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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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Fluffy Books

Visit Tinykittens.com for more information about Hula and other rescued kittens.

A fluffy kitten to go with the fluffy books! Visit Tinykittens.com for more information about Hula and other rescued kittens.

Popping in with a quick post!

I asked my Facebook community for some suggestions for fluffy, non-mentally demanding reading, and oh boy did they come through!  Books, series, and authors in a variety of genres for me to choose from.  (I’m dealing with some health issues– nothing serious, but I’ll be dealing with some intervals of stress and physical discomfort and need some distraction).

I’ve read about 1/3 of the list (counting series I’ve started, and authors where I’ve read a few books.)  I’ve generally enjoyed those that I’ve read, so I’m looking forward to exploring more.

If you need something fun and not too demanding to read, check out the list!

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2014 in books

 

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Review: The Original 1982 by Lori Carson

Original 1982My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

There were many things I did like about this book, but some aspects didn’t quite jell for me.

Summary via Goodreads:

It’s 1982, and Lisa is twenty-four years old, a waitress, an aspiring singer-songwriter, and girlfriend to a famous Latin musician. That year, she makes a decision, almost without thinking about it.

But what if what if her decision had been a different one?

In the new 1982, Lisa chooses differently. Her career takes another direction. She becomes a mother. She loves differently, yet some things remain the same.

Alternating between two very different possibilities, The Original 1982 is a novel about how the choices we make affect the people we become-and about how the people we are affect the choices we make.

The first thing that intrigued me was the premise of life done differently. The first book I encountered that suggested this approach was Penelope Lively’s Making it Up, which was well written and interesting, but didn’t deliver on that promise to me. The Original 1982 does that, presenting the choice that changes things, and marking out a new path (and comparing it to the old) that follows that decision.

I liked Lisa, the main character, in both versions of her life, and both paths were interesting, and completely different than any life I’ve seen.. She was surrounded by people that I wanted to get to know, and a few I didn’t, but I liked reading about anyway. I enjoyed the author’s writing. The book was written as a letter to a daughter that never was, and that choice resonated with me.

My biggest problem was that I wanted more, from both of the paths. Big issues were touched on, then the story moved on. Relationships were introduced, but not explored.

The second problem was that I didn’t entirely buy the new path, and I can’t tell if that was deliberate. Was I learning from this that Lisa is deceiving herself about what her life would have been like, or did the author fail to construct a life I could buy into? How much is the original life based on the author’s real life, and is the new life her personal wish, or does it belong only to the character of Lisa?

I enjoyed reading the book, and I’d love to have the chance to argue some of these questions with someone else that read it– I think it would be a very interesting book club choice.

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour, and was provided a copy of the book to read and review.  For other opinions on this book, visit the other tour stops:
TLC Book Tours

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in books, reviews, tour

 

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Review: A Complicated Marriage: My Life With Clement Greenberg by Janice Van Horn

Complicated MarriageMy rating: 3.5 stars– 3 stars for the first half, 4 stars for the second half.

Summary via Goodreads:

In 1955, Jenny Van Horne was a 21-year-old, naïve Bennington College graduate on her own for the first time in New York City. She meets 46-year-old Clement Greenberg who, she is told, is “the most famous, the most important, art critic in the world!” Knowing nothing about art, she soon finds herself swept into Clem’s world and the heady company of Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, David Smith, Helen Frankenthaler, among others. Seven months later, as a new bride, Jenny and Clem spend the summer in East Hampton near Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, and she feels even more keenly like an interloper in the inner circle of the art scene. A woman disowned by her anti-Semitic family for marrying a Jew, she would develop a deep, loving bond with Clem that would remain strong through years of an open marriage and separate residences.

Jenny embodies the pivotal changes of each passing decade as she searches for worlds of her own. She moves from the tradition of wife and mother to rebellion and experimentation; diving into psychoanalysis; the theater world of OOB and the Actors’ Studio; and succeeding in business. Throughout, A Complicated Marriage is grounded in honesty and the self-deprecating humor, grace, and appealing voice of its author.

I picked this book for review because it reminded me of Patti Smith’s Just Kids. It wasn’t until I started reading it, and realized how strong the resemblance is, that I remembered I didn’t love Just Kids.

Particularly for the first half of the book, the resemblance was strong. There was an odd distance between the narrator and the events she described. There were a lot of mentions of friendships and parties with people I knew nothing about– and I know even less about the art world than the music world. The only familiar name in A Complicated Marriage is that of Jackson Pollock.

While I didn’t dislike the book at first, it also didn’t really click for me, I just didn’t get drawn in. That changed about halfway through– while it took more than a week to get through that first half, I read most of the second half in one day, and didn’t have to struggle to get around to the last piece.

Once the author came into herself, the book became interesting in and of itself. The time she spent in the theater world, the exploration of the complicated aspects of her marriage, the relationships she built at this time, all these mature. I think some of her distance in telling about them may have gone as well, but whatever the reason, I enjoyed it far more at this point.

I came out of the book with a little more understanding of the personal side of the American art world in the second half of the last century, some insight as to how an open marriage could work for some people, and a look at a girl who grew into a very interesting woman.

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour, and was provided a copy of the book for review.  Thank you for this opportunity.  You can find out more about Janice Van Horn at her website.  For other perspectives on A Complicated Marriage, check out the other stops on the tour:

Tuesday, May 14th: Turn the Page

Wednesday, May 15th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

 

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in books, reviews, tour

 

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Review: The Cottage At Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri

Cottage at glass beachMy rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This book had solid characters in a great setting, unfortunately the ending knocked down the rating for me.

Summary via Goodreads:

Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters–Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve–and takes refuge on Burke’s Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides.

