Book Clubs Recommend - 2009
"Our group unanimously loved this book. We enjoyed the easy flow of the author's
"We discussed our own growing fascination with the mathematical concepts that the professor used to both educate and communicate with people who were entirely new to him each and every day. We noted how the housekeeper was able to help the professor establish a bridge, from day to day, utilizing his two passions: mathematics and baseball, creating a level of constancy in his life.
“We also discussed the author's technique of not naming the characters. While Root was the only character with a name, and a nickname at that, we felt an intimacy with and a fondness for each of the characters. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the professor's disability, these people were able to build a strong, enduring family.”
“Everyone in our book club loved this book! This is the story of two young girls and how their lives are woven together, but yet so different. The story begins in the 1970s and spans 30+ years of friendship between two very different characters - Kate and Tully. A story of true friendship, love, and courage, everyone reading this book could identify with the characters. We identified with them as teenagers, young women, middle-aged women, wives, and last but not least – as moms. Our discussion of this novel was very reminiscent of our own lives and the various paths we have taken. It reminded us of our childhood friends and even encouraged us to stay in touch with our friends over the years. It defined how very important friendship is.
“Many of the members of our book club are mothers to pre-teen girls. The book reminded us how very dear our time with our daughters is and how normal it is for the adolescent child to have issues with their own identity while we struggle with being the parent and not the friend! In the end, love prevails – on all fronts: wife/husband, mother/daughter, but most of all friend-to-friend."
“After seeing the author read excerpts from her book on You Tube, we were compelled
“Our book club enjoyed both of these titles. Both are 'meaty,' well-written and engrossing works of fiction about life in England in the Middle Ages. Discussion was lively, as the books cover a multi-generational line of families in the Middle Ages, with the expected romances, traumas, and life-altering events. What made these books so memorable is the fact that the fictionalized characters are interspersed with documented historical events, and the writing and character development are superb. By the end of both books, we felt as if we 'knew' these characters and their trials and tribulations. In less well-scripted verse, we find that too many books fail to develop their characters sufficiently to garner any real interest or investment in their lives.”
The Marc Chagall Hadassah Study Group of Houston, Texas, recommends:
“Our Hadassah (Jewish women’s service organization) Study Group discussed this book
Served with: Tahini and Halvah Ice Cream (a Middle Eastern dessert)
“The story was told from the viewpoint of a developmentally disabled teenager. A period piece set in small town Wisconsin, the story begins just prior to the start of World War II and culminates after the war. Narrated by 'Earwig' Gunderman, his unique perspective
“We discussed how the story was narrated by a ‘simple-minded’ teenager. Many of the books we have read lately were narrated by an 'innocent' - a ten-year-old girl in Whistling in the Dark, a brain-damaged veteran in The Ha Ha. The author presented Earwig as someone who saw and interpreted events in a very simplistic and literal way - which actually leads to so much of the laugh-out-loud humor in the novel as well as heartwarming sadness at some of the events that this family had to deal with along the way.
“At the same time, the time span allowed him to grow up - not in the typical sense of the normal rite of passage, but based on his capabilities, the best way for him. Many of the books we have read in the past portray the mother in a negative way (The Glass Castle, The Deep End of the Ocean). It was refreshing to read about a mom who loved and supported her children in spite of difficulties in her own life.”
“Jean suffered a stroke and was left completely paralyzed with only the capability of sight, thought and the ability to blink his left eye. He existed in a ‘living hell’ - alert and cognizant though paralyzed and trapped, locked in his mind without the ability to communicate his thoughts, feelings, needs, or condition to anyone. He dictated this memoir by blinking to transcriber Claude as she recorded each letter of each word in each sentence in this book.
