Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – May 2018

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion group members rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.64.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion group rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0, with one member giving the book a 3.0. The average of the ratings was 4.49.

Review:
Several members are huge Jodi Picoult fans and they were glad the facilitator finally chose a Picoult book.  Members knew right away that this “issue-oriented” Picoult novel would be perfect for book discussion.  Readers liked that the book was beautifully researched and they thought the Author’s Note at the end showed the author’s careful construction about the sensitive issue of racism. Members thought that they would recommend the Author’s Note to readers who would not read the novel (the Author’s Note does contain spoilers).  Members appreciate that Picoult used her readership/fan-base to promote a difficult topic that is close to her heart.  Members liked that the reading was accessible while challenging readers to recognize subtle racism.  Ms. Picoult involves her readers in a gentle way, asking them to ponder some very difficult questions.  Jodi Picoult is well-known for getting readers to develop empathy for her characters with her use of descriptive language.  She takes readers on an emotional journey as she writes well-drawn believable characters.  Readers genuinely care about her characters which contribute to them being memorable.  Even the secondary characters are well-drawn, such as the mothers of Ruth and Kennedy. Members like that Picoult used the main characters names as chapter titles—no guessing is required to understand which voice is being presented.

Members thought Small Great Things would be terrific as a movie and indeed, Viola Davis and Julia Roberts are slated to star in the movie version.

Several members thought the book was too long, which conflicted with the ending.  Members thought the novel wrapped up too quickly.

Many members felt the discussion was timely in light of current events and felt the overall message was hopeful.  Members think the book is an important read and members commented on the fantastic line-up of books the past several months at club which in combination gave historical and current views.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group discussed ways they related to the three main characters.  Many members related to Ruth as an intelligent, hard-working single mother.  Members related to Kennedy as a liberal minded woman juggling the roles of motherhood and her career as a lawyer.  Like Jodi Picoult, all of the members were disgusted by Turk’s behavior, but some members felt Picoult showed how his troubled childhood contributed to his radicalization. We discussed what the role of parenting meant to each of the three characters.  We discussed the ways each of the three characters changed over the course of the novel.  We discussed how Ruth’s relationship with her sister Adisa changed over the course of the novel.  We spent a good deal of time talking about Turk’s transformation.  Many members thought his transformation was too incredible to be believable and yet, Picoult spent time interviewing past members of white supremacist groups to get the voice right and draw a clear picture of how it is possible for members to leave the group and work to undo racism.
  • Several members are regular Jodi Picoult readers and they enjoy her signature twists, however several other members felt the twists to be so contrived that they actually lowered their overall score.
  • In the novel, Kennedy seeks out a neighborhood in which she is the only white person to help her gain some perspective. Members were asked to think of a time when something about their identity made them an outsider and how were they affected by that experience.  Members shared many intimate anecdotal stories—through her Social Justice research Jodi Picoult discovered that open discussions about racial issues are vital and important.
  • The title of the book comes from a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that Ruth’s mother mentions on p. 173: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” We discussed what the quote means to us and cited some example of small great things done by the characters in the novel.
  • Finally, we discussed the difference between “equity” and “equality” as explained in the novel.  We discussed whether or not our perspectives on racism or privilege were changed or challenged by the reading of the book.

Resources:

Read Jodi Picoult’s website to learn about her
and her other fantastic novels:  https://www.jodipicoult.com/

PBS Books interviews Jodi Picoult on small great things at Book Expo 2016—Chicago:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Jodi Picoult, please click here.

Read-a-Likes:

Small Great Things

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Book Club, reader's advisory

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups: Up-Coming Events and The Great American Read

The Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group 2017-2018 season will end in June at which time members will receive the 2018-2019 book club list.  The 2018-2019 season will resume in September and we will discuss The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood.  Members will be asked to bring 1-3 most beloved book titles to their club meeting and the facilitator will compile a list to be distributed to the groups in late 2018.  Members will discuss their own favorite books and we will briefly discuss what “books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience” as presented on the PBS program The Great American Read which begins May 22 and concludes in October 2018.

“THE GREAT AMERICAN READ is an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey).  It investigates how and why writers create their fictional worlds, how we as readers are affected by these stories, and what these 100 different books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience.”  (http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/about/show/

Official Trailer: “America’s 100 best-loved books are revealed, launching the campaign & the nationwide vote.”

