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 .

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Books and Meetings - 2019

This list will be updated as members choose their books.

Monday January 28th, - Michèle's choice The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve, Colette hosting.

Monday February 25th -  Janet's choice  On the Up by Shilo Jones, Janet hosting.

Monday March 25th - Betty's choice, Colette hosting.

Monday April 29th -  Beth's choice  , Jane hosting.

Monday May 27th -  Linda's choice, Shirley hosting.

Monday June 24th - Carla's choice, Linda hosting.

Monday September 23rd - Colette's choice, Michèle hosting

Monday October 28th - Jane's choice, Betty hosting

Monday November 25th - Shirley's choice, Beth hosting.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from Vanity Fair to The Boy in the Moon

Vanity Fair 

 Summer Sisters: A Novel Clara Callan Rules of Civility
Sons of Fortune My Sister's Keeper: A Novel The Boy In The Moon: A Father's Search For His Disabled Son

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray is the starter book this month. It is a novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family.

While it would initially seem that the next link would be to one of the many Victoria novels that we have read, this time we take a sharp turn to link it to Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. This too is a novel of two women from two very differing backgrounds and how casual betrayals broke their long, complicated friendship.

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright might be the next link. This is truly a novel about sisters, Clara and Nora Callan. The two sisters, vastly different in personality, try to find their places within the complex web of social expectations for young women in the 1930s. Sister Nora is bound for New York and a glamourous career as a radio soap opera star while Clara remains in a small town in Canada, struggling to observe the traditional boundaries of a small and tight-knit community.

Also set in the 1930s, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, finds Katey Kontent in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

In speaking of choices and decisions, Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer reveals how it is often spur-of-the-moment decisions, sometimes made by others, that can change our whole lives. This is the tale of twins separated by fate and reunited by destiny; Nat Cartwright goes home with his parents, a schoolteacher and an insurance salesman. But his twin brother is to begin his days as Fletcher Andrew Davenport, the only son of a multi-millionaire and his society wife.

Perhaps a bit of a hard turn, but another novel that is based on choices might be My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for her sister Kate, a life and a role that she has never challenged until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister. Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

Another book that explores the choices, the decisions and the ethical issues that face parents with respect to their child’s medical circumstances is The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son by Ian Brown. This is the true story of Ian Brown’s son Walker who is one of only about 300 people worldwide diagnosed with cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) syndrome—an extremely rare genetic mutation that results in unusual facial appearance, the inability to speak, and a compulsion to hit himself constantly. At age thirteen, he is mentally and developmentally between one and three years old and will need constant care for the rest of his life. Brown travels the globe, meeting with genetic scientists and neurologists as well as parents, to solve the questions Walker’s doctors can’t answer. As Brown gradually lets go of his self-blame and hope for a cure, he learns to accept the Walker he loves, just as he is.

And thus we have Six Degrees of Separation from Vanity Fair to The Boy in the Moon. If you would like to see how other avid readers and participants have made their connections, go to Six Degrees of Separation. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Meeting of October 22, 2018

The October meeting of Muse & Views Bookclub was hosted by Betty. Present were Beth, Betty, Colette,  Jane, Janet, Michèle and Shirley.  Betty had prepared deviled eggs, cheese, olives and a great apple pie for dessert.  Of course, wine, coffee and tea were also available as usual.

This month's book presented by Jane was The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce.  We read a couple of years back one other book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by the same author.  Ms. Joyce is a British author who has written several plays for BBC radio and adaptations for BBC television. She has also worked as an actress with several theatre groups in London.

Most of our members enjoyed the book and saw it as love story with a lovely nostalgic atmosphere and a bit of fantasy. The characters are well developed. Music plays an important role in this story and Frank, the main character, is a very tender, lovable person that seems to have "magical powers" when it comes to music. He has a special gift of knowing what music a person needs to hear for whatever is ailing them or what is going on in their life. We learn more about Frank in chapters that take us back to his youth living with his eccentric mother. Although she is not a particularly nice person, she taught Frank all he knows about music.

