Friday, March 1, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from The Arsonist to A Boy of Good Breeding

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

The Stars Are Fire Alias Grace Sanctuary Line
The Hatbox Letters Letters from Wingfield Farm A Boy of Good Breeding

The starter book this month is The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, a non-fiction book based on the devastating fires of 2009 in Australia’s Victoria State. It is the hunt for a fire-lighter. The Arsonist has been long-listed for Australia’s Stella Prize for the best book of the year written by a woman. It is not yet available in North America.

The obvious book to follow is our most recent read, The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. The book, though fiction, begins with an account of the 1947 fires in the U.S. state of Maine that destroyed 9 coastal towns, over 800 homes and left 2500 people homeless. It tells the story of a young wife, Grace, who does not know if her husband has survived the fires but she manages to thrive despite losing her home and the baby she was carrying.

What a lovely name, Grace, and that takes us to Margaret Atwood’s book Alias Grace, the tale of Grace Marks who has been convicted of killing her employer and his mistress. Though the book is fiction it is based on a true story of Grace Marks’ involvement in the killing of her employer in a Canadian town. Was Grace involved in the murder or simply an unwilling accomplice? But Grace has no memory of the day her employer was murdered and during her incarceration Dr. Jordan tries to bring back her memories of that day.

Memory is complicated and in Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart, Liz Crane has come back to live on the orchard farm once owned by her family. As she reflects on recent and past tragedies that have affected her family, she questions her memory of events and what others have told her. She wonders if her assumption of her idyllic safe childhood is reality.

Continuing on the theme of memory, in Beth Powning’s The Hatbox Letters, Kate Harding is having a difficult time moving forward and picking up the pieces of her life after the sudden death of her husband. In boxes of old letters and memorabilia from her grandparents’ 18th century home, she begins to see how the past is keeping her from moving on and creating a new life for herself.

Taking a completely different route, we link the next book by the title to Letters from Wingfield Farm by Dan Needles. This is a story of a stockbroker, Walt, who ditches his high finance life to work a farm on the edge of the Canadian Shield. He chronicles his adventures by writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. As he struggles to make a life for himself and questions if he really belongs on the farm, the small community he lives in comes to life.

In Miriam Toews A Boy of Good Breeding, Knute moves from the city back to her small hometown of Algren with her daughter and life in small town Canada which allows Knute to understand where she truly belongs.

So this month we have gone from fires in Australia and the U.S., to the complications and effects of memories, to life-changing decisions. This month Michèle managed once again to link to books we have read as part of the Muse and Views Book Club but have not been previously used in the Six Degrees meme.

If you wish to see how others connected The Arsonists, visit the Six Degrees Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meeting of February 25, 2019

The February meeting was hosted by Janet.  We were a small group, Colette, Janet, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  Janet provided us with a good array of cheese, crackers and smoked salmon and individual pavlovas with whipped cream and beautiful red strawberries from Mexico.

This month's book presented by Janet was On the Up by Canadian author Shilo Jones.  This is his first novel. Mr. Jones worked in several areas and along the way earned a B.F.A. from Simon Fraser University and an M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia.  He lived many years in Vancouver and now lives with his family in Kelowna, B.C.

It is safe to say that this book presents a very different side of Vancouver than that promoted by the Vancouver Tourist Board. Through the three main characters, the brothers Mark and Carl and the young journalist Jasminder it provides a very violent, seedy and criminal picture of the real estate market, mainly condo, of Vancouver or VanCity as it is often referred to by the characters in the book.  Several of the chapters begin with a stream of consciousness rant by one of the characters. The story is filled with scenes of racism, violence, misogyny that Shilo Jones admitted were hard to write but he felt necessary to the story line.

It made the book difficult and for some impossible to read.  It is the first time in the 21 year history of the Muse & Views Bookclub that the majority of our members did not read the book to its conclusion. The book is well written and if you can get through the first two hundred pages, the latter half is easier to read and you become intrigued and those who finished it, say you want to find out what happens.

Janet was brave to assign us this book.  I don't think we will be reading any future novels by Shilo Jones.

At our last meeting we chose, Shirley's book of 2018, A Gentleman in Moscow is the recipient for the first Jolene Bale Award.  We were pleased to present Shirley with the certificate at this month's meeting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Meeting of February 4, 2019 (replaced January meeting cancelled because of weather)

Our January meeting, held February 4th because of weather, was hosted by Colette.  Present were Betty, Colette, Jane, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  Colette had a great array of cheese, crackers, a dip and wonderful warm stuffed pastry rolls.  She served a pecan pie for dessert and of course, wine, coffee and tea were also available.

In January of each year we choose the best book of the previous year.  This year A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles presented by Shirley won.  We also awarded the Jolene Bale Award named in honour of our dear friend and original member of the Muse & Views Bookclub who passed away in August 2017.  It also went to Shirley for A Gentleman in Moscow.  Congratulations Shirley!

