“This novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio offered many social issues to discuss: racism, sexism, family secrets, shame, sexual orientation, affairs, grieving styles. We discussed Asian racism during the time period depicted in the novel as well as today. Other topics included how would it feel to be singled out as an outsider and whether it’s better to be the ignored sibling, and parental expectations. It was one of our best discussions.”
Served with: Ohio Buckeyes, Asian spring rolls, and foods mentioned in the novel including Stouffer’s frozen dinner and Spaghettios
“Eighty-nine year old Isabelle McAllister asks her young black hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis, to drive her from Texas to a funeral in Cincinnati. During the trip Isabelle confesses that as a teenager in the 1930’s she fell in love with Robert Prewitt, the black son of her family’s housekeeper. The women have many stories to share and we had lots of discussion about all that is unveiled by both Isabelle and Dorrie during this trip, including race relations, the love story, and challenges faced by young people growing up in that era. The surprise ending adds to the enjoyment of this book. We all loved it!”
“This is the story of a young, blind girl and a young German soldier whose lives intersect in France during World War II. We loved this book. Not only was it beautifully written and an amazing story, but it also offered plenty of topics to discuss including the effects of war, morality issues, and much, much more. We also loved that despite being a book about war, this novel actually had beautiful messages of hope and resilience.”
“This is a memoir of a boy born into poverty in the Haverhill/Lowell area of Massachusetts. His mother was useless. Growing up in this environment was difficult: he made bad friends and bad choices in school, and seemed to be going nowhere. The story of how he turned his life around is inspiring. The book also involves an unsolved kidnapping of a child on his way to the local pool and how people coped with this tragedy. We talked about how hard it is for some children who seem destined to fail and what it takes to turn your life around if you do not have good role models. The joy of this book is in the narrator finally seeing his life was going nowhere and the steps he took to change course.”
“This is a true account of some of Ruth Reichl’s adventures as a restaurant critic for The New York Times. Fun to read and informative, it includes some wonderful recipes. Some of the questions we discussed include: How do women decide when to work and when to stay home? How do they decide when to be done with a particular aspect of their career? How was the author able to “become” another person once she was in disguise? Would any of us be able to do that? Did the author’s very unconventional upbringing make a difference in how she approached food, her enjoyment of exotic foods, and the way she wrote about the restaurants?
“This was one of our best discussions ever. And we loved being able to discuss the book while eating some of the foods mentioned in the book. We suggest (although it’s too late for our group): When you meet to discuss this book, arrive in disguise, as Reichl did when she reviewed restaurants. How fun would that be?!”
“This book has it all: sisters, friends, locations, romance, adventure, intrigue. But most of all it causes readers to wonder the whys and what ifs of life itself. Susan Rebecca White gives readers two teen sisters suddenly orphaned by a small plane accident that occurs when their parents take a rare getaway vacation. The two, always inseparable, become everything to one another and then are split to different families, distant states as required by the parents’ will.
“The younger rule-follower goes to freestyle loving parents in California, while the older rebel lands with somewhat fanatical Christian relatives in Georgia. Distance and circumstance build walls between the girls as they grow up and navigate separate journeys through difficult lives, and addiction and misunderstanding threaten to turn the sisters into strangers.”
“This slim novel is a powerful story about the choices we make and how our decisions tilt our world. When the main character, a family court judge, is stunned by her husband’s confession, her ordered world takes a turn and she is forced to confront the messiness of adult life, all as she faces a troubling, sensitive case in her courtroom. How the two worlds converge is the crux of this expertly crafted tale.
“The layers in the plot afford great discussion on events and passages in our lives that all of us experience on some level. The characters are well-drawn and their struggles believable. We talked about how hard it is for some children who seemed destined to fail and what it takes to turn your life around if you do not have good role models. The book also involves an unsolved kidnapping of a child on his way to the local pool and how people coped with this tragedy.”
“Amoz Oz’s family history encapsulates the European and Israeli Jewish experience since the 1880s. Additionally it enlightens readers about the impact of mental illness, particularly if the mother is not well, on a family.
“The highlight of our discussion revolved around Amos Oz bearing eyewitness to the birth of the modern State of Israel. The juxtaposition of the rebirth of the Jewish nation against the background of his mother’s disintegrating mental state was fascinating. If nothing else, it is worth reading the book for his retelling of standing as a young boy in the streets of Jerusalem listening to the roll call of the United Nations in November, 1947 affirming that Britain was to leave and the Jewish state was to be born.”