We get to know other shopkeepers on the small community of Unity Street and their characters; although they do not play major roles, they are well developed. Maud is the typical London woman with her tattoos and weird clothes. Kit, Frank's assistant, is a young man who is excited to be working and enjoys learning from Frank.

Early in the story a young woman faints in front of Frank's store and as he tries to revive her he feels an immediate connection with her that he tries to deny. We meet Ilse Brauchmann and so the love story begins between Ilse and Frank. He teaches her about music, introducing her to different pieces at weekly meetings. They develop a certain rapport but there is something on both their sides that keeps them from developing a deeper relationship and then Ilse disappears.

This is a touching story with a good ending and the music, very eclectic, is wonderfully interspersed and woven into the story. There is a playlist on Spotify. Thank you Jane for an excellent read.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from The Outsiders to Unbowed

 The Outsiders 
The Book ThiefThe Kite RunnerA Thousand Splendid Suns
Half of a Yellow SunInfidelUnbowed: A Memoir

The Outsiders, a novel by S.E. Hinton, is considered a Young Adult novel but read widely. 

The Book Thief  by Markus Zusack is a novel about children coping with the ravages of war and is also considered a Young Adult novel and it was also read widely. 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is also a novel about children coping with the ravages of war. Going with another novel by the same author is the next linked book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

There are many titles that include the earth’s star,  the sun; Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a prime example. There are several excellent women authors from Africa as is Ms. Adichie, one of which is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali’s memoir Infidel has also been read by our book club.

Infidel being a memoir that chronicles Ms Hirsi Ali pursuit of justice through the political system as a woman of colour, we might connect with Unbowed, a Memoir by Wangari Maathai in which she recounts her life as a political activist, feminist and environmentalist in her native Kenya. 

From a young adult’s life of survival to a woman of colour and political survival.  

If you would like to see how other avid readers and participants have done, go to Six Degrees of Separation 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meeting of September 24th, 2018

The September meeting of Muse & Views was hosted by Michèle. Present were Beth, Colette, Janet, Linda and Michèle.  We were served some wonderful hors d'oeuvres, a fig and walnut spread, spicy olives, small rolls of salami and mini-pizzas, red and white wine of course.  Shirley's wonderful Pot à la crème was served after our discussion with tea for everyone.

This month's book presented by Colette was They Left us Everything by Plum Johnson.  This is a memoir that Ms. Johnson writes as she is emptying the family home after the death of her parents, her father and then her mother.  A process that she thought would take 6 weeks eventually took 16 months. She writes about the toll 20 years of taking care of her parents took on her life, the resentment she felt that it was left to her, the constant trips to the family home from her own home in Toronto to see to her parents needs and whims.  As she goes through each room of her family home, she catalogues everything and she describes life as it was growing up.  We learn of her parents' relationship, the ups and downs, her parents' characters and the impact of their many moves before they settled in the Oakville home.

All of us talked about our own experiences with parents and what they have left us.  Several of us understood her attitude before the death of her parents, the resentment she felt and appreciated the feelings she had while she was slowly going through the house, cataloguing, throwing away, selling her parents' possessions.  Some of us regretted not using the time before to allow our parents and older family members tell of of their lives and putting it on paper so it remains with us and our children and relatives.

We talked of all the articles and advice books that have appeared in the last years on how to deal with aging parents, illness, finances, how to encourage family members to downsize, to get rid of "stuff". Yet this memoir They Left us Everything,  shows how often parents gave us everything, family life, memories, our history.  Ms. Johnson came to appreciate the chance to relive memories of their family life as she cataloged, sold and threw out parts of her family life in the 16 months it took her to finally close the house and sell it.

Many of us saw the house itself as one of the characters as Ms. Johnson went through the house we were able to visualize it both inside and outside.  As she described family gatherings, weddings, parties that were held in the home and in the garden, we could "see" the home as it existed with the family.

We all enjoyed the book, found it brought back memories for some and gave some of us with living parents an new perspective, different that what is usual.  Books may give us ways of dealing with illness, downsizing, finances but our family memories are in our family homes and possessions they have collected.

Thank you Colette for a good recommendation that came originally from Sharon.