Friday, February 2, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation - from Lincoln at the Bardo to Orphan Train

There are a surprisingly large number of books that the tragic death of a child is the catalyst for a story.  Muse & Views Book Club has not read Lincoln in the Bardo but over the years we have read several that include the tragic death of a child. Like one of our members said, there is a lot of sadness in this meme.

Beginning book – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders tells the story of tragedy, the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son and a spin into the supernatural.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – from the violent death of Susie Salmon, we learn how she died and the tragic effects on her family from her seat in heaven.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – The death of a child has an impact not only on parents but also on the surviving children.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – The discovery of the skeleton of a child in a hidden closet is the catalyst for this horror story coming from historical realities of World War II.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards – In this story the tragic accidental death of a child is a catalyst to the story of poverty, envy and hatred in a small town.

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton – the tragic accidental death of a child this time, reveals how idealism and unrealistic dreams of life on a farm takes a mother to the brink of depression and its tragic consequences on her life, her family and the community that has not accepted them in their fold.

Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline – Children finding themselves orphaned when poverty-stricken parents die of influenza and other epidemics, some taken by train towards western states and provinces to be adopted by farm families die of neglect or from violent encounters.

To see how others connected Lincoln in the Bardo to other titles, see Six Degrees of Separation

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Meeting of January 29th, 2018

As we begin the 20th year of our Muse and Views Book Club, we met at Colette’s to discuss Still Life by Louise Penny. Attending were Jane, Janet, Shirley, Colette and our newest member, Sharon (Welcome to Muse and Views, Sharon!), plus Michèle and Linda who Skyped in to join the discussion. In keeping with the theme of the book, Colette served an array of Québec cheeses, stuffed mushrooms, and croissants followed by home-made mini lemon tarts, fit for any boulangerie.
The author, Louise Penny, came to writing later in life, having previously been a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her husband, Michael, who she describes as ‘kindly, thoughtful, generous, a man of courage and integrity, who both loved and accepted love’, was her inspiration for Armand Gamache. She lives outside a small village south of Montréal, quite close to the American border, and has used the Eastern Townships for the setting of her imagined village of Three Pines and the Inspector Gamache series.
Still Life is Louise Penny’s debut novel and has garnered a number of awards; her subsequent books continue to win accolades. In 2013, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada "for her contributions to Canadian culture as an author shining a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec”. She has been compared to Agatha Christie in her writing style which features many hallmarks of the British whodunit genre, including murders by unconventional means, bucolic villages, large casts of suspects, red herrings, and a dramatic disclosure of the murderer in the last few pages of the book.
Although all felt that the book was an ‘easy read’, our reviews were mixed. The devices and red herrings used in the book seemed too obvious. Some felt that character development was weak however one of the members, who had read the entire series, explained that the characters do fully develop over the series.
The description of the very rural village of Three Pines was well done as was most instances of family dynamics. Meanwhile, the conversation Inspector Gamache had with Ben about the dwindling rights of Anglophones in Québec was off-putting and definitely one-sided. The portrayal of Gabri and Olivier, the gay owners of the bistro and bed and breakfast, was felt to be rudely stereotypical.
This month’s book discussion was as lively as usual and reading a Canadian author is never a bad thing.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Six degrees of separation -No. 1 Detective Agency to The Kite Runner

Okay, here is where Shirley went with this one - to Africa:

Starting book is No. 1 Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. From Goodreads: “Precious Ramotswe has only just set up shop as Botswana's No.1 (and only) lady detective when she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. However, the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.”

Also set in Africa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun tells the tale of Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960’s.

Moving to Kenya, Unbowed by Wangari Maathai, recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya.

On to Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel is the story of one woman’s struggle to escape an arranged and forced marriage and assert her independence.

Staying in Somalia, A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout is her personal story of being abducted in Somalia, held hostage and her daring escape.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini is a chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

Also by Khalid Hosseini, The Kite Runner is the unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant set in Afghanistan.

And thus, the Muse and Views books linked by place setting only.

If you would like to see what other participants have posted go to Six Degrees of Separation

Monday, December 4, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from It to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Well we are a little late but here is our contribution completed this month by Shirley by herself!

It by Stephen King – story of children who see that which adults do not.

Keeping with ‘children’ as a link to the books, start with No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelin Michard – the story of a child being kidnapped, a family in crisis.

Followed by A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton where one moment’s inattention ends with the death of a child.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards is the next link. After pushing a friend off a church roof, Sydney Henderson makes a pact with God that he will live a life without violence providing that the boy lives.

Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok is told from young Davita's point of view and we often share her frustration as she understands that very important things are happening and all she can do is wait to be told or try to figure it out for herself. As the deprivations of war and depression take a ruthless toll, Davita unexpectedly turns to the Jewish faith.

Also by Chaim Potok, the next link might be to The Chosen. This tells of the relationship between two Brooklyn boys Danny and Reuven, the world they grow up in, and their relationship with their fathers. The two negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, and the crisis of faith.

And the final link is The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. This is the story of the third generation of a Jewish immigrant family in Montreal. Duddy is combative, amoral, scheming, a liar, and totally hilarious.

This list makes the leap from the fright-inducing stories of Stephen King’s It to the hilarious Duddy Kravitz which is more in keeping with the Muse and Views book club selections.