“A testimony to the human spirit, it's uplifting to think that this incredible man overcame his imprisonment in his mind to tell us all that he was still ‘there’. We discussed ‘Locked in syndrome’ - what it is and how it would feel to have it; other recent books that feature characters in comas (Joy Fielding's Still Life and Michael Palmer’s Second Opinion were the two we compared); if our loved ones would take care of us in this situation and how it would affect them; and the differences between high tech American medicine/rehab and what was depicted in France, such as open windows in hospitals."
Lunch Bunch of Greater Boston recommends:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2008), Fiction, 304 pages
"For our book group, Olive Kitteridge, a collection of linked short stories about a retired school teacher in Maine, was all about the losses we find ourselves facing as our children move on and we realize our lives (and our relationships with our adult children) didn't necessarily turn out as we dreamed they might. The book was about the imperfections we all have and wish we didn't, and we discussed our common frailties as humans even if we find ourselves much more evolved than Olive herself. The format of the novel - in some stories Olive appears as the main character, and in others she is barely present - was at times confusing. But the writing was wonderful and lured some of us into a second read which helped to straighten out any confusion. It was a quick but profound tale that elicited an excellent discussion from our group."
Nerd Herd of Montrose, Colorado, recommends:
Paired with: Homemade borscht, a caviar appetizer, and a Russian chocolate and strawberry mousse dessert. It was one of our more memorable meetings and discussions!
“Tom Piazza's Why New Orleans Matters is a love letter about the author's adopted home town. Piazza takes you deep into the soul of this unique American city, pre-
Paired with: Jambalaya and Abita beer (from New Orleans)
Bookends of Lee's Summit, Missouri, recommends:
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
by Erik Larson (Vintage, 2004), Nonfiction, 447 pages
“This is a book with two stories. One is of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892, and the men who created it. The second is of Henry H. Holmes, a serial killer. Larson does
“Daniel Burnham and his partner, John Root, Chicago's leading architects, were chosen to design the Chicago's World Fair. Burnham was responsible for acquiring other national architects, labor, and money to build the Fair in less than three years so that it could open to celebrate Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World. The book explains all the work and hardship necessary to pull this off, the politics behind the project, the construction, weather, economy and industrialization.
“Around this same time, Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor from the East Coast, moved to Chicago after leaving his wife. He purchased a drug store and built a hotel across the street for the upcoming Fair. Holmes turned out to be the United States’ ‘Jack the Ripper’ - a psychotic, satanic, charming man who lured many young women into his life and to their brutal deaths.
"We discussed the inventions and ideas that came out of this period, including the Pledge of Allegiance, fresh water through underground pipes, and the labor movement. We talked about the architecture and the influence of men such as Frank Lloyd Wright. And we compared the economy then to what we are going through now (at the time the Fair was being considered and built, banks were failing all over the world.)"
Paired with: Cracker Jacks, gum, and licorice, because the Fair launched many foods that we still have today, including Juicy Fruit Gum, Cracker Jacks, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, and Shredded Wheat.
“Three of us had been to Italy and have relatives there so reading this book about living, cooking, and eating in Italy brought back so many pictures in our minds of the life that is led there - even today. We talked about how Mayes caressed her new home in the hills of Tuscany and how she used the locals and their wares to fill her table. Her vivid descriptions of the little niches used by the locals for their statues, and the way in which she described the shops in the ancient buildings brought back many memories, and for those whom had never been to Italy, it filled them with a yen to travel there. I especially loved that the book included recipes and have made the mushroom lasagna with béchamel sauce to acclaim by my family. Frances Mayes' writing style draws a picture with her attention to detail and with the way she writes, one can almost hear the crickets. It was a joy for us all to read."
Paired with: Dinner at an Italian restaurant in the Little Italy section of Niagara Falls, New York. “After a tour by one of the owners of this restaurant's kitchen, freezers, and wine cellars, we settled down to a 5-course meal of antipasto, minestrone soup, two kinds of stuffed clams, spaghetti alfredo, chicken, and of course bowties and Italian cookies for dessert along with espresso.”
