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M book club

2016 Book Club books

I’m still participating in (and running) two book clubs.book-club

As always, we read some great books and some OK books.

So, what did we read?  Strong recommendations are in bold.

In one club, we read:

  1. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
    This was a fun read, and very interesting to a Silicon Valley book club, but I’m not sure if the appeal will generalize.  We were able to follow up with a book club trip to the Computer History Museum to see a working modern production of a Babbage Engine.
  2. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
  3. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
    This book was unlike anything else I’ve read.  It was creepy, disturbing, and beautifully written.  It mixed ghosts and ballerinas and a maximum security Juvenile Detention Center.  It has depth and texture and ambiguity. It has amazing characters that are terrible and sympathetic at times, and sometimes simultaneously.  It has black and white and shifting shades of grey, and  led to a great book club discussion.
  4. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  5. Digging to America by Anne Tyler
    A book with perspective on what it means to be a parent and what it means to be an American.  As character perspectives change, so do the reader’s view of the events in the story.
  6. Euphoria by Lily King
    An entirely unexpected view of the world of an anthropologist in the 1930s.
  7. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Quite literally a tale of life and death, or rather thoughts on life and death.  The writings of approaching death by someone who understdands it well from an intellectual perspective, but who has to learn about the more personal side.
  8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  9. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
    An insightful and laugh out loud funny view of living with mental illness.
  10. The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay
    A beautifully written book on learning to live with loss, both as an individual and as a town.
  11. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
    An inspirational view of how to make a difference in society.  The timing of this, coming right after the election, made this discussion mean even more to our group.
  12. The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton

And the other:

  1. Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta (Silicon Valley Reads)
  2. Sherwood Nation by Benjamin Parzybok (Silicon Valley Reads)
  3. Speak by Louisa Hall
    Overall, this book looks at what it means to be human, or to have a soul, or to really understand and empathize with what someone says. The different views range from a young woman traveling to America in 1663 (who has a closer bond to her dog than the people around her) to people dealing with modern (and the nest generation) of artificial intelligence.    The book gave us rich material for discussion. Based on the experience of my book club, it is of interest and accessible to people regardless of their level of interest in and understanding of technology.  It is one of my favorite books I read this year.
  4. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
    I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book, but in the end I was very glad I did.  It is an overview of various approaches to care for people approaching the end of their lives, and what helps, and what doesn’t.  As the title says, it is about what matters in the end.  I’d go as far as saying that most adults over age 40 or so should read it, to start thinking about the issues around life, death, aging, and terminal illness as they start to be inevitable in most families.
  5. The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
    The strength of this book is in the characters, which I loved.
  6. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Zevin Gabrielle
    This is a fun choice for reading group discussion because of being a book about books and bookish people.
  7. The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
  8. American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
  9. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
    This is a book about an important current issue, told about a family who never expected to have to face the situation. I particularly liked the balance of their personal story and looks at the research into the science behind gender.  It was ver readable and relateable.
  10. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
    I didn’t know anything about the story of this sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in WWII.  The story is beautifully told from the perspective of seveal different characters, which lead to an understanding of how many different kinds of people were affected by the war and by this particular incident.
  11. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
    Another book about an aspect of WWII I (and my book club) knew nothing about going in.  This is in the US, the side of the Manhattan Project working with materials. I liked the balance between the personal, the historical and the scientific.  The book lead to great discussion about the time period, about living in a time of war, and about differences between now and then, as well as about the process of writing a book like this.
  12. Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe

In the end, there is only one of these 24 books that I don’t think was a good choice for book club discussion.  Even the ones I didn’t comment on generally lead to good conversation, whether we liked them, or just thought they were ok.

I was surprised at how much I liked many of the non-fiction books we read, and how good the discussion was on these.

Anyone have books to recommend for reading (and talking about) in 2017?

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Book Club, books, L, M

 

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Book Club choices

It’s once again time to choose books for one of my book clubs. We’re going to choose around 6, and everyone had a chance to make a nomination.  What do you think?  Have you read any of these?  Has your book club discussed them?  What would you choose?

 

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Book Club, books, M

 

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Review: How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue (with book club notes)

Cover: How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg DonohueMy rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

How to Eat a Cupcake is a wonderful book about truly becoming an adult. It’s about friendship and what makes a family. It’s about starting a business. And it’s about cupcakes.

