We had a lovely meeting at Book Lovers SIG.  Plenty of time to talk about all the good books we have been reading.  All the action took place on Zoom, allowing us to avoid the mess that was downtown during the various basketball tournaments and Comicon.

Christina let us know she has registered to attend the AG in Kansas City, so that’s cool.

Linda, Beth, and Peggy also joined online.  Coleen hopes to have something to report on in April.  Sally sent her regrets, but we hope to see her at a future meeting.  Jim was also unable to make it.

In all, 42 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 April 14.  We will probably meet online again.  Let me know if you would like to meet in person and I’ll send you the details on where we may meet at the main branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

We generally start at 2 pm with a bit of a chat.  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 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.

*****

Christina

Cake Mix: Learning to Love All Your Ingredients by Mikki Hernandez — Cute picture book with an analogy for responding to questions about being mixed-race.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon.

Upon Reflection (Words + Music #12) by Sting — This seemed to be less a memoir than an interview edited to be a memoir-like look at the meanings behind Sting’s songs, but as a child of the ’80s and a big fan of Sting and The Police, I got a lot out of it.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon.

Bridge of Souls by Victoria Schwab — The third (and final?) Cassidy Blake story, a middle-grade novel about a girl, her ghost friend, her oblivious ghost-hunting parents, and other friends she makes along the way as they face down a supernatural nemesis in New Orleans.  The writing in this series is not Schwab’s best, but I always have fun with them anyway.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon and the Cat Lady Readathon.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe — The first Dupin story, and the inspiration for all ratiocinative tales of detection to follow.  Not my favorite Poe, but this time it made more sense than when I was a child with no understanding of what a strange place 19th-century Paris was.  Read for the Mardi Gras Readathon.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving — Fascinating to read after having consumed various adaptations without ever having read the source material.  Ichabod’s an ass.  Brom’s a jerk, but who can blame him for having some fun at Ichabod’s expense?  Katrina herself is a piece of work, too.  If you read an edition without the Postscript, it’s worth seeking out.  Read for Folklore February.

Daughters of the Deer by Danielle Daniel — A heartbreaking examination of the damage done to the Indigenous peoples of “New France” by Jesuit colonizers.  This is historical fiction based on the true story of the author’s ancestors (the mother and daughter in the book).  Read for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s virtual book club.  (Registration through the Folger’s website is required, but it’s free.)

The GenreLand theme for February was Dragons.  This virtual, asynchronous book club is open to anybody on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/385315-genreland

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose — More horrors of colonization in North America, but through a steampunk lens, with dragons.  Has a massacre and still manages to qualify as cozy fantasy.  Read for Folklore February.

A Cat’s Guide to Bonding with Dragons/A Cat’s Guide to Serving a Warlock by Chris Behrsin — The first novel in a middle-grade dragoncat series and its prequel, packaged together in the audiobook I listened to via Hoopla.  Not bad, but surely suffered in comparison to Blackgoose’s book.  Read for the Cat Lady Readathon.

Saving Noah by Lucinda Berry — Meh.  Supposedly twisty family drama revolving around a teenage son who confesses to molesting young girls in their community.  I thought it was gimmicky and predictable, but assuming it was intentional, Berry did a good job with the unreliable narrator oblivious to her own privilege… and a lot of other things.  Read for the F***ed-up Book Club.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto — Vera Wong awakes one morning to a corpse in her Chinatown tea shop, and her reaction is one-of-a-kind.  She sets about solving the murder and changes everybody’s lives, including her own.  Touching and hilarious.  Read for the Literally Dead Book Club.

Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew — Similar in tone to Vera Wong’s, this follows South African food columnist Tannie Maria as she pivots to advice columnist and gets drawn into the case when one of her letter writers is murdered.  Season 1 of the TV show covers this first book in the series.   Read for my local mystery book club.

Three short Audible listens to fulfill some last-minute challenge prompts.  All of them kinda fall apart in their middles, but their endings are pretty satisfying.

This Isn’t Happening by Anna Snoekstra — Starts off as a tale of revenge in academia but gradually shifts into something else.

How It Ends by Rachel Howzell Hall — A cat-and-mouse tale of domestic violence.

Seven Years by Peter Robinson — A retired professor finds a disturbing inscription in his used book haul and sets about tracking down the potential victim.

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn — Historical fiction about “Lady Death,” the famed Russian WWII sniper who went on to develop a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.  I appreciated the author’s note spelling out what was real (a surprising amount!), what was conjecture or adjustment for the sake of story, and what was complete fabrication of plot.  Read for the LHR Society.

The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, A Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nicholas Day — Engaging middle-grade nonfiction about the theft of the Mona Lisa.  It bounces all around the history of Renaissance Italy, Paris through the centuries, the field of criminology, art crime, the Gilded Age industrialists, and more.  I loved that it also kept coming back to concepts in critical thinking and promoted curiosity and the love of learning.  Even as an adult who has studied a lot of these topics, I learned a ton.  Read for Middle Grade March.

