Saturday, May 6, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from The Slap to The Forgotten Garden

This is the Muse & Views Bookclub participation in this month's Six Degrees of Separation meme.  Three suggestions from our members were discussed at our last meeting and we settled on a combination of Shirley's and Beth's.  All books are part of those read by our Bookclub with the exception of the first book The Slap. 

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas  is the story where a slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires. It is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the time of the slap.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is the story where a kiss has consequences on two families and is told from the points of view of some of the family members.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Here the link is the author. This is the story of a South American hostage-taking.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The setting is once again South America and the author uses magical realism to tell his tale.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. A story that begins in India, also told with magical realism featuring a small boy and a tiger.

Secret Daughter  by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, a story also set partly in India.

TheForgotten Garden by Kate Morton, also about a mother and daughter and their struggle to find their missing history.

Voilà our contribution for this month!  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meeting of April 24, 2017

We met at Colette's with Jane hosting to discuss Michèle's book choice Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan.  Jane provided some lovely cheese, pâtés, olives and very nice dolma.  As Donia made while training to be a chef, Jane made a cherry clafoutis and madeleines.  Of course wine, tea and coffee was also served.

Michèle did not go into great detail about Donia Bijan as author since this book is a memoir, however, she did tell us that Ms. Bijan has written a novel which came out in March called The Last Days of Café Leila.

This book is a memoir that begins when Ms. Bijan has to clean out her mother’s home after her death.  She discovers in a kitchen drawer, her mother's recipes and as she goes through them memories of  her childhood in Iran, her family’s escape when the Shah was overturned, their life in the United States and her path towards becoming a chef come to her and she writes about their life through stories, often related to these recipes.

Her father, a physican in Iran along with her mother who was a nurse, built a hospital in Iran.  They were well known and her father was a well-regarded physician.  They lived with Donia and her two sisters in apartments above the hospital.  Donia describes well their life, their school life and family outings. 

Donia’s mother became involved in politics and campaigned against the revolutionary movement.  During a family vacation on Malta, the  revolutionary movement ousted the Shah.  Donia and her family were not able to go back to Iran and eventually emigrated to the United States.  Donia’s mother who had studied nursing in England adapted well to their new situation.  However, her father, who was unable to practice medicine in the U.S., did not adapt well.  Eventually he went back to Iran and his hospital. 

Each chapter finishes with recipes her mother used beginning with a cardamon tea,  Often in the chapters, Donia tells stories of their life in Iran and when some of the recipes were made.  

Donia’s style of writing was very easy and pleasant to read. Some of us described it as gentle.  We learn a lot about the Iranian and Persian culture.  We get to know her parents and Donia well. 

The book was well liked by all members,  everyone finding it easy to read and enjoyable.  We were saddened by the fate of her parents when eventually they find themselves living separate lives in separate countries.  We were astonished to learn how difficult it is to become a chef, the non-paying jobs, the menial jobs, the long and crazy hours that aspiring chefs, including Donia, have to endure to hopefully achieve success.  The only criticism some of us had about the book was how little we learned about Donia’s sisters. 

Donia describes well her relationship with her mother and this reminded members of others books with mother/daughter relations, What My Mother Gave Me by Elizabeth Benedict and They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson.  Both relate mother/daughter relationships.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation - From Room to The Book Thief

So this is my first participation in the Six Degrees of Separation game and I not sure I have understood it completely, but here goes.  I am using my Muse & View Bookclub list to link books to Room. We have not read Room but I have.

So the first link is obvious, we just read The Wonder by the same author Emma Donoghue.  As you will see from the summary of our meeting, not everyone like it.

The next link is by title to Year of Wonders By Geraldine Brooks.  A story that can be considered historical fiction with strong women as characters.

The next link via historical fiction and strong women is The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.  This book is also about the struggle of a minority to be free and be considered full members of society.

So there are other books we have read about the struggle of minorities, the one that stands out the most I think is The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

The next link is maybe a bit of a stretch, but in Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, we witness the struggle of the jewish minority in Europe during World War II.

We have read several novels that take place during World War II and I think the best link to Sarah's Key is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

So there is my contribution.  Would love some feedback!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Meeting of March 27, 2017

We met at Carla's to discuss Jolene's book choice The Mockingbird Next Door - Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills.  Present were Carla, Colette, Beth, Betty, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley.  Carla served some wonderful cheese and a nice variety of crackers along with a kale dip, a warm artichoke dip and spicy jellies.  Of course there was wine and with tea and coffee Carla served a wonderful pavlova.  We are spoiled!

Some changes to our schedule were made and Linda, who is enjoying the warmth of Florida has proposed along with her book choice for May, an excursion!  Take a look at our 2017 list of book choices and see if you can guess where we are going!  Make sure you check back in May to read about our great outing!