Nora spent her first five years on the island but has not been back to the remote community for decades–not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. One night while sitting alone on Glass Beach below the cottage where she spent her childhood, Nora succumbs to grief, her tears flowing into the ocean. Days later she finds an enigmatic fisherman named Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. Is he, as her aunt’s friend Polly suggests, a selkie–a mythical being of island legend–summoned by her heartbreak, or simply someone who, like Nora, is trying to find his way in the wake of his own personal struggles?

Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own–a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.:

The bones of this book are standard women’s fiction– a woman struggling to come to terms with her husband’s infidelity, and what that means for their marriage. This aspect of the story is handled well, particularly where it looks at the effect on the children, but there isn’t anything compelling or unusual about it.

Where the book comes into its own is when it is dealing with the island that Nora returns to, the island she used to call home. The people, the history, and how they all interrelate with the stories of the past added interest to the books, and distinguished it from many other good books exploring the same basic story. There is a touch of magical realism here, some question as to what is myth and what is real, and I thought that was nicely done through most of the book.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I wasn’t satisfied by the ending, but that may be a personal taste issue. The other thing that dragged this book down a bit in my estimation is that bits and pieces of it, particularly the mythological parts, reminded me of The Salt God’s Daughter by Ilie Ruby, which was a much richer book.

Still, this was an enjoyable light read, and I’m glad to have read it.

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.  Thank you for the opportunity to participate.  For other opinions of this book, check out the other tour stops:
TLC Book Tours

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in books, reviews, tour

 

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April/May Reading Recap

Again, I’m combining two months of reading summaries in one post…

Print Books
April

  1. MayAll the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue
  2. A Complicated Marriage: My Life With Clement Greenberg by Janice Van Horne
  3. The Cottage At Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri
  4. Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComas

Nook Books

  1. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  3. The Cat, the Wife and the Weapon (A Cats in Trouble Mystery #4) by Leann Sweeney
  4. The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria

Audio Books

  1. Bad Blood (Kate Shugak #20) by Dana Stabenow
  2. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  3. Angel’s Peak (Virgin River #10) by Robyn Carr
  4. The Girl Who Disappeared Twice (Forensic Instincts #1) by Andrea Kane
  5. Forbidden Falls (Virgin River #9) by Robyn Carr
  6. Temptation Ridge (Virgin River #6) by Robyn Carr
  7. Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10) by Charlaine Harris
  8. Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen
  9. Coming Back (Sharon McCone #28) by Marcia Muller
  10. The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid
  11. The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King #1-4) by T.H. White
  12. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  13. Paradise Valley (Virgin River #7) by Robyn Carr
  14. Second Chance Pass (Virgin River #5) by Robyn Carr,
  15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  16. Shelter Mountain (Virgin River #2) by Robyn Carr
  17. Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts
  18. City of Whispers (Sharon McCone #29) by Marcia Muller
  19. A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
  20. Wicked Business (Lizzy & Diesel #2) by Janet Evanovich
  21. The History of Us by Leah Stewart

The best books I read were Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and All the Summer GirlsAs you can see, I’ve been tearing through Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series– those are always feel good reads, and I’ve been craving that.

My books read for the year are up to 14 Nook Books, 7 paper books and 46 audio books, for total of 67 books read.  I’m on pace to make it to 150 books read for the year.

Thank you again to Venice Tretiak.for the darling kitty monthly graphics

Have a great June, and enjoy your summer reading!

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in books, summary

 

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Review: Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComas

Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComasMy rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Mystery meets chick lit?

Summary via Goodreads:

Clearfield, Virginia, is a sleepy, idyllic hamlet where residents welcome its comfortable, familiar routines. But when a newcomer arrives in town, long-buried secrets threaten to surface and destroy their haven . . .

Answering a call that summons her to a stranger’s deathbed, a reluctant Sophie Shepard is too late to hear what he was so anxious to tell her. What was so important that a dying man would think of her in his final moments? With the help of Dr. Drew McCarren, Sophie begins to dig into her past, setting off a chain of events that chills the quiet town of Clearfield, Virginia, to its roots.

With part of her wanting nothing more than to put Clearfield behind her and run back home, Sophie knows she won’t rest until she discovers the truth. But growing closer to the residents also means uncovering their dark secrets–secrets about the woman who gave Sophie up for adoption, the mysterious part these strangers played, and the life she never knew she nearly had.

There’s something odd about this book, that gets a little odder the more I think about it.  It’s a mismatch between the tone and the events in the book.

The thing is, I like sweet, good-natured women’s fiction. I mentioned this in my recent review of Robyn Carr’s The Wanderer. This book out-nices Carr in many ways, particularly the sweet Kindergarten teacher of a main character. She’s never been curious about her birth parents, because she loves her adoptive parents so much. And now she’s in a small town where everyone knows one another, and she’s making friends fast.

Then there’s the mystery, which starts out much like a cozy mystery– the bad stuff, including a murder, happens off-screen, with vague threats impinging on our heroine’s activities. I like cozy mysteries, so this is good as well. The book is a little more about the character and less about the who-dunnit, and Sophie isn’t all that involved in trying to find the bad guy or guys.

But then the last section of the book happens, and it gets grittier, with more details on much more unpleasant occurrences (yes, even more unpleasant than murder). And that’s fine with me as well, but it seems out of place compared to the rest of the book.

Overall, I liked the characters, even if they all seemed a little cartoonish. I thought the plot was well constructed.  The romance was cute, even if I didn’t really see the steam. Overall, I enjoyed reading Something About Sophie.

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.  Thank you to TLC for providing me with a copy of this book for review.  If you’d like other opinions on Something About Sophie, check out the other tour stops:
TLC Book Tours

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in books, reviews, tour, Uncategorized

 

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