Thank you Shirley!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays for all! 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Meeting of November 27th 2017

We met a Beth's home to discuss Shirley's book choice Home Front by Kristin Hannah.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Beth offered us a very nice array of hot and cold canapés along with a variety of nuts and sweets.  Of course we had the usual wine, red and white and tea and coffee.

Kristin Hannah is an American author and former lawyer.  She has written 20 novels, Home Front and The Nightingale are the most popular.  She has received several awards, especially for The Nightingale.

Home Front is a timely and intimate look at the effect of a deployment on a family.  Jolene, a helicopter pilot in the Reserves is deployed to Iraq and Michael, her husband, who is a lawyer, finds himself with the responsiblity of taking care of his daughters and keeping the home going.  As Jolene is about to leave, Michael expresses his doubts about their relationship.

Jolene finds her deployment and work in Iraq much more challenging than she had anticipated and the uncertainty of Michael's love and commitment to their relationship weighs on her emotions.  Michael begins to realize the sacrifices Jolene has made, the work she has put into their relationship and the lack of responsibility on his part in their relationship.

We all found the book to be a pager turner and easy read as the writing style is very straight forward.  The characters were well described and we found our feelings towards them changed as the situation changed.  Life on an Iraq base was well described, the heat, the dust and sand, having to line up to call home, the line ups for showers all made the difficult life soldiers had real.

The author described well the anger the characters felt,  Jolene’s inablity to speak out and Michael's concentration in his work to the detriment of his family, his inability to understand what Jolene was doing and the importance of her work for her as a person and a soldier.  She did a good job of describing the transition Michael went through as he found himself responsible for his children and the effect it has on his feelings towards Jolene.  

One of our members remembered that Tolstoy's Anna Karina begins "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy it its own way." It is a good description of this family and its struggles.  

Thank you Shirley for an interesting read.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation From Less Than Zero to the Language of Sisters

We missed last month but here we go again and I am surprised that we have been able to again use only books that we have read at the Muse & Views Bookclub.  

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis – story about the young adults from priviledged families, a lost generation

Rules of Civility by  Amor Towes  - the priviledged , how they live and how they suck in others who aspire to their type of life

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark – a popular teacher in a boarding school who believed that the rules of society were not necessarily to be followed. Again young adults from a priviledged background and rules

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro,  a boarding school with special relationships between boarders and the dark secret behind the School’s facade.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – the impact of a secret on a family when a decision is taken to give away a sister

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult -  the impact on a family when a decision is taken to help a child by giving her a sister.

The Language of Sisters  by Amy Yurk – sisters and their relationships 

There we are, another completed.  Next month Stephen King's It is going to be a challenge! Our Bookclub has never read thrillers!  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Meeting of October 23rd, 2017

We met at Shirley's home to discuss Jane's book choice The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan. Present were Beth, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  As usual, Shirley had a wonderful array of food for us, crab rolled sandwiches, stuffed cherry tomatoes, pigs in a blanket and wonderful bacon and fruit tarts.  She had a wonderful clementine cake, a Nigella Lawson recipe.  Click on the link to get the recipe.

This is Jennifer Ryan's first novel.  She was born in England and now lives in Washington DC with her husband and children. She was a book editor specializing in non-fiction books such as economics, politics, health and biographies.  The Chilbury Ladies' Choir was inspired by stories her grandmother told her, who was 20 when WWII broke out and who lived in a small British village.

The story is told in the novel through letters written by some of the characters and journal entries by other characters.  It is similar to an epistolary novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson told through a series of familiar letters. It could also be compared to Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 written by Joyce Denny's and part of the Bloomsbury Group.

As we read the journal entries and letters we not only learn about what is happening in the village of Chilbury during 1940 from March to September but we become acquainted with the main characters, Mrs. Tilling, Kitty, Venetia and Edwina Paltry. In reading the letters and journal entries we become familiar with other characters in the novel such as Prim the choir master, the Brigadier, Kitty and Venetia's father, Colonel Mallard, Henry and his fascination with Venetia and Kitty's puppy love for him, and Mr. Slater who Venetia targets on a dare by her friend Angela.

Most of us enjoyed the novel and found it a nice light easy read with interesting characters and a good story line.  The map of the village and the descriptions of the different buildings and areas of the village allowed us as readers to imagine the characters in their environment.  The Ladies Choir is a good unifying tool, allowing us to observe the interaction between the characters and also showing how, when war left a village with only the women and older men, the strengths and backbones of the village came from the women.

Several members commented on how  characters such as Venetia, Mrs. Tillings and Henry evolve as events happen and the story line changes.  At the beginning though Hitler is taking over many areas of Europe, England is unaffected, it is almost like a phony war.  As events occur and Hitler begins to bombard southern England, Dover is constantly hit and Chilbury is bombarded, the deaths of husbands and boys and those of loved members of the village, Prim and Harriet changes the narrative in the journals and letters. Venetia matures, not only because of these events but also because of her growing love for Alastair Slater. Mrs. Tillings becomes less timid and develops as a strong supportive person.

Some felt that there were some areas where we were left hanging a bit.  What happens to Mrs. Tilling's son David?  Does Edwina really get away without consequences? Some also felt that Kitty's journal entries were not the narrative of a 13 year old.

Though we found the book to be an easy light read, it had excellent character development, good references to how WWII affected England and villages.  It had two good love stories and though many events were quite predictable such as the baby swap and Mrs. Tilling and Colonel Mallard's developing relationship, it was enjoyable to read.

Thank you Jane for a good choice.