This month's book presented by Michèle was The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve.  Ms. Shreve was born in Boston in 1946 and died in March 2018.  This was her last of 19 books.  Muse & Views read one of her most popular books The Pilot's Wife in 2002.

We all agreed that this book is an easy read and most of us wished she had given more information about the fires that are a historical fact.  A few of our members enjoyed the book, one member found it to be almost like a thriller.  Would Grace and Rosie survive the fire huddled in the ocean?  Was Gene dead, would he come back? Would Grace find her mother?  Several of our members found the book a bit like a Harlequin Romance and felt that there were just too many coincidences. When the whole village burnt to the ground, Grace's mother-in-law's house survived. When Grace's daughter became ill, she found a job with the new doctor who treated her daughter.  She found the jewels  hidden in the hems of her mother-in-law's glamorous clothing that permitted her to buy a car and help her feed her family.  As Grace's confidence grew, everything seemed to fall in place, even after Gene came home and set her back she found the strength to improve her life.

We discussed the title The Stars are Fire that comes from a quote in Shakespeare's play Hamlet.  Marg had done some research and in a letter to Ophelia, Hamlet begins by saying Doubt the Stars are Fire, Doubt that the sun doth moves... trying to convince her that she should not doubt his love for her.  The title could have to do with the pianist Aidan's love for Grace.

So we had mixed feelings about the story. For those of us who have read several of Ms. Shreve's novels, it is certainly not her best.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from Fight Club to The Orenda

Fight Club
The Last King of ScotlandThe Count of Monte CristoA Man Called IntrepidAlone in the ClassroomThe Other Side of the BridgeThe Orenda

February starts with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. This is not a book read by the Muse and Views Book Club and we adhere to our own rules when it comes to Six Degrees of Separation – we must have read the book as a club to be included in the game.

According to Goodreads, ‘This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.’ In looking over twenty years’ worth of books, it is difficult to find a lot of darkness which may say something about our members and their taste in books. To that end, one title stood out and that also was a time that we deviated from the norm. We chose a movie, The Last King of Scotland, which is based on a 1998 novel by journalist Giles Foden. For those unfamiliar with it, this is the story of the rise of Ugandan President Idi Amin and his reign as dictator from 1971 to 1979.

Perhaps we could leave the modern world and into the classic world of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Here we have Edmond Dantés thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.

A tenuous link perhaps but A Man Called Intrepid could be our next book. Bill Stephenson, known as Intrepid, is the Canadian-born World War II spymaster whose story brings with it politics, intrigue, heroism and espionage. Once again it is a fight against the darkness.

Darkness rears its ugly head in Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay. A Canadian book, set in 1929 in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa valley, it’s a book not easily defined – part murder mystery, part historical memoir, part travelogue, part character study. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood.

Next we link to another Canadian book, The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson who is a master of character development with an eye for detail. It has all the darkness of a story of sibling rivalry, jealousy, duty, guilt, obsessive infatuation, personal choices and the weight of expectations.

Our final link is to TheOrenda by Joseph Boyden and is perhaps the darkest of the novels linked to Fight Club. Fight Club details fights in after-hours boxing matches where two young men fight ‘as long as they have to’ while The Orenda begins with a brutal massacre and the violent kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl which re-ignites a deep rift between two tribes. It is not an easy or comfortable read; it is provocative, demanding that we examine our Canadian history with an unflinching eye.

So it turns out that Muse and Views Book Club has read a few dark passages over the years, linking books set in Uganda, France, Britain and back to our home country, Canada.

If you would like to see what other book lovers are presenting, click on Six Degrees of Separation . As we suffer through a horribly frigid winter, I know that summer in Australia is suffering through extreme heat.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from The French Lieutenant's Woman to Brooklyn

The French Lieutenant's Woman ebook by John Fowles

Kamouraska ebook by Anne Hébert, Noah Richler The Piano Maker ebook by Kurt Palka The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - A Novel ebook by Jennifer Ryan 
The Music Shop ebook by Rachel Joyce Vaclav & Lena ebook by Haley Tanner Brooklyn ebook by Colm Toibin 
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is the jumping off point for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. The book is considered post-modernistic, it has a narrator, offers multiple endings, it has been categorized by some as a feminist novel. The novel was interpreted into a film produced by Harold Pinter, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.

Kamouraska, by the famed Québec novelist Anne Hébert, is the story of Elisabeth who is at the death bed of her second husband. She reflects on her life, her first marriage to a brutal man, her affair with the American doctor who found himself in the small village along the St. Lawrence River in Québec where Elisabeth lived, and her escape from prosecution for the murder of her first husband.

Both books were adapted to film with a conflicted woman as the main character; both were situated in beautiful, savage scenery by water (the St. Lawrence River in Kamouraska and the Atlantic Ocean in the village of Lyme Regis in Dorset County in The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Both films received critical reviews but floundered in popularity.

In Kamouraska, Elisabeth’s nightmarish past catches up to her in her dreams as she sits by her second husband’s death bed. In The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka, the main character, Hélène Giroux, arrives in a small village in Nova Scotia, where her nightmarish past catches up to her and she is arrested and tried.