Summary via Goodreads.com:

Funny, free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated, ambitious Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls who know nothing of class differences and scholarships could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie is now a talented, if underpaid, pastry chef who bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death. Julia, a successful businesswoman, is tormented by a painful secret that could jeopardize her engagement to the man she loves. When a chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, they must overcome past hurts and a mysterious saboteur or risk losing their fledgling business and any chance of healing their fractured friendship.

When I first read the description of this book (probably not exactly the words above, but something close to it), I thought it would be the light, fluffy, fun kind of woman’s fiction (dare I say– chick lit?). I like light, fluffy, fun books, but chick lit often seems to rub me the wrong way.  I found the description of this book interesting enough to be willing to give it a try anyway.

I’m glad I did. The book is fun, but not the light, fluffy kind, and not the annoying, “why don’t these women just grow up” kind. It’s thoughtful and multilayered, with characters that are real and appealing (some more immediately than others).

Getting to know Annie was easy. She’s worked hard for everything she has, she makes time for friends, and she misses her mother. She’s perhaps a little too open and trusting for her own good, at least where everyone but the St. Claire family is concerned. She’s a genuinely nice person.

Julia is definitely not nice. Driven and successful are (at least in the beginning) the most polite words to describe her. In this, she takes after her own mother. But there is more to her than that, even if she has trouble seeing it herself. Her complicated love life, with a secret she’s waiting for the right time to disclose, isn’t helping. And beginning to realize how her long past behaviour affected her one-time best friend isn’t making her feel any better about her life now.

These women are both still young, but are finally settling into the people they are going to be, and it’s a pleasure to watch them grow.

Equally, I was involved in seeing the process of them building a business together, and watching them figure out why unexpected obstacles (like vandalism) were being thrown in their path.

And reading about the cupcakes themselves was, well, the icing on the cake.

 Book Club Notes

After I accepted this book for review (thank you, Harper Collins!), my friend Ruth nominated it for discussion for one of my book clubs.  I supported it, and enough other people were interested that it was one of the books selected.   I was slightly concerned about the potential fluff factor (our other group has read a few fun books where were enjoyed by all, but there was really not much to say), but was mostly excited about the possibilities.

The concern and excitement both skyrocketed when Ruth (who worked on Meg Donohue’s website) arranged for her to join us at our meeting.  We’ve talked about author visits before, but it has never worked out (way too many authors live on the East Coast, and are in bed before our California book club meets, so even Skype tends to fall through).

Luckily, having Meg visit worked out wonderfully.  We all liked the book (I checked before she arrived), and she was sweet, charming and very interesting.  It was a lot of fun to get definitive answers to some of our questions, and to learn more about the process of writing and publishing a book.  The latter aspect (and the introductions and get to know each other chat) took the place of our usual social time, and I don’t think anyone minded!

The discussion would have gone well even without Meg’s presence.  There was plenty to talk about.  We touched on the characters, their motivations and how we reacted to them; the effect that social class had on the characters, and particularly on the two girls growing up and their relationship; the seamless way that the reader was given information about what was happening; the relative advantages and disadvantages of the various love interests portrayed in the story;  the nature of the friendships and family relationships; the setting of the book and how it is portrayed, even a few individual word choices…

I’d recommend How to Eat a Cupcake for book clubs to read and discuss.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2012 in books, M, reviews

 

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Review: The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

With Book Club Notes (at the end)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh dear.

The characters and situations seemed so plausible that they have me looking at my daughter’s upcoming high school years with immense terror.

None the less, I very much enjoyed reading this book.

Summary via Goodreads.com:

From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club and The Flamenco Academy, a novel as hilarious as it is heartbreaking about a single mom and her seventeen-year-old daughter learning how to let go in that precarious moment before college empties the nest.

In The Gap Year, told with perfect pitch from both points of view, we meet Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant extraordinaire, a divorcée still secretly carrying a torch for the ex who dumped her, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams so her only child can get a good education.

We also learn the secrets of Aubrey Lightsey, tired of being the dutiful, grade-grubbing band geek, ready to explode from wanting her “real” life to begin, trying to figure out love with boys weaned on Internet porn.