“Even though we are a school group, we enjoyed our first year as the book group so much that we decided to meet in the summer and read Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Our group thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction novel about a young girl who overcomes incredible obstacles, including a cruel father, the violence of the times, and the utter lack of status accorded to women during the Middle Ages, to eventually become Pope. I think we all chose to believe by the end of the book that this intelligent, courageous, and utterly determined woman really did become Pope, even if the Roman Catholic church denies it. We all thought the book was not only extremely well-researched but also entertaining - lots of intrigue, action, period details, along with engrossing accounts of Joan's inner life. It was also very well-written.
“We were so pleased that the author was able to chat with us via speaker phone. She talked to us about researching the period; strong, intelligent female characters in any age; the research and writing process for her, especially as it relates to historical fiction; and the incredibly long, sometimes frustrating process of creating a film. We are all looking forward to the film being released at a theatre near us.”
“A thirteen-year-old boy, Johnny, still searches after nearly a year for his missing twin sister who was seen being pulled into a strange van on her way home from school. A detective who is obsessed with the case watches over Johnny and helps to unravel the mystery. The first comment from our group was that this book had so many unpredictable twists and that characters grew to interact with each other. We found some characters likable and others truly evil in a way that made for a great ending. We also thought that many of the problems were believable if a child disappeared.”
The Page Turners of Fallston High School of Bel Air, Maryland, recommend:
Paired with: "Grilled kielbasa slices, carrot sticks, and chocolate. We compared our fare to that of the night the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was discovered. They were secretly feasting on roast pig! The carrots and chocolate represented the types of rationed food they were provided during the German Occupation."
"This book was relevant to us because it focuses on an important life transition for women, as their children are growing up and establishing their own identities, and women and men both are figuring out who they are again. The main character, Mira, is going through many life experiences we could relate to, such as a mid-life identity crisis, perimenopause, and an empty nest, and the story provided rich discussion. The best part of the meeting was when author Jennie Shortridge joined us for part of the evening to discuss the book. What a treat! She is both a delightful person and gifted author, and having the author’s perspective was really enlightening."
Blue Stockings Book Club of Elk Grove, California recommends:
Novels and Nibbles of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, recommends:
The Bookers of Henrico, North Carolina, recommends:
The Blue Stockings Book Club of Elk Grove, California, recommend:
Thoreau Reading Group of Concord, Massachusetts, recommends:
"Our discussion ranged from topics of Roosevelt’s character to why anyone would be so foolish in their preparations. Members commented that they would never have picked up this book to read, but they found it engrossing."
Tuesday Book Society of Bowling Green, Kentucky, recommends:
The Daily Grind of Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, recommends:
Lake Cavanaugh Book Club of Mt. Vernon, Washington, recommends:
Women Who Love to Read of Brockport, New York, recommend:
PMMS Book Club of Antioch, California, recommends:
“Amanda Hesser, food editor for The New York Times, wrote this memoir about her budding relationship, and how food goes hand in hand with friends, memories and a great bottle of wine. The book includes recipes and menus after each installment of her story. The questions that came up in the group included: ‘Did this book make you a foodie? Did it make you think of the staples that your parents made? Did it bring back memories of your childhood?’ We also talked about the relationship of the author with her significant other. We had a great time with this book.”
Paired with: Each of us made a recipe from the book: Crab Cakes, Chocolate Dump It cake, Elizabeth’s Salad, Chutney Chicken, Cassis and Champagne, Almond Cake, and roasted and salted almonds.
“We enjoyed a provocative discussion of this novel, which won the 2008 Man Booker prize. After seeing Slumdog Millionaire, many members noted that both book and movie paint a disturbing portrait of today’s India.
“As India flails amidst the tides of technological change, and the majority of its population remains mired in a cesspool of servitude, poverty and injustice, the protagonist, Balram Halwai, a servant of bottom caste, tells the story of how he managed to use his wits and wiles to escape from ‘The Great Indian Rooster Coop’ of birth and family, to ‘succeed’ as a 21st century entrepreneur.