“Canada brought on a lot of discussion. The book is about a fifteen year old who is left to fend for himself after his parents are arrested for robbing a bank. How this child coped with all that happened to him was not only amazing but pretty believable. It made us think about our own childhoods and try to figure out what we would have done in the same situation.”
Evening Group of Bloomington, Illinois, recommends:
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Viking, 2013), Non Fiction, 416 pages
“This is the story of nine young men and their quest for gold in the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany. None of these young men had had previous rowing experience so they were up against not only Ivy League teams out east but young men on the west coast who had been rowing for years. The book follows the life of one young man in particular because he came from such extreme poverty and family abuse. We loved the grit and determination of this group of young men who came together as a team, inspired by a leader who saw their potential.”
“The Painted Girls tells the story of three sisters who danced at the Paris Opera Ballet School, and aspired to dance in the chorus. One sister, Marie, modeled for the statuette by Degas, ‘The Little Dancer.’ The characters were historical figures, although their
relationships to each other and daily interactions were fictionalized.
“For one member of our group, a dance teacher, the ballet terminology was especially fun to read and share with the group. She and her daughter had seen Degas’ original wax, fabric, and hair statuette in Paris, and a show at the Paris Opera Ballet. The descriptions in the book brought back visions of its beauty.
“We examined a framed poster of ‘The Little Dancer’ at our meeting and read passages from Amy Littlesugar’s Marie in Fourth Position, a young readers book about Marie and the Degas sculpture. Littlesugar’s book helped us to recall details of The Painted Girls.
“The subject of the story (ballet), its beautiful setting (Paris), the inclusion of such a famous artist (Degas), and the experiences of the characters in the ballet school, made this a truly satisfying read and a favorite book club discussion.”
Paired with: “The inspiration for the menu came from the older sister Antoinette’s decadent meal of Mussels in Garlic Sauce and drinks of Cassis with her romantic interest, and the book’s Parisian setting. The menu included: Crème de Cassis with Sparkling Water, Mussels in Garlic Butter Sauce, Spinach Quiche, Strawberry Mascarpone Crepes, and baguette, and a salad dressing with shallots.”
“The latest from award-winning author Helen Humphreys. The Evening Chorus, is a lyrical, riveting wartime love story that follows James, a pilot struggling to survive in a POW camp, his young war-bride, Rose, back in England trying to make sense of her life, and James’s sister, Enid, whose own story is also rewritten by the tragedies of WWII. Amid war’s privations, these characters will find liberty and discover confinements that come with peace.
“The Evening Chorus is a beautiful, astonishing, hopeful examination of love, loss, escape, and the ways in which the intrusions of the natural world can save us. We put this into paperback original because we think this slim, thoughtful novel is an ideal fit for reading groups, filled with endless topics of discussion. From a writer of “delicate and incandescent” (San Francisco Chronicle) prose, The Evening Chorus offers a gorgeous, spare examination of nature and the human heart and resonates long after you’ve finished reading with scenes that strike blows to the heart.”
“As a book club of school nurses, we found Wonder, about a ten-year-old boy with a facial deformity that causes others to avoid him, to be one of the best books we have read! The cast of characters related to our school nursing practices so realistically, and having the book told from Auggie’s perspective was an eye opening experience for us. Our book club discussed how Auggie’s severe facial deformity brought out all kinds of behaviors and emotions — from both children and adults. People always say that ‘kids can be cruel’ and yes, that is true. However, kids can also rise above and show kindness that is pure and unsolicited. This book shows both sides of that spectrum.
“Bullying happens everywhere, not just in schools. Auggie says he is used to it, but no matter how used to it he is, it still hurts. He has dealt with his severe facial disfigurement all his life. He just wants to be accepted by his peers. In the book, Auggie says, ‘I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.’ Our club discussed how this statement provides insight into how Auggie feels and about life in general. Auggie’s facial deformity tugs on the heartstrings of everyone whose life he touches (including ours!). As school nurses, we know that this book will resonate among us as we continue our work in dealing with students with differences and how those differences bring out the best, and worst of others.”
Paired with: “We meet at the Market Café in Wegmans and having ‘cafeteria-like’ food was perfect for this meeting since the school cafeteria does play a role in this book.”
“Maum’s hilarious contemporary novel—a debut in 2014—features a hapless British artist trying to win back his French wife after he was unfaithful.
“Both novels are speculations on marriage–delicious reads in their own right and fun to compare and contrast.”