When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol–sex god with a dangerous past, the fuse is lit. Late-bloomer Aubrey metastasizes into Cam’s worst silent, sullen teen nightmare, a girl with zero interest in college. Worse, on the sly Aubrey’s in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join a celebrity-ridden nutball cult.

As the novel unfolds—with humor, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and penetrating insights about love in the twenty-first century—the dreams of daughter, mother, and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision . . .

The keys to this book were the characters, particularly the main mother daughter pair, and the intricate weaving of their stories.

I genuinely liked both Cam and Aubrey, even if I wanted to grab each of them and point out exactly what they were doing to screw up their lives. There were plenty of those times, but in almost every case, I understood where they were coming from. Cam wanted Aubrey to have a better life than she had, and was prepared to pave the path without quite connecting that Aubrey’s ideal situation could be different than her own. Aubrey wanted to break out and make her own decisions, but didn’t know how to go partway. When she rebelled, it was complete.

Both of them were fully well intentioned, as were all the secondary characters, some of which were even more screwed up than Aubrey and Cam. While there were a few tertiary characters this may not be true of, but other than the cult Aubrey’s dad is involved with, there are no real bad guys, just flawed human beings. That’s something I liked about the book.

The depth of the confusion between Cam and Aubrey is pointed out in their alternating chapters. Cam’s chapters are set in the book’s present; Aubrey’s are almost a year earlier. The author does an amazing job of interweaving the two narratives. I could see the situation as it is through Cam’s eyes, I saw how it got that way through Aubrey’s. Neither of them has a full understanding of the situation, and with the dual narration, it’s easy to see why.

All in all, this was an interesting and thought provoking read.

Book Club Notes

All of us enjoyed the book.  Some of us related to it more than the rest. I could see echoes of my own relationship with my daughter, others have children about ready to head for college.  Even those that didn’t feel a personal connection to the characters still appreciated the book.

We discussed the characters, the situations, and how real they seemed.  We talked about the construction of the story, and how that contributed to our understanding.  I think we all admired the writing.  We spent some time trying to nail down the setting.

All in all, it was a good discussion, and I’d recommend this book.

My book club won copies of this book via a TLC Book Tours Book Club giveaway.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Book Club, books, M, reviews

 

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Book Club Nominations

It’s time for one of my book clubs to pick the next 6 months (or so) worth of books.   Here are the nominations:

Have you read any of these?  Discussed them with your book club?  Help me decide what to vote for!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Book Club, M

 

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Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (with Audiobook and Book Club notes)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetMy rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful love story!

Synopsis via Audible.com:

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While scholarshipping at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice, words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Henry was a boy torn between the Chinese world of his parents, and the American world he was living in. His parents said they wanted him to be American, but none of them really understood what that meant, or what effect this would have on their relationship.

Through Henry’s relationship with Keiko, the reader learns more about who Henry really is, even at that young age, but also gets a portrait of the complexity of living at that time– the tensions between white and Asians, but also between those of Chinese and Japanese ancestry.

I particularly liked the different ways that we saw Henry– As a young boy, as he grows up tremendously over the course of several years, as an older adult, but also through the eyes of his adult son, and through his actions towards others, particularly his friends.

The contrast between how his adult son sees him and how he sees himself was particularly enlightening, illustrating how he continued through his life to be torn between America and his father’s world of China.

The lengths that young Henry went to in order to try to preserve his link with Keiko (and the naivete displayed in his plans) were touching. Everything that he lost during this time (and how it compared to all that Keiko lost) was thought provoking.

Most of all, the writing was always compelling, truly delivering Henry’s story to the reader.

Book Club Notes

My Book Club M met over Chinese Food to talk about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I think we all enjoyed the book, although (as usual) some more than others (I was towards the top of the “loved it” scale).

We had a good discussion, ranging from the character and how they were presented, the era and the challenges (both the obvious and the subtle); comparisons with other books about WWII and the Japanese Internment in particular.   It was a solid conversation, if not a standout for the group, and I’d recommend the book for other clubs.

Audio Notes

Sound Bytes @ Devourer of Books

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes

Narrator: Feodor Chin was unobtrusive in his delivery of this book, allowing the author’s words to come to the forefront.  He dealt well with Henry’s parents Chinese accent, emphasizing the differences in the generations.   His narration was a wonderful choice for this book.