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – April 2018

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion group members all gave the book a 4.0 with the following exceptions: one member gave the book a 4.5 and another member gave the book a 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.12.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion group rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0, with one member giving the book a 3.0. The average of the ratings was 4.32.

Review:
All of the members felt the book was graphic and brutal in its description of slavery in the United States. They all agreed that the book was well-written but it was difficult and uncomfortable to read.  It was written with such vivid language and imagery that many members stated that the scenes will forever remain in their minds.  All of the members expressed a hope that someday we can move beyond racism, but agreed that acknowledging the past is essential in moving forward. The Underground Railroad assists readers in acknowledging the past, but also leaves readers with this question: where do we go from here?

Where Do We Go From Here? is the theme at the National Civil Rights Museum for the year-long commemoration of Dr. King’s assassination.  This was the title of Dr. King’s final book as well as the title of the speech he delivered on August 16, 1967 at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Several members had difficulty with Whitehead’s use of the metaphorical Underground Railroad.  They had difficulty transitioning between the magical realism of the Underground Railroad and the historical elements of the novel.  Many members were disappointed with the flow of the book and found it to be a challenging read.  Some members thought Whitehead rambled too much and his composition included too many characters which made the novel convoluted and difficult to track.

Many members felt the discussion was timely in light of current events.  Members felt the book is an important read and that it should be a part of required high school curriculum.  Members agreed that the serious nature of racism requires that books continue to be written to address the issue and to never allow the past to be forgotten.

Discussion Highlights:

The group discussed the concept of freedom as presented by Whitehead in this novel. The group also discussed what freedom meant to Cora and how her view changes over the course of the novel. The group talked about Cora’s personal view of freedom especially after her sexual assault by a group of other slaves and her personal journey to freedom with fear as a constant pursuer (personified by Ridgeway the slave catcher).

The above discussion led to discussion about Ridgeway’s perspective as a slave catcher. We discussed whether this added to a better understanding of the historical period.  We discussed the significance of Ridgeway’s behavior and treatment of Cora when he bought her a dress and took her out to dinner.  Many of the members were puzzled at this behavior and troubled by the insertion of it into the narrative.  It definitely doesn’t fit the narrative of historically cruel slave catchers.  One member thought of Ridgeway as a bounty hunter whose goals were purely financial and that he seemed to personally distance himself from the brutality of slavery.  Additionally, he dehumanized the slaves by calling these human beings “it.” He considered them property.  Colson Whitehead in an interview said, “I wanted to create a proper villain (Ridgeway) and a proper hero (Cora).”

We discussed the cruelty and brutality in the novel and how this affected us as readers. Many members had to take breaks while reading and many felt they needed to skim/skip sections.

We discussed the state-by-state structure of the novel and we discussed issues presented in each state that Whitehead created.  We discussed the “South Carolina” section and the presentation of the doctor’s offices and the museum designed to help “black uplift” and yet, they were corrupt and unethical. Whitehead’s “South Carolina” addresses eugenics, sterilization, and medical experimentation without consent. The group discussed how this mirrors what is still happening in America today.  One member is currently reading Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington.  This nonfiction book provides a provocative study of the history of medical experimentation on African Americans, from the colonial era to the present day, revealing the experimental exploitation and poor medical treatment suffered by blacks, often without any form of consent, and offering new details about the infamous Tuskegee experiment and other medical atrocities.

The experiments without consent reminded some members of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  This nonfiction book documents the story of how scientists took cells from an unsuspecting descendant of freed slaves and created a human cell line that has been kept alive indefinitely, enabling discoveries in such areas as cancer research, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping. It has been made into a major motion picture starring Oprah Winfrey.

As we continued to discuss the state-by-state structure, we included discussion about Whitehead’s “North Carolina.”  This state addressed genocide and alludes to Nazi Germany with the main character, Cora hiding in an attic, much like Anne Frank.

We discussed Whitehead’s “Indiana” with its presentation of black utopia and philosophical underpinnings regarding strategies for political movement forward.

The club discussed Cora’s mother’s decision to escape the Randall plantation and how our opinion of her changed after we learned about her fate.

We discussed how the depiction of slavery in The Underground Railroad compared to other depictions in literature and film.  Several movies mentioned were: Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Amistad, Amazing Grace, and The Abolitionists.  The Morning Book Break book discussion group had previously enjoyed and discussed The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  The story follows Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a Charleston slave, and Sarah, the daughter of the wealthy Grimke family. The novel begins on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership over Handful, who is to be her handmaid. “The Invention of Wings” follows the next thirty-five years of their lives.  It is inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke (a feminist, suffragist and, importantly, an abolitionist).