In The Piano Maker, Hélène works as the pianist for the choir in the town church and music plays a part of the novel's background. In Jennifer Ryan’s novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, the town church and music reflect the struggles, affairs, deceptions, and triumphs of a village choir during World War II.

Music also plays an important part in the background of Rachel Joyce’s second novel, The Music Shop, where shop owner Frank finds the perfect music for each of his customer’s needs. Meanwhile, Frank is absolutely smitten by Ilse only to wonder where she disappeared to for years.

Like Frank, in Haley Tanner’s novel Vaclav & Lena, Vaclav wonders for seven years what happened to Lena.

Vaclav and Lena are Russian émigrés who find themselves in Brooklyn. This connects to our last book as protagonists Eilis Lacey from Ireland and Italian Tony make a life for themselves in Colm Tóibín’s novel, Brooklyn.

 So there we are, the Muse & Views Book Club submits its Six Degrees participation for the first month of 2019, from England to Brooklyn via Québec, Nova Scotia and Brooklyn, New York.

If you would like to see what other book lovers are presenting, click on Six Degrees of Separation

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Meeting of November 26th, 2018

Our November meeting was hosted by Beth at her home. Present were, Beth, Betty, Colette, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Beth had a nice array of cheese, devilled eggs and nuts.  She served us a wonderful Apple Crisp for dessert and of course wine and tea were also offered.

This month's book presented by Shirley was A Gentleman of Moscow by Amor Towles.  This is the second book we have read from this author, the first being Rules of Civility.  Mr. Towles is an American author and graduate of Yale and Stanford University.  He work as an investment professional for over 20 years and now writes full time.

A Gentleman in Moscow recounts the life of a young Count Alexander Rostov who in 1922 is placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, a large grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.  For 32 years we learn how he copes with life within the hotel, we meet the friends he makes, the women who have shaped his life and how he grows emotionally and intellectually.

All our members enjoyed the book.  It was an interesting premise, everything happening within the walls of the Metropol Hotel.  The character development and relationship development between the Count and members of the staff and some hotel guests was very interesting.  It was interesting to see how they evolved.

Hotel living is a world in itself, you learn who the staff are and who does what. You learn who the long term guests are and regular visitors to the restaurant. The Count enjoyed the food and wine and the people, he enjoyed working in the restaurant and used his skills to deter conflicts between clients.

We delighted in his relationship with the young Nina that he ends up raising.  Together they explore the hotel and he teaches her about art, history and life.  We wonder how his relationship with the actress Anna will develop.

Many enjoyed the storyline, long and very detailed, descriptions painted beautiful pictures of the Count's surrounding and the people he met and his friends.  The end was well plotted, a bit of a countdown and charming in the way it unfolded.  When he goes home at the end, he knows it won't be the same and he accepts the changes.

Thank you to Shirley for the book choice.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from A Christmas Carol to Anne of Green Gables

A Christmas Carol

 Skipping Christmas A Painted House The Secret Life of Bees
 To Kill a Mockingbird Snow Falling on Cedars Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

December and tis the season, so this month’s six degrees starter book is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a classic with Ebenezer Scrooge who sees Christmas only as a day of business lost. As Scrooge is shown past and future Christmases, he soon realizes that Christmas is a time to give and receive. 

The easiest link is of course in the title, so we go to Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, a departure from his usual legal crime fiction stories. Luke and Nora Krank decide to spend Christmas in the Caribbean Islands and skip Christmas. Their daughter will not be home and not having to put up all the outdoor decorations or spend money on gifts and food is very tempting. Like Scrooge, they are ‘persuaded’ to change their mind when neighbours protest the lack of decorations and daughter shows up! 

It turns out John Grisham wrote more than one book that is not a legal crime fiction. A Painted House, a story about the hardship of farming in Arkansas and told through the eyes of a young smart seven-year-old boy is riveting. He witnesses murder, crime, birth and fear.

Continuing with another book seen through the eyes of a child, 14-year-old Lily, is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It is summer in southern USA and Lily is a witness to crime, hate, prejudice and fear. 

Again, we are in southern USA and through the eyes of a child we have the classic story To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Scout, the daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch who defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman, witnesses hate, prejudice and poverty.

Going to the other side of the country, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson is set in a tiny fishing community on the island of San Piedro. We are witness to prejudice and discrimination again but this time against the Japanese community. A murder brings out the animosity between the American-Japanese community and the Anglo-American community.

Finally leaving the serious subjects of prejudice, crime and court room drama, our last link literally ‘floats’, from San Piedro Island on the west coast of North America to Prince Edward Island on the east coast of North America where the wonderful Canadian novel, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is set. 

So again Muse & Views Book Club has linked books read by our Club over the last 20 years to complete this Six Degrees from a December theme of Christmas to serious books set in the south USA and then from the west coast to the east coast of our vast North American Continent. Happy Holidays everyone.

If you wish to see how other participants have connected the dots, go to Six Degrees of Separation .