Audio Production: No issues, no extras.

Print vs. Audio:  This book worked well in audio, but I suspect it would be wonderful in print as well.  Pick the format that is most convenient for you.

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Book Club, books, M, reviews

 

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Review: The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore (with audiobook and book club notes)

The Heroine's BookshelfMy rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Summary via Goodreads:

The literary canon is filled with intelligent, feisty, never-say-die heroines, and legendary female authors. Like today’s women, they too placed a premium on personality, spirituality, career, sisterhood, and family. When their backs were against the wall, characters like Scarlett O’Hara, Jo March, Jane Eyre, and Elizabeth Bennet fought back—sometimes with words, sometimes with gritty actions. Their commonsense decisions resonate even more powerfully in a world where women are forced to return to the basics, paring down and shoring up their resources for what lies ahead.

In this compelling book of beloved heroines and the remarkable writers who created them, Erin Blakemore explores how the pluck and dignity of literary characters such as Scout Finch and Jo March can inspire women today. She divides these legendary characters into chapters that pair each with their central quality—Anne Shirley is associated with irrepressible “Happiness,” while Scarlett O’Hara personifies “Fight.” Each chapter includes insights into the authors’ lives, revealing how their own strengths informed their timeless characters. From Zora Neale Hurston to Colette, Laura Ingalls Wilder to Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen to Alice Walker, here are some of the most cherished authors and characters in literature.

This would have been so much fun to use as a guide for a year’s worth of book club meetings! One author a month– either pick one book to read or let everyone choose on their own, then let the content of this book steer the discussion…

But we will be discussing the whole book at once, which should still be interesting. Certainly, reading it was.

My favorite bits were the looks at the lives of the various authors. There is a lot I didn’t know, and it added interesting perspective.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into books I haven’t read– A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my list for ages, and the Claudine novels weren’t really on my radar at all!  I’d read 9 of the 12 books discussed here, and all 3 of the others are now on my list.

I wish I’d spent more time on the insights into the books that I’ve read. Pieces like the “literary sisters” (women in other books that share some of the same characteristics) went right by with only passing thought on my part, as the audiobook was on to the next sentence before I’d had a chance to really reflect on each. I think this book needed a little more savoring and stopping and reflecting than I gave it– a downside of the audiobook for me.

Still, I was interested in the attributes the author picked out for each heroine, and in how the heroine embodied that characteristic.  If I re-read any of these books, I will revisit The Heroine’s Bookshelf first, and see how that changes my perspective on the book.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience with it!

Audiobook Notes

Sound Bytes @ Devourer of Books

For more audiobook reviews, check out Sound Bytes

Narrator: Tavia Gilbert didn’t really appeal to me.  I don’t think she did a bad job, I just didn’t love her.  I was impressed by the accents she used, although I’m the wrong person to say if she did them accurately or not.

Production:  No problems, no extras.

Print vs. Audio: I would have appreciated this more in print, I think.  It isn’t that I can’t take the time to pause and reflect with the audio, it’s that I don’t.  I recognize that about myself as a reader.  The good news is that the Audible.com bookmarks seem to correspond with the chapter breaks (they don’t always), so I can fairly easily go back to refer to a specific section, just like the print version.

For more audiobook reviews. check out Sound Bytes at Devourer of Books.

Book Club notes

To my surprise, my book club didn’t like this as much as I did.  There were five of us at the meeting.  Two of us enjoyed it.  One was very vocal about stopping her reading after the third chapter, because it wasn’t working for her,   The other two fell somewhere in the middle.

The club member that didn’t like it had only read 2 or 3 of the books discussed in The Heroine’s Bookshelf, and furthermore, she didn’t read those type of books.  The author hadn’t made enough of an effort to sell them  to her, and she didn’t feel it worth her time to continue to the sections about the books she had read.

Two members felt that the sections read like high school English class essays (well written ones, they agreed).  One thought this was a good thing, the other much less so.

I’d thought we’d be able to talk about Erin Blakemore’s interpretations of the books we’d all read, but it turns out there weren’t really any of those, and discussion didn’t ever really take off.

I’d say this was not a success for our book club.  I don’t think it has to be that way, and I was disappointed.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Book Club, books, M, reviews

 

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