We discussed how Whitehead creates emotional instability for the reader and how this sense of fear impacts the reading of the novel.  This led to talking about the end of the novel.  We discussed why Cora accepts help from one man but not the other men who are willing to assist. We also discussed the ambiguous ending.  Some members disliked this ending and other members felt it was a great choice to make the novel impactful.  One member noted the cycle of freedom and visiting different states will most likely continue for Cora as this is perceived as being part of the struggle of black people in America.  Sadly, Cora was on her way to “Missouri,” a slave state in Whitehead’s arbitrary cut-off of 1850 for his novel.

Members discussed the timely reading of this novel and the relationship to current events such as;
Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination – 50th Anniversary
National Geographic– April 2018– Race Issue—featuring fraternal twins Millie and Marcia (The Race Issue)

Several members mentioned they watched the 60 Minutes report Inside the Memorial to Victims of Lynching: “Oprah Winfrey reports on the Alabama memorial dedicated to thousands of African-American men, women and children lynched over a 70-year period following the Civil War.”  Additionally, 60 minutes visited the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice which will open its doors for the first time on April 26, 2018.

Resources:

Read Colson Whitehead’s website to learn about him and his other fantastic novels: https://www.colsonwhitehead.com/

The facilitator selected the novel for book clubs for all the following reason stated below and to allow the reading of the novel to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination.  

“THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD had quite a year.

It won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurston/Wright Fiction Award, was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. It became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, got picked by Oprah for her book club, President Obama chose it for his summer reading list, and it was a Best Book of the Year for the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsday, GQ, Publishers Weekly, Esquire, and Buzzfeed. It’s being translated into 40 languages.

Now I’m back to work, I think.”
—Colson Whitehead

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee has been honoring MLK with a yearlong celebration starting on April 4, 2017 and ending on April 4, 2108.  http://mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/


PBS Books interviews Colson Whitehead on The Underground Railroad at
Book Expo 2016—Chicago


Colson Whitehead is interviewed at Politics & Prose Bookstore
(A Washington D.C. favorite)

Read-a-Likes:

The Underground Railroad

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Colson Whitehead, please click here.

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – March 2018

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Ratings:
The book received ratings between a 0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.43.

Review:
This novel was selected for many reasons.  A primary reason was this club’s real love for Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove.  This was, without exception, a club all-time favorite.  Additionally, selections are made by the facilitator with potential discussions in mind.  This club had never explored the role of sports in the US. The facilitator presented the TIME magazine (August 24, 2017) article entitled, “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry.” The article states, “Across the U.S., the rise in travel teams has led to the kind of facilities arms race once reserved for big colleges and the pros. Cities and towns are using tax money to build or incentivize play-and-stay mega-complexes, betting that the influx of visitors will lift the local economy.”  This is the backdrop of Beartown with the addition of a sexual assault which changes the dynamics of the town and its people.

Positive comments:
Many members have fond memories of their children and grandchildren participating in sports.  Sports were a part of family bonding and life-long lessons were imparted. Sports offered real opportunities for teachable moments.  Several members recall their own pathetic partnership with sports. The members came from an era, where girls sports did not count and many are glad to see that girls have equal opportunities in this arena.

Members felt the author did a wonderful job describing the area—the member saw the winter scenes in their minds.

Negative comments:
Members felt the writing was choppy and uneven.  Members wondered if part of the problem was the translation from Swedish to English. The members felt the book was in desperate need of editing.  One member felt 200 pages could be cut—members thought there was too much information presented about hockey. Facilitator shared that Fredrik Backman relayed information about his writing process. “Maybe I could put it like this: I have learned to build a box for me to play within.  Which means I decide the world my character gets to explore, and the limits of it, and I try to write a beginning and an ending to the story first of all. That way I’m free to have new ideas within it, but I have certain boundaries that force me to actually finish the story at some point.  Otherwise I would probably just keep on going and every novel would be 60,000 pages long.” Members laughed aloud as they could barely read his 400+ pages let alone 60,000 pages.

Members thought Backman used too many characters and they felt the characters were underdeveloped.

For the most part, members were not that interested in a novel that revolved around sports, particularly hockey.

Several members disliked the constant use of profanity throughout the novel.  Some members wonder whether young adults really talk like they are portrayed in the novel.  

