Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Meeting of January 27th, 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing

On January 27, 2020, our club met at Marg Bisch's home to discuss Carla’s book choice, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. In attendance were Marg, Shirley, Carla, Colette, Betty and Beth. As there were four members missing from our group this month, it was decided that the announcement of the Muse & Views Academy Award for the 2019 book of the year would be postponed until April when attendance would be back to normal.

For her debut as a host, our newest member received rave reviews for preparing a delectable buffet of foods that appear in the novel: shrimp with sauce, hush puppies and corn fritters, tiny chicken pot pies, and finally, a marvelous buttery peach cobbler. Marg added to the ambiance with a display of feathers, shells and 'fireflies', evoking Kya's collections from the marsh!

Where the Crawdads Sing has been a bestseller for over a year. It is written by a woman whose first career was as a zoologist (PhD) who spent 23 years living in remote areas of Africa with her husband, observing and writing about the social behaviour of lions, elephants and hyenas.

Owens says she grew up in South Georgia as an ‘outdoors girl’, whose mother encouraged her to venture into wild places and learn about them, often using the phrase, "go out where the crawdads sing". Her family regularly vacationed in the outer marshes and swamps off the North Carolina coast, the setting she chose for this novel.

When she was planning the book, Owens says she was intrigued by the idea of a character who combines some of her own experiences and interests: living alone without one's group; living closely attuned to the land and wildlife and learning their secrets; trying to adapt and survive with the knowledge and instincts we have. The book has elements of several genres: orphaned child; coming of age; survival in the wild; love story; murder mystery; courtroom drama; social criticism, etc.

The novel moves back and forth between the present, a mysterious death in a small town on the North Carolina coast, and the past, where we follow the story of a six year-old girl who lives in a shack in a remote part of the coastal marshes and has to fend for herself after her dysfunctional family abandons her. These two plot lines converge in a suspenseful courtroom drama and shocking conclusion.

Almost everyone loved this book. Many members described their intense sympathy and awe for the main character, Kya, and her intelligence, resourcefulness and resilience in a hostile world. Other characters who help and care for Kya (Jumpin', Tate) were felt to be well-rounded and memorable. While a couple of readers found parts of the scenario unbelievable, one admitted that there are some real-life examples and all felt it is well-written and easy to read. Members commented on how vividly the writer brought the marsh region to life, especially because it's not a typically ‘beautiful’ landscape for many. The descriptions of the sky, lagoons and the insects' behaviour are all poetically, and sometimes disturbingly, drawn for us. Most of us liked the clever plot line and compelling suspense of the murder trial with its push and pull as we are expecting one verdict and one answer, but are surprised by the eventual outcome. However, a couple of us picked up subtle clues Owens leaves early on. Our lawyer member said she enjoyed the crime story aspect but we all found much to enjoy and ponder - most movingly, the theme of loneliness and the long-term effects of living in such pain and isolation, looking for something to love and trust.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Meeting of November 25th, 2019

Our November meeting was hosted by Beth. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Beth had some very nice cheese, olives and a pâté.

This month we discussed Shirley's book A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay.  Mr. Kay is a Canadian author born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He worked a year with Christopher Tolkien to help edit J.R.R. