aggressively heteronormative.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon.

The Tell-Tale Heart & The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe — This Sam Kusi narration was the first time I’d experienced these stories back-to-back.  They pair extremely well, and Kusi’s voice complemented them nicely.  Read for the Nevermore Readathon.

Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship by Annabel Abbs — Another fictionalized biography that makes wild guesses and insists on inflicting the subject with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  Eliza’s assistant was the more interesting character, and she was almost completely the author’s invention.  The cookery book development was interesting, but I would have liked a more realistic ratio of failures to successes.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon and the Old Town Library Book Club.

Metzengerstein by Edgar Allan Poe — Poe’s first published story and worth reading just for that.  It’s a jumbled mess of spooky imagery of Hungarian equestrian nobles but already solidly in Poe’s voice.  Read for the Nevermore Readathon.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe — My first re-read of this story, which is one of his richest tales. It’s easy to understand why it has had so many varied retellings.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon.

Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne — I listened to the Sally Mays narration, which was, at best, bland.  Still a fascinating tale and a compelling character study.  Read for Nathanuary.

A Unicorn Named Sparkle and the Perfect Valentine by Amy Young — A delightful picture book celebrating friendship.  It is also very pink and very sparkly.  Read for Folklore February.

Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor — Extremely interesting perspective of the American-born Arab who became the fourth wife of the King of Jordan.  This book is 20+ years old and, sadly, more relevant than ever.  Read for the 12 Recs from 12 Friends challenge and the Mardi Gras readathon.

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Ann Older — Sapphic Holmes & Watson on Jupiter.  I was disappointed in the dearth of Sherlockian easter eggs, but the steampunky atmosphere of this outpost of humanity was cool.  The mystery plot was all over the place and the novella length left me wanting a lot more worldbuilding detail, but I enjoyed the overall product enough that I’ll be reading the sequel.  And I don’t quite understand what an atmoscarf is, but I really, really want one.  Read for Strange Worlds.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa — If you can, avoid going into this with any expectations.  Just know that it is very Japanese in tone and explores what it means to love books.  Read for the LHR Society and the Cat Lady Readathon

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko — Hands down the weirdest book I have ever read.  It’s Ukrainian dark academia.  I wouldn’t call it magical realism.  More like surreal realism.  Truly strange, highly recommended.  Read for Book Snobs and Strange Worlds.

Peggy

Oath of Honor, by Liz Cheney — not as good as Cassidy Hutchinson’s or Tim Alberta’s look at the Jan 6 era. Best bit was the backstory behind the warning letter from the prior SecDefs to current SecDef, which Cheney helped put together with her father.

The Square of Sevens, by Laura Shepherd-Robinson — A historical fiction set in 1730s England.  It starts with a Cornish “pellar” who dies early in the book and whose daughter ends up in Bath.  (I had never heard of a pellar, but it is a healer, diviner, and breaker of spells.  The term is probably a corruption of expel, as in the repelling or expelling of spells.)

The Curse of Penryth Hall, by Jess Armstrong. Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award Winner.  Post-WWI England with a Gothic plot line.  An American heiress helps run a bookstore and goes to Cornwall to deliver books.  Serendipitously, the dust jacket mentions that the man who brings the bookseller to Cornwall is a Pellar who is needed to break a curse.

Fourteen Days, edited by Margaret Atwood with stories by 36 members of the Authors Guild of America.  In early Covid days, the residents of a 6-floor walkup gather on the rooftop each evening for drink and storytelling.  Not surprisingly, death is a recurring theme.

Brad

Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein.  Klein writes of her obsession with Naomi Wolf, Covid, Steve Bannon, social media.  Especially social media.  The list goes on and on.  It’s as if she is clinging to a thin thread of sanity.  Mainly I felt sorry for her, and was so glad when the book finally came to an end.  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Nonfiction (2023) **

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from ’80s Movies by Jason Diamond.  It is so rare to read a biography with this kind of honesty.  And well written to boot.  After finishing Doppelganger by Naomi Klein, I really needed this.  *****

Killing Moon (Harry Hole #13) by Jo Nesbø.  It’s been a while since a read a Harry Hole novel.  I don’t remember them being this dark.  Lots of misdirection and false endings, plus one “jump the shark” moment towards the end that caused me to say, “Give me a break.”  Except for that, a good read.  ****

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1) by Connie Willis.  Several other members had previously read this book and recommended it; I can see why.  A novice time traveler is sent back to medieval England, but ends up 30 years out of date, at the start of the black plague.  To complicate matters, her colleagues are unable to bring her back because of a pandemic outbreak.  ****

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Justin Fenton.  The title says it all, but if anything, understates just how corrupt the Baltimore PD was for decades!  ****

Ben

Ben wasn’t able to join us live but reports he has been on a graphic novel kick lately!  Next month will be more Sandman and Berserk, as long as he can get everything at the library.  If he has to wait, he’s got Locke & Key that he’ll start up.

Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman (Author), Sam Kieth (Illustrator, Artist)
Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country, by Neil Gaiman (Author), Kelley Jones (Illustrator, Artist)
The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists, by Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones (Illustrator)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller
Berserk Deluxe Vol 1-4, by Kentaro Miura

Christine

I’ve been re-reading a bunch of children’s books thanks to the Mensa for Kids “Battle of the Books” Reading Bracket Challenge!

It has been so much fun to revisit cherished books from my childhood, my niece & nephew’s childhood, their children’s childhood, and now I know which books I found particularly charming and will make great baby shower gifts for the next generation!  So far, I’ve read…

  • The Story of Babar by Jean De Brunhoff
  • George and Martha by James Marshall
  • Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban
  • Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire
  • Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus
  • If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade
  • The Littles by John Peterson
  • Freckle Juice by Judy Blume
  • Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
  • Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
  • Abuela by Arthur Dorros
  • Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
  • Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
  • How the Leopard Got His Claws by Chinua Achebe
  • Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon
  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  • The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
  • Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone
  • Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  • Madeline by Albert Bemelmans
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  • The Little Engine That Could by Watty Pipe
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judy Barrett
  • The Dot by Peter Reynolds
  • The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame
  • Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
  • Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
  • Frederick by Leo Lionni
  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  • Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky
  • Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Clear