Members would not recommend this novel to others.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group discussed what hockey means to the people of Beartown and what kind of community has been built by the people of Beartown.  
  • Discussion about the presentation of social classes in Beartown and the ways hockey can cut through class distinctions or reinforce them.
  • We discussed the pressures applied to the hockey team by the town and the parents.  We discussed what hockey demands from the boys. We discussed which parents were most successful at preparing their children for the real world.
  • The group discussed the portrayal of several marriages in the novel and the views of various characters regarding working mothers.  
  • The group discussed the role of secrets in the novel.
  • The author often chooses to not use first names, and we discussed how this decision affected our opinion of the various characters.
  • In reading the novel, we saw that playing on a sports team teaches young people values like loyalty, responsibility, and commitment and it can also promote exclusion, aggression, and entitlement.  We discuss whether there are behaviors that are rewarded in a sports competition but considered inappropriate in real life. We talked about which characters had difficulty navigating these behaviors.
  • We discussed how Maya’s final act shapes her future and Kevin’s future. We talked about the characters who find the courage to go against the grain of the tight-knit Beartown community.  
  • We discussed whether the tradition of the Beartown Hockey Club will continue and if it will change going forward.

Resources:

Barnes and Noble interview with Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman’s website which includes an interesting Q & A courtesy of Shelf Awareness:
http://fredrikbackmanbooks.com/about-fredrik-backman.html

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Fredrik Backman, please click here.

Read-a-Likes:

Beartown

Everyone who attend both Books and Bagels & Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups appreciated delving deeply into the current pulse of small town America.  The groups explored the plight of “brain drain” through reading the following literature; Nobody’s Fool, Everybody’s Fool, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, and Beartown.  It was a pleasure to explore this matter in a deeper way and make literary connections to current events.

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – February 2018

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Ratings:
The book received ratings between a 4.0 and 5.0+. One member gave the book a 2.75. The average of the ratings was 4.59.

Review:
Many members have stated they are not nonfiction readers and with that in mind, they enjoyed this nonfiction read. The members felt this narrative nonfiction read was written in a very accessible way and they thought this could be required reading for high school students. The members applauded Kate Moore for bringing the personal stories of each radium girl to life. The members thought the author helped the reader to experience all the emotions of these young girls—from exuberant joy to deep sorrow and anger.  Members are lifelong learners, so they really engage with writing that brings them new information.  Many members could not put the book down; they were entranced. The members felt rage and anger at the corporate greed and legal dysfunction.  Members were inspired by the strength of these women in the face of corporate giants. Members relayed other disasters where the disadvantaged get a raw deal; i.e. Flint, MI (lead in water), Chernobyl (nuclear disaster), St. Louis, MO (nuclear waste site),US tobacco companies: Phillip Morris,etc.

Many members made positive comments regarding the photos included in the book. Members found themselves looking at the photos while reading and thinking of the girls. In an interview, the author stated she posted the girls’ photos around the room while writing this book.  Kate Moore said this: “Every time I talk about the women, I tell myself: do it for them. Make it good, communicate their story, because they deserve this. They do feel like friends to me. When my husband and I had a glass of prosecco after I typed THE END on my first draft, before either of us drank a drop we first turned to the wall on which their pictures were pinned and raised our glasses to them.”

7

“This is the memorial statue to the Radium Girls, which stands in Ottawa, Illinois. At Christmas time, locals drape the statue with a red homemade knitted scarf, to keep her warm in winter.  The statue is dedicated not only to the Ottawa dial-painters, but also to ‘dial-painters who suffered all over the United States … in recognition of the tremendous perseverance, dedication and sense of justice the Radium Girls exhibited in their fight’. May they rest in peace.”

Discussion Highlights:

  • The group traced the emotional trajectory of the Radium Girls—from their initial excitement about their jobs to the realization that their exposure to radium was killing them.
  • Discussion about the horrible suffering the girls endured and their tenacity as they sought to find out what was causing their individual medical issues.
  • Discussion about the persistent pursuit of the Radium Girls to get medical care and legal justice.
  • Discussed the different responses between the United States Radium Corporation and the Radium Dial Company and whether or not they understood the hazards of radium. The group further discussed the reactions of the companies even after they realized that radium was proven poisonous.
  • Discussion about modern companies who have behaved ruthlessly and how the Radium Girls’ story is still relevant today.
  • Discussed why this story hasn’t been widely explored even though it takes 1,500 years for the effects of radium to wear off and parts of the towns in which the girls worked remains poisonous to this day. Members were shocked to learn clean-up was still taking place in 2015.
  • The members discussed how the girls were inspirational and brave. Members praised the girls for the work they did to help future generations.
  • Members discussed the gender issues contained within the non-fiction book.  We discussed whether or not, considering the time period, did their gender help or hinder them?
  • Radium has changed the world in positive ways, so has its uses been worth the sacrifice?
  • Discussion of other discoveries which have led to tragedy.
  • In an interview the author, Kate Moore stated: “And for me, what was compelling about the story was what these women suffered. And it was very much that they had done this remarkable thing, standing up against these incredibly powerful corporations, standing up against the face of their communities, battling for justice, even though they knew that they themselves were going to die. They didn’t lie down and take it quietly. They stood up and they fought for justice. And I just thought they were so extraordinary, and it was wrong that we don’t know their names and no one has ever traced their stories before—the individual tragedies that they feel. I think it’s really important to put a human face and a human experience behind the history that we see. Even the headlines we see today when we read about environmental damage or scandals. I think it’s only when you know that this was the person’s name, this is what their hopes were, that were then thwarted by what happened to them, this is how their families suffered. I think it’s only then that you can truly appreciate what the human tragedy is, and so that’s why I wanted to write it in the way I have done, because I want the women, the girls themselves, to be remembered.”

Members were asked whether or not author accomplished her purpose in writing Radium Girls.  Overall, members felt that Kate Moore definitely did justice to the girls’ personal journeys.  Members were impressed by her extensive research and attention to all the intimate details of each girl’s life.  

Surprisingly, members were not confused by the sheer overwhelming number of girls portrayed in the nonfiction narrative. Facilitator wondered if a historical fiction novel with a compressed time-line and compressed characters would have had more wide appeal among the general public, thereby bringing the Radium Girls story to the attention of even more people.  Several members hope this nonfiction narrative will be made into a movie, so that a wider audience can learn about the girls and have further exposure to the serious nature of environmental issues which can be dealt with for the good of all humanity.

Resources:

Local bookstore owner Becky Anderson interviews Kate Moore.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Killer Chemistry, a documentary which provides a fascinating look into early forensic science based on the non-fiction book: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. The Radium portion of the DVD is particular appropriate to the discussion of Radium Girls.

In the early twentieth century, the average American medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner’s treasure chest. There was radioactive radium in health tonics, thallium in depilatory creams, and morphine in teething medicine and potassium cyanide in cleaning supplies. While the tools of the murderer’s trade multiplied as the pace of industrial innovation increased, the scientific knowledge (and the political will) to detect and prevent the crimes lagged behind.

Kate Moore discusses her book with Anne McTiernan at Seattle Town Hall

Kate Moore’s website: http://www.kate-moore.com/writing/4583697052

Website devoted to The Radium Girls (the website literally glows): http://www.theradiumgirls.com/

Read-a-Likes:

The Radium Girls

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—December 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
Still Life by Louise Penny

Ratings:  In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 3.0 and 4.0. The average of the ratings was 3.42.

In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 2.0 and 4.0.  The average of the ratings was 3.50.

Facilitator stated selection of this cozy mystery was based on club input regarding the desire to have shorter selections and/or easy reads during the holidays. Facilitator also stated that one goal is to expose members to a variety of genres. Members were asked whether or not they appreciated this selection as part of accommodating these requests.  Members overwhelming appreciated having an easier read and enjoy being exposed to new authors and genres.

Review:

Books and Bagels:  Many members stated they are not mystery readers and with that in mind, they found this cozy mystery novel entertaining. Members thought the book was good, but not outstanding. The writing and structure seemed similar to an Agatha Christie novel.  Many members enjoyed the characters Louise Penny created and most members plan on reading another Louise Penny book in the Inspector Gamache series.

Morning Book Break: Most members enjoyed the novel and thought Louise Penny skillfully revealed her clues. They enjoyed visiting the countryside of Three Pines. They found the read soothing and a great escape from the news of the day.  Members liked that Penny showed tolerance for a variety of people without being preachy. Many members will probably read another book in the series.

A few members disliked the novel. They disliked that Louise Penny had at least twenty-six characters in the novel and some members found this confusing and frustrating.  Members also disliked the ending and found it contrived and rushed.  Members also felt they learned more about archery then they ever wanted to know.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Discussion about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his strengths and weaknesses
  • Discussion about other main characters and their relationships: Clara & Peter, Olivier & Gabri, Reine-Marie, Ruth, Myrna, Jane, Ben, Suzanne & Matthew Croft, Philippe,

Yolande, Andre and Bernard Malenfant.  Also, discussed choices the characters made throughout the novel and if any characters evolved over the course of the novel.