“The book raises many questions about systemic corruption, family values and expectations, the meaning of globalization for countries like India and China, how America is currently viewed and even the reasons why this book was chosen for the Man Booker prize. Motivations and decision making by the two main characters was also a hot topic of discussion. Not everyone ‘liked’ the book, but all agreed it was an excellent book for discussion.”
Cypress Readers Book Club of Cypress, California, recommends:
Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge (New American Library, 2005),
Fiction, 304 pages
“We had a wonderful book club meeting, with the author calling in on speaker phone. She was so funny and interesting. Eating Heaven is set in Portland and the writing is so vivid that you feel as if you're there. Eleanor is a food critic in her mid-thirties, living alone, who moves in with her beloved elderly Uncle Benny to care for him after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We had a lively discussion about food, eating disorders, body image, being a single woman and wanting a relationship, the complexity of mother/daughter relationships and why they can be so fraught with misunderstanding and tension, sibling relationships, family ties, secrets and lies, and caring for a loved one with a terminal illness."
The Bookchatters of Virginia Beach, Virginia, recommend:
“This was a choice many of us would not have made but we found it fascinating. The story is of an uncharted shipwreck of a German U boat from World War II and its discovery many years later by a group of divers pursuing their hobby off the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey.
“The mystery of the ship draws the reader into the story, as does the diver subculture and the personal lives of the divers themselves, as well as the facts discovered regarding the sailors of the sunken ship. As the characters of the book unravel the secrets surrounding the ship, tragedies in their lives also unfold. Readers become aware that danger and death are connected to the ocean for the men of the past that crewed the ship, as well as for the divers that risked their own lives to dive again and again in their search for clues.
The Xingu Book Club of Buckingham, Pennsylvania, recommends:
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme (Knopf, 2006),
Memoir, 336 pages
“Our book club enjoyed reading Julia Child’s memoir about her life in France, starting with her arrival in 1948 with her husband who worked with the U.S. Information Service. She spoke no French but immersed herself in the French culture, learning the language, buying food at all the local markets and taking classes at the famed Cordon Bleu, where she discovered her passions for cooking and teaching. Child tells of her struggle to get her now-famous cookbook published, her wonderful, nearly fifty-year marriage and her success as a chef and writer. Even if you are not interested in cooking you will enjoy this interesting story of one of the most endearing American personalities of the last fifty years.
“One of the topics discussed was the impact Julia's cookbooks and television series had on our lives. We discussed Julia's difficulties with her father because of their different political opinions. We discussed how she learned both French and German when they were transferred to Germany due to Paul's work. We discussed how dedicated she was in making and testing recipes over and over before putting them in her cookbook.
Paired with: French onion soup (recipe from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking), French baguette, salad and croissants for dessert. Bon appétit!
“Sepulchre was our second Kate Mosse book, and we felt this book was darker and more sinister than her previous book, Labyrinth. The book was written in two story
“We all brought Tarot cards and shared the artwork on them. We each drew a card from a Native American animal deck someone brought and read what they meant.”
Paired with: "Black Forest Oatmeal Cookies and dining at a restaurant, Toffanelli's, which has rock walls surrounding the patio. It is the closest thing we could get to a Sepulchre!"
“Plain Truth is a riveting story of a young Amish girl who is trying to balance the life
“Our group loved the author's writing style and story line, which hooked us from page one. We discussed everything from Amish beliefs (whether we could or would want to live by their rules and standards) to our current legal system (which we think tends to pre-judge
Paired with: Amish Friendship Bread with home-churned butter, just like the Amish make it.