What Have We Here?: Portraits of a Life by Billy Dee Williams — A really interesting listen for someone who didn’t know much about the man beyond his performances in the Star Wars films.  He did seem uncomfortable narrating the book from a script, but it was touching to hear the emotion in his voice when he hit on points dear to him.  I now have a list of movies I need to watch, starting with Brian’s Song.  Read for Filmtastic February.

I DNF-ed Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.  Too much relationship angst for me.

Linda

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.  A story of Indian immigrants.  3*

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell.  3*

Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning by Liz Cheney.  3*

Trickster’s Point: A Novel (Cork O’Connor Mystery Series Book 12) by William Kent Krueger.  4*

Bone Eye (A Trio of Westerns) by T.R. Pearson.  5*

American Woman: The Transformation of the Modern First Lady, from Hillary Clinton to Jill Biden by Katie Rogers.  3*

Peggy

Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy by Stephen M. Silverman — Sondheim’s artistic life, musical by musical, with lots of pictures.  I’ve seen almost all his musicals, so this was great fun.

One Nation Under Guns: How Gun Culture Distorts Our History and Threatens Our Democracy by Dominic Erdozain — A look at American gun culture from the Second Amendment to the Supreme Court’s Heller decision.  The author is English, so he finds this culture even odder than we do.  One interesting fact: Richard Nixon hated guns and would have been much stronger in tackling the gun lobby.

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina — An Italian author who lives in Japan with her Japanese husband and family writes about a country’s attempt to grapple with the destruction of the tsunami of 2011.  Based on a true story, a man installs a telephone booth in the garden of his house. The disconnected old black telephone carries voices into the wind.  The main character is a woman radio announcer who lost her mother and daughter in the tsunami and heals herself through visits to the garden, although for months she doesn’t use the telephone.  A lovely story.

Brad

My Effin’ Life by Geddy Lee.  Lee’s parents somehow survived the Holocaust in Poland, then immigrated to Canada after the war.  Interesting story about how he came about his name.  The English version was Gary, but his friend heard his mother pronounce it in her thick Polish accent as Gedy, which became Geddy when he legally changed it.

He dropped out of high school early to pursue his career in music, never earning his diploma.  You would never know it by reading this book; it was really well written.  Rush was a band that never wrote short songs that could be played as a single on radio stations of the day; their progressive rock sound was something different.  To succeed they had to tour and tour … and tour, building up a dedicated fan base along the way.  Lots of in-depth discussion on what goes into recording an album; the word and music are just a small part of the production process.  One of the best memoirs of a musician I have read.  *****

Get Carter by Ted Lewis.  Jack Carter doesn’t get mad, he gets even.  And the last person you want to cross is an enforcer for a British crime syndicate.  And yet … Jack Carter has got to be the most polite murderer you would ever want to meet.

The scene is set when Carter returns to the small town he grew up in to investigate the death of his only brother.  He is warned not to make waves, to let things drop, live and let live.  That isn’t going to happen.  This was a great read.  I only wish my library contained the remaining two books on the series.  I learned after reading this that a movie was made of the book, starring Michael Caine, who I just love.  Peggy found it on DVD at the Kansas City Public Library, so I put it on hold.  Really looking forward to seeing it.  ****

The Running Grave (Cormoran Strike #7) by Robert Galbraith.  When I first opened this up in my Kindle it said average read time of over 19 hours, 960 pages!  I can’t imagine how big the physical book must be.  So much going on, I don’t think I want to try and capture it all here.  Strike’s partner Robin Ellacott plays an increasingly important role in the detective agency and his life.  I’ll leave it at that.  One of the better efforts in the series.  *****

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen.  For me, the key to good science fiction is to suspend belief, so that you can fall into the story.  That did not happen with this book.  After working for 35 years in the industry I know how carefully the psychology of astronauts is evaluated.  In this book the main protagonist, a psychologist herself, is a real bundle of neurosis, as is the rest of the skeleton crew.  If you can get past that I’m plausibility you might find this a satisfying read.  I did not. **1/2

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.  This is one of the best books I have read in a long, long time.  Set during the Depression, it is the story of four children escaping a brutal existence in the hopes of finding a better future.  Can’t say enough good things about this book.  Strong recommendation.  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2019) *****

Cold Hard Truth (Detective Claudia Nunn, #4) by Rebecca Bradley.  Bradley is a retired police detective, so he knows what she is writing about.  This was a tough book to put down.  The pacing was … relentless.  I read until 3:30 in the morning and finally forced myself to go to bed.  The only caveat I would offer is that this is not a standalone book; one really needs to have read at least the preceding story to understand one of the plotlines.  Related to this, there is not a definitive ending.  More of a To Be Concluded.  Consider yourself warned.  ****

Beth

The Witness for the Dead: Book One of the Cemeteries of Amalo Trilogy by Katherine Addison.  Set in the world of the Goblin Emperor, this is a detective story revolving around the work of a Witness for the Dead.  These witnesses are priests with the special calling of tending to the dying and the dead.  They have the additional power of being able to feel the last most powerful feelings of the recently deceased, such as who killed you and where is the will.  Some can also get ghouls (restless malevolent ghosts who kill mindlessly) to go back to being dead.  This is the story that starts with the body of a woman pulled from the river.  She has been murdered by a blow to the head after being pushed into the river.  A complex story that keeps you guessing until the end while doing great world building.