  • Members were asked which character they would most like to have cafe au lait with at the Bistro. Most members would like to have coffee with Olivier and Gabri, as they believe they are the most interesting conversationalists. Members would like to have discussions about food to their heart’s content.

Some members elected to have coffee with Inspector Gamache to discuss philosophy and find out how he solves crimes. Two members desired to have coffee with Reine-Marie to hear the private stories Inspector Gamache has told her. Several members would seek out Myrna to get some sage advice.  Several members coveted time with Jane to hear stories of the children she taught and insights into all the villagers—they found her powers of observation to be profound. They would also like to discuss her art.  Some members wanted to dialogue with Ruth about her poetry. One member needed to talk with Ben and find out what happened in his life that led him down such a dark path.

  • Discussed Agent Yvette Nichol’s role in the novel. What is her purpose: as an investigator and/or part of the narrative? Did you find this subplot intrusive or helpful?
  • The role of Jane’s art in the novel and the Queen of Hearts game played by Jane and her niece Yolande.
  • The role of psychology and poetry within the novel.
  • How would you classify Still Life? Is Still Life a typical “cozy” mystery?
  • Louise Penny has a “detective reveal all” scene when Gamache gathers everyone to look at the painting, but all is not revealed. The group discussed Penny’s handling of the denouement.
  • We discussed whether or not we felt Louise Penny played fair with the reader. When the murderer was discovered, were you able to connect the dots with the clues presented throughout the novel or did the reveal come completely out of the blue?  Were you able to figure out who was the murderer?

Resources:

http://www.louisepenny.com/ (includes an excellent pronunciation guide for all of Louise Penny’s novels)

 

Read-a-Likes:

Still Life

Audiobooks, Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break – November 2017

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Rating: This book received a variety of scores between 2.0 and 5.0.  In scoring, the mode was 4.0 and the average rating was 3.79.

Review: Only two members were aware of the abuses suffered under Georgia Tann and her adoption organization, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. The book club members really appreciate learning about events in history, therefore, they found the historical information Wingate presented to be very interesting, heart-wrenching, and compelling.   All members were willing to give this novel a high score (5.0) for the research and historical material presented.

The fictional facet of the novel received mixed reviews. Many members loved the book and they have been recommending it to friends and family. They found the topic fascinating and they spent time conducting further research on the events presented. Many members said the mysterious aspect of the novel grabbed them and they looked forward each day to reading the book. Many found it to be a well-written, easy-read.

The discussion was interesting in that an equal number of members found the writing to be sophomoric and contrived. Many criticized the novel as it was more like a script for a sappy Hollywood or Lifetime movie as opposed to a literary read.  One member thought this might be a YA novel due to the writing style.

Members had differing opinions about the structure of the novel.  Some members were frustrated that the author shifted from 1939 to Present Day throughout the novel. Many thought this would be a tremendous book without the Present Day chapters and they wished the novel just covered the historical material about the shanty boat children—everyone was invested in the Foss children. Some members questioned why so many contemporary novels utilize dual-narration.  Members were confused by the amount of characters presented. One member said she took notes on the names of the characters and had to constantly revise the list. Members chuckled because they want to enjoy a book without having to take copious notes. Other members thoroughly appreciated the structure and felt it added an element of suspense to the novel.

Discussion Highlights:

  • The dual-narration structure of the novel and clarification of some of the roles of the main characters.
  • Discussion about the sisters’ decision to keep their family history secret. The group discussed whether family secrets should remain secret.
  • Discussion about whether the birth parents were responsible or careless individuals.
  • Was the ending realistic or unrealistic? What happens to Avery and Trent’s relationship?
  • Why the novel received worldwide interest? What themes are universal?
  • What can society do to prevent people like Georgia Tann from taking advantage of the most vulnerable?

Resources:

http://www.lisawingate.com/

A 60 Minutes report on the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal:

For other books by Lisa Wingate in our collection, please click here.

 

Read-a-Likes:

Before We Were Yours

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—October 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Ratings:  In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 3.5 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.36. Four members gave the book a 5.  This is a high rating compare to other book club selections evaluated in past years.

In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 2.5 and 5.0.  The average of the ratings was 3.63.