“Since her father’s death, 27-year-old Josey has dedicated her life to taking care of
Newcomers of San Mateo County, California Book Club recommends:
“This portrayal of life in France at the beginning of the German occupation of World War II is
“The strength and depth of Suite Française, however, lies in author’s story as described in appendices and a biographical sketch at the end of the book. Ms. Nemirovsky was a well-known writer in France during the 1920s, and 1930s. She was a native of the Ukraine and of Jewish descent, having emigrated the Paris in 1919. The essence of the fiction reflects what the author and her family suffered during this period.
“Book club members shared awe for the exquisite writing shown in this novel. We expressed great sadness at the real life story and the death of this fine writer and discussed Ms. Nemirovsky’s life as it paralleled this work of fiction. The human behavior described in the story brought up interesting insights. We delved into discussions of the French people, World War II, and the Jewish Holocaust. We encourage other readers to read the appendices and biographical sketch before starting the novel itself.”
The Mom’s and Dad’s Club of Haddonfield, New Jersey, recommends:
Paired with: “Our food selection for this book was spurred by what may have been author oversight. In one section of the book, Natalie is baking cookies with her children when a serious accident requires them all to leave the house. No one ever takes the cookies out of the oven! This bothered a woman in our book club, and so for fun we decided to bring our favorite cookie recipe to share.”
“Through a series of serendipitous events, a family in Boston is divided, united, and ultimately woven together in a way that makes each member stronger and more resilient. The story examines issues of religion, race, class, politics, responsibility, loyalty, and most deeply, family. The title has multiple meanings, representing something different for each of the characters - all fully-drawn, compelling, and satisfyingly memorable.
“One group member felt the coincidences that set the stage for the plot (and others revealed throughout the story) were hard to believe, thus getting in the way of the novel's realism. Other members reveled in the way minute details defined the characters, the way events in the story were interwoven, and the way the plot unfolded.”
Paired with: “Peanut butter toast, because that's what the main characters eat the morning after the event that first brings them together; cut-out cookies in the shape of feet (in appetizing colors with colorful toes!), because the central character, Kenya, loves to run, and that's the title of the book; and Boston Creme Pie, because the story is set in Boston.”
“In our themed book club, members are free to choose any book – fiction or nonfiction - on the theme, and the first meeting was devoted to books written about the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. The most-read book was The Great Influenza. This is a truly ‘can't put down’ book. Mr. Barry's subject is not just the flu, but the state of medicine in the U.S. at the time (frightful), the scientists who tried to solve the puzzle of what it was and how it was passed, the dreadful deaths of young soldiers in camps and on troop ships crossing the Atlantic, and the everyday people who suffered and died. After reading this book, average readers (like us) understood that a pandemic of this proportion (100 million died) can happen again in our day. This is a sobering and fascinating read.”
Mason Farms Reading Group of Bristol, Rhode Island, recommends:
“This is a lush, lyrically written story of a young woman trying to cope with the death of both her marriage and the murder of her girlfriend, Jenny. The lead character finds herself on board a cruise ship with her husband, from whom she is separated, and a canister of her best friend’s ashes, which she plans to scatter in China. This engrossing thriller deals with love, loss and seduction. We enjoyed the author’s ability to paint beautiful word pictures of the landscape and the environment.
“The author, Michelle Richmond, joined us via speakerphone for our meeting. From her, we learned about the inspiration for the book and how the author's personal experiences shaped the story.”
Paired with: Blue Cake, in keeping with the “blue” theme of the book.
“Marian Henley is the creator of the cartoon Maxine, and The Shiniest Jewel is an extremely beautiful graphic memoir about the author’s odyssey to adopt a child from Russia at the age of 50. Members were impressed by how easy it was to follow the story, and how effective the graphic presentation is for conveying emotions. Some of our favorite aspects of the book include the spirituality of her father’s passing and the author’s honest and open approach to a deeply personal event. One member thought that the lack of color helped rather than hindered the storyline. As a whole, we highly recommend this book to reading groups, friends, family, those who are in the process of adopting a child, and perhaps to adoption agencies.”