One of Jolene's favourite books and for many of us, is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  So a memoir about Harper Lee was an obvious choice for her this year. The author, Marja Mills is a journalist who has worked for the Chicago Tribune.  As part of a Chicago project to encourage citizens to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Ms. Mills requested and received permission to interview the Lee sisters Harper and her older sister Alice.  After the article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Ms. Mills sent it to the Lee sisters and then developed a friendship with them eventually renting the house next door to them for 14 months.

The Mockingbird Next Door is a memoir of Ms. Mills' experiences and the friendship that developed with the Lee sisters over those 14 months and not a biography of Harper Lee.  Alice, Harper's older sister and their friends that she meets are the bigger source of stories about Harper Lee.  Harper, known much more as Nelle, told some stories, took Ms. Mills along with he on excursions such as fishing at a friend's farm but always refused to be taped and often said, this is not to be printed.  Both sisters were very good storytellers and the book has many stories about life in Monroeville and its residents.

When Penguin Press announced that the book would be published and later when it was  published in 2014, a statement from Harper Lee was published in which she said that she had never authorized the publication.  The statement created a controversy and there were questions as to who had pressured Harper Lee to send out the statement.

Most of us enjoyed the book though many thought that it could have used more editing.  Many found the stories of their daily lives, relationships with friends and family endearing.  It was also interesting to read about Nelle's friendship with Truman Capote and her involvement in research for Capote book In Cold Blood.  We also learn a bit about Nelle's friendship with Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird..  A couple of us did not find it particularly interesting and thought the author wrote too much about herself.

In the end, this book generated a lot of discussion about new genres in memoirs and biographies, that not only speak of the subject of the memoir but also the author of the book.  As always, we enjoyed our discussions.  Thank you Jolene for the book choice and thanks to all members of the Muse & Views Bookclub, the best there is!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Meeting of February 27, 2017

We met at Janet's home to discuss Carla's choice The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.  Present were Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley.   Janet was tempted to serve us just 2 teaspoons of water and porridge but lucky for us relented and served some wonderful cheese including an irish  cheddar,  sausage rolls and a quite wonderful Irish whisky cheese cake.  Of course wine, coffee and tea were also served.

Carla gave us a short biography of Emma Donoghue who is the author of the very popular novel Room.  She was born in Ireland and lived in England and has settled in London, Ontario.  Ms. Donoghue has written several books and will publish this coming Spring her first YA book.

The novel is set in the Irish midlands in the 1860's not long after the potato famine in a village steeped in superstitions and the mysteries of the catholic faith. A young 11 year old girl, Anna O'Donnell, has stopped eating and after four months the curious and believers have begun to visit to witness this "miracle" or "medical anomaly" since she seems in good health.  The notable men of the village, the priest, the doctor and others decide that there needs to be proof that she is not eating and hire an English Nightingale trained nurse Elizabeth Wright and a nun to watch Anna over a two week period.  Lib, the nurse decides immediately that this is a hoax and in a couple of days she will be able to discover how Anna is secretly fed.

It is safe to say that this is not the most popular book we have read as a group.  Only two of our members present actually enjoyed the book.  It was for these two members a page turner, a suspense novel with an interesting plot line and believable characters.  The bleakness of the countryside and the difficult lives of the poor in villages just coming out of the potato famine were well described.

However, the majority were more critical of the book.  Many felt that there was too much of the book described Lib, the Nightingale trained nurse, watching Anna O'Donnell the 11 year old child who refuses to eat.  They felt that it was very repetitive and that not much happened until the last third of the book when we discover why Anna is fasting and what Lib does to save Anna.  All of us found the ending unbelievable.  Could Anna really get her health both physical and mental back and live a happy life with these new parents in a new country?  Some also criticized the writing style using a third person narrative but allowing only the thoughts of Lib to be described.

Carla did some research on catholicism and purgatory and how you could get someone out of purgatory.  Anna prayed to get her brother to heaven and she envisioned them both in heaven together.  She repeats 33 times the same prayer hoping it will be enough to get her brother Patrick out of purgatory.

As is usual with a book that our members have mixed opinions, the discussion was lively and interesting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Meeting of January 23, 2017

We met at Colette's home to discuss Janet's book choice Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley.  Colette served a very nice variety of cheese and crackers, stuffed mushroom caps, melon wrapped in proscuitto and wonderful sautéed shrimp.  Red and white wine was served and afterwards, coffee, tea and a beautiful blueberry pie with ice cream.

The first order of business was the 2016 "academy award" for the best book of the year.  Six books were nominated but Carla's choice A Man Called Ove dominated with 5 of the 10 votes.  Congratulations Carla!

Here are some interesting facts about our Bookclub's reading this past year.  We read a total of 9 books as per usual, for a total of 3 045 pages!  We read six novels of which one is considered a classic (One Hundred Years of Solitude), and three non-fiction books.  Four of our books were written by Canadian writers.