Review:

Morning Book Break: While most members found the book discussion lively and interesting, they found the book, in general, to be a little disappointing.  Many members found the writing to be tedious and slow-moving at times.  They found the book to be an easy read, but not compelling.  They thought the writing at the end was hurried—just like a film that wraps everything up in the last five minutes.  A few members thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it to be quite humorous.  Several members found the book educational in gently exposing the reader to Asperger’s Syndrome and/or the Autism Spectrum.  One member stated that the main character, Don Tillman, was inspirational in striving to succeed without ever giving up. Several members relayed that it is helpful to read fiction to assist us in navigating our interactions with others.  Fiction helps us to be sensitive to the needs of others.   One member said, “the author showed if you move beyond the surface differences of a person, we all have something to offer, we all have value and strengths, and we all deserve respect and to be treated with dignity.”

Books and Bagels: The novel was well received by members.  Members found the novel enlightening, engaging, and entertaining.  Members found themselves frequently laughing aloud.  Although, not necessary literary, they found the book fun and very clever.  As an aside, the author claims he could have made the novel literary and award winning by changing several sentences at the end, but he claims he likes to write what people like to read.  Members are looking forward to the movie and hope the casting does justice to the book’s characters. Several members thought about what actors should be cast in the roles of Don and Rosie. One member, who is not a fan of romance novels, constantly recommends this novel to colleagues as it is on her “top 10 list to recommend.” One member read the sequel, which she thoroughly enjoyed and she feels it is continuous part of this amazing story that everyone should read.  Another member read the sequel and was disappointed in that, it was not of the same caliber as the debut.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Gaining understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome and/or the Autism Spectrum via fiction.
  • Discussed: What is love? And, Is it smart to have a list of criteria for a potential partner?
  • Structure and chaos in our lives & routines in our lives (Helpful? Limiting?)
  • Two secondary characters are involved in an open marriage. We discussed this concept.
  • The Rosie Project was selected as the adult read for 2016-2017 by the Suburban Mosaic organization.  The Mosaic’s goal is to foster cultural understanding through literature.  The discussion groups were asked whether or not, this goal was achieved.  Overall, both discussion groups found this novel to be excellent in achieving the goal of fostering some understanding of the Autism Spectrum, but, more importantly, understanding differences in people.

Resources:

For other books by Graeme Simsion in our collection, please click here.

http://graemesimsion.com/

Bill & Melinda Gates interview Graeme Simsion about The Rosie Project

Graeme Simsion answers question for The Big Read:



Read-a-Likes:

The Rosie Project

 

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—September 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Rating: In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 1.0 and 5.0+.  The average of the ratings was 4.43. Thirteen members gave the book a 5.0. This was an unusually high rating as compared to past selections.

In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 4.5 and 5.0+. The average of the ratings was 4.92. Ten members gave the book a 5+.  This book received the highest ratings ever for this club.

Review:

Books and Bagels:  Members fell in love with the Count and paced their reading to allow the magical experience to continue. Members did not want their time with the Count to end. The members were simply delighted with the compelling, witty language used by Towles.  Many members stated that the Count was their favorite character that has been presented in a fictional novel.  Fortunately, we had a member share some actual experiences of living under Soviet control and although members agreed the novel unrealistically portrayed the house arrest of the Count, overall, the fictional story was enlightening and engaging. Members have been recommending this original, humorous novel to their friends and family.

Morning Book Break: Members really enjoyed the Count.  He was human, caring, and likeable. Many members felt like the Count was their friend and thought this was a remarkable achievement for Towles.  Many members felt like the novel engaged them directly. The author was masterful in creating a well-developed story line which wove in the history of the Russian Revolution without being too preachy. Many members have been recommending this enchanting, accessible novel to friends and colleagues.  Several members barely tolerated the novel and found the narrative to be way too long and too descriptive.