Randomize by Andy Weir.  A quick look at how quantum computing is a new tool humans can use to steal money from other humans, based in the ultimate stealing environment, Las Vegas.

Abaddon’s Gate by James Corey.  Book 3 in the series.  This is pretty bloody as we examine the Peter principle in action.  This book deals with how different people react differently to fear, and how we don’t rise to the situation, we revert to our level of training and experience.  My conclusion is that humanity doesn’t need an external enemy, just the fear of one to slaughter everything in sight and be the last one standing.  Forgiveness remains a major unsolved issue.  Still a good space opera, with a high body count.

Dealing with Dragons: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.  This was much better than the first book in this series.  YA, so the story rolls right along, while turning every trope on its head.  I really like the heroine, who comes in and fixes what needs taking care of and otherwise assimilates into a culture that is totally different than the one she was supposed to inhabit and succeeds by dealing with obstacles that others think are insurmountable.  Fun story.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede.  The story continues with new challenges and solutions.  Fun to read.

The Shortest History of Europe: How Conquest, Culture, and Religion Forged a Continent – A Retelling for Our Times by James Hirst.  A short (200 page) book that summarizes how Europe got to where it is.  Starts with Greek culture and knowledge, how the Romans built on that, then religion got into the act, and then alternating periods of conflict and peace as people decided who and what was going to be in charge.  I liked having the summary, you can dive into the weeds at any point; at least you have a bit of the bigger picture, not dragged into oblivion by unending lists of battles and kings.  It pretty much ignores the rest of the world, but that is the definition of Europe and the West.

The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson.  A mystery of fortune telling in Georgian England 1740s.  An intricate mystery built on a platform of reading the cards.  Lots of characters and lots of history.  I learned a lot about 18th century England and how the social structure put everyone into impossible situations as they all chased the one big prize of control of the biggest estate in England.   The story starts with our then 7-year-old protagonist losing her father to pneumonia and her rescue by a seemingly random stranger.  She reads the cards for clients, but card reading is borderline legal, and socially suspect.  Our protagonist tries to find out who her mother was, with dreams of finding her lost but loving family.  Her quest takes many turns, many of which you don’t see coming, and don’t approve of.  By the middle of the book, the only good characters are dead, and I almost gave up.  But my persistence was rewarded as new information keeps popping up, and people react in mystifying ways.  Overall, a good mystery, and you don’t see the whole story until the last page.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.  I somehow missed this in high school, and if I had read it, I wouldn’t have been able to connect.  This is supposedly about teenage angst and the journey to adulthood, but I read it as the failure of adults to prepare or help children navigate the world, because the adults can’t navigate it either.  By failing to provide any reference points for children to follow, sending their children to boarding school to enter an adult world lacking in empathy and beset with unexplained challenges, is it any wonder that people are such a mess?  One thing that I noticed was how our protagonist, Holden, was comfortable and articulate in his own world, he fails miserably in the artificial world of boarding school that attempts to mold everyone into the same shape in total disregard of the individual, which could certainly explain why the adults are failing so miserably.

The Running Grave by Robert Galbraith.  Say what you will, but J.K. Rowling writes an excellent mystery.  This one starts with a client who is trying to rescue their son from a cult.  It is a chilling look at cults and the near impossibility of countering their public, innocent seeming face.  The clues are all there, and the challenge is figuring out what actually happened, rather than what you want the story line to be.  Good luck getting this one right because the main story and all the side stories with other clients are so engrossing, and you are on the edge of your seat trying to keep your favorite characters safe if not happy, you have to slow down and think.  Great story, read it nonstop to the end (it turned into an all-nighter, it was that good).

Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor.  Thank you to the person that recommended this.  It is a look at the middle east, specifically Jordan.  This fills in a lot of the blanks, but not all, about what is really going on in the middle east.  I realize how slanted the news is in this country.  One thing that struck me was when at one point, Jordan was promised forgiveness of $700 million of debt and some F-16s by the administration.  Congress said no, and a few phone calls later, AIPAC guarantees Congress will approve, and THEY DO!  I did some quick research, and Queen Noor is carrying on her philanthropy, while the internecine conflict of the ruling family continues.  This is a story of two really extraordinary people who changed a culture.

John

John wasn’t able to join us, but informed me he read a book about Edger Casey.  His goal is to start reading the many unread books on his bookshelves.