Janet gave us a short biography of Ann Patchett.  She has written several books including Bel Canto that the Bookclub read in 2005.  She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including The Women's Prize for Fiction, previously known as the Orange Prize and now called the Bailey's Prize.  She won for her book Bel Canto.  Among many other prizes and fellowships she also received the Guggenheim Fellowship for creative arts in 1995.  She has written seven novels and six non-fiction books. Ms. Patchett lives in Nashville and is co-owner of an independent bookstore called Parnassus Books. She is a big fan and promoter of independent bookstores.

Commonwealth is the story of six siblings from two families and how they coped with negligent parents and shuttling back and forth from California to Virginia.  The story develops over four decades and we learn how they coped as children and adults.  A tragedy when the kids are young affects all the children and the adults.  We learn more about the families when Frannie links up with a well known author and he writes a novel that is essentially the story of their families.

The comments were mixed and not many of our members enjoyed the novel.  However, several of us felt it was a good representation of the era when children were much freer to go out and explore the world.  It is of course an exaggerated representation.  The parents in this novel were extremely negligent.  It is difficult to understand parents who would leave a child self-medicate and let a gun in an easily accessible place.  Two of our members read the book twice and felt they could better connect the different parts of the story so that it made more sense.

Some felt that it was implausable that children of two families would get along so well, but what bonded them was the hatred for their parents.  It is a very sad story, a bit of a peek at a degenerative society of the '60s and '70s.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Meeting of November 28, 2016

We met at Beth's home to discuss Shirley's book choice,  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Michèle and of course, Shirley.  Beth served very nice rolled finger chicken and beef sandwiches, a dip and vegetables, lovely olives and cheese.  She also served a wonder Irish apple cake.

Shirley introduced the author.  Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised there and in the United States.  She studied literature at several American and British universities including Yale and Cambridge.  She also taught at several universities, literature, writing and women's studies.  She has written several books including 5 novels and several non-fiction books.   Orphan Train is her latest novel.  She presently lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons.

Ms. Kline's idea for this novel Orphan Train came from her mother-in-law's grandfather's story that she happened upon one holiday time when they were snowed in.  He had been as a child taken west from New York on a train.  The idea of taking children from New York to the mid-west came from a methodist minister who wanted to rid New York of underage criminals and vagrant children.  Taking them west would allow farm families in the mid-west to take the children in and would be free labour for them.  The program began in 1854 and went on to 1929.  After several years of research and interviews, Ms. Kline was able to create several characters such as Niam and Dutchy.  The novel begins in 2011 and there are two main characters, Vivian who is a 91 year old woman living in a huge old house and 17 year old Molly who is a ward of the Children's Aid Society living in a foster home.

The story begins with Molly who was caught stealing a library book and must do 50 hours of community work to pay for her sins.  She finds herself doing the community work by helping Vivian clean out her attic.  As the two begin to go through boxes, Vivian tells her story and her life as a child on an orphan train.

It was unanimous, all of us enjoyed the book.  We felt that the author had done considerable research not only about the Orphan Train project but also about the conditions in America for new immigrants, the conditions in Ireland that required many to immigrate. Beth said that the book had the feel of an old fashion novel.  The historical aspect of the novel satisfied the need of many of us to learn something from a book.  With the two characters Niamh Power and the young boy Dutchy that she meets on the train we are given good descriptions of what happened to many orphans who were given to families in the mid-west.  The descriptions of the families where Niamh finds herself are well developed and we find out quite a bit about the families  who went west in the late 19th and early 20th century. It gives us a good idea of how these children were treated both badly and well and how easily they were considered almost as "property", changing a child's name without hesitation.

Molly the 17 year old who comes into Vivian's life to help put order in the attic soon finds herself engrossed in Vivian's life.  As boxes are unpacked, we learn how Vivian coped and survived.  We also learn about Molly, who has lived and survived quite a lot in her 17 years.

Several of us talked about how a past can be seen to be better than it actually was.  Vivian talks about her life in Ireland before her family imigrated to America and paints a better picture than what was reality.  In the prologue, that begins "I believe in ghosts.." she talks about the positive things she remembres about her gram, her da and her mam.

We talked about the reasons there were so many orphans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many parents died young because of plagues, industrial accidents, children who were abandoned because families could not cope.  There are many classic novels written about orphans, two are mentioned in this novel,  Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables. There are others,  David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and many others.  The old fashion feel of the book comes from the two main characters, Vivian and Molly who were in fact both  orphans.

Some of us liked that we learn what happened to everyone at the end.  We know that Maisie was adopted, married and had a family.  We know that Carmine was adopted by a good family.  Vivian meets the daughter she gave up for adoption.  Some of us however, wanted a few more chapters to find out how Vivian and her daughter got along, what happened to Molly as she aged out of the Children's Society system at age 18.

The discussion was lively and interesting.  Thank you Shirley for a good choice!