Discussion Highlights:

Discussion centered on the characters presented within the novel:

  • The protagonist,  the Count and his amazing attributes and transformation
  • His suicide attempt and the effect of the handyman and the bees
  • Nina—the Eloise of the Metropol
  • Friendship between the Count and Nina
  • Nina as an agent of change
  • Sofia’s influence on the Count
  • The Count’s decision to get Sofia out of Russia, while remaining behind
  • Anna—the Count’s lover
  • Did you expect the ending? In your mind how does the story end?
  • Triumvirate—Andrey, Emilie, and the Count
  • Mishka, Osip, & Richard and their perspectives on the meaning of the revolutionary era
  • Douglas Smith of the Wall Street Journal wrote in his review: “Over four million people perished from famine in the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930’s…To flippantly refer to this moment as “unkind”…speaks to a disturbing lack of empathy and even moral imagination.”  We discussed whether the author was successful in balancing the Count’s life under house arrest with what was actually going on in Russia. This was a very interesting discussion as we also discussed the role of fiction in conveying historical events.
  • We discussed to what extent A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel of purpose.
  • Discussion on the Structure & Layout of the novel
    • Role of footnotes—helpful or distracting
    • The majority of the novel is told in third person from the Count’s perspective.  There is, however, an overarching narrator with a different perspective.  This narrator appears in the footnotes, Addendums, and the historical introductions of 1930, 1938, and 1946. We discuss the differences between this narrator’s POV & tone and the Count’s.
  • Amor Towles created quite a structure that incorporated the passage of time in a complex way. We discussed how this affected our reading of the novel.
  • We discussed the significance of Casablanca.

Resources:

For other books by Amor Towles in our collection, please click here.

http://www.amortowles.com/

Watch Becky Anderson of Anderson’s bookstore located in Naperville interview Amor Towles.
A Gentleman in Moscow was her favorite book of the year.

Read-a-Likes:

A Gentleman in Moscow

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Book Club

The After Party – Morning Book Break – June 2017

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Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Rating: The novel received ratings between 1.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.89. Three members gave the book a 5+.  The novel was well received and it was a perfectly positive fit for our last discussion of the season.

Review:
Most members found the depth of historical information presented to be remarkable. Several members commented on the difficulty of keeping the characters straight. Several members loved the book and found the novel to be cleverly constructed and they praised the author for her ability to weave a mystery out of historical facts. The overwhelming presentation of red herrings led to the plausibility of the mystery. Some members were initially excited to read about the Hindenburg, only later to be disappointed as they were unable to connect with the numerous characters. Several members found the writing to choppy and uneven, while others found Lawhon’s writing to beautifully descriptive. One member thought the novel was melodramatic and rang of Titanic themes.  Finally, all members felt better informed about the Hindenburg and its destruction.  Members raved about the discussion and enjoyed the diverse opinions.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Conversation about the structure of the novel and the ability of the author to create suspense even though the outcome is known.
  • Members appreciate the character headings at the beginning of each segment as it was difficult to track all of the characters.
  • Members marveled at the historical accurate details about the Hindenburg and members were impressed as to how the author incorporated this minutia of detail into the novel.
  • Members enjoyed hearing about the state rooms, bathrooms, service rooms, smoking room, observation desk, and the meals and cocktails served.  One member remarked about how she was hungry after reading about the delicious fine meals. The Hindenburg was truly a luxury liner! Members spoke about Emilie’s role as the only female crewmember onboard the ship and her responsibilities to the passengers.
  • The group discussed the differences between air travel at the time and air travel today.  Obviously, there is a great contrast and members shared amusing stories about their air travels.
  • The group talked about which characters they found most sympathetic.  Overall, the group had great sympathy for Werner, the fourteen year old cabin boy. Additionally, they were sympathetic to Emilie’s plight. No one in the group had any sympathy for “The American.”  The facilitator gave four reasons to sympathize with “The American,” and still no one felt his actions to be justified.
  • The facilitator briefly explained the current theories regarding the explosion of the Hindenburg and all the members thought Ariel Lawhon did a marvelous job of addressing and including each theory as a possibility.
  • The facilitator asked if anyone would like to travel on a modern airship, the group resoundingly stated, “NO!”

Resources:

For other books and audiobooks by Ariel Lawhon , please click here.

http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com/

http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/

Read-a-Likes:

Flight of Dreams

 

Morning Book Break 2016-2017 Season Wrap-Up:

Members praised the facilitator for providing a fine selection of diverse books this season.  Members thoroughly enjoy attending discussion days.  The least favorite reads of the season were: In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, Modern Romance, and My Name is Lucy Barton. The overwhelming favorites for this season were: The Nightingale, The Marriage of Opposites, and Flight of Dreams.  Voted most important read of the season was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Members are sorry to see the season come to a close and they can’t wait until September for the first discussion of the 2017-2018 Season.  If you’re interesting in attending, stop by the Readers’ Advisory Desk for the 2017-2018 Flyer, which will be available in mid-July, and sign-up with a Readers’ Advisor. If you’re already signed up, keep an eye out on the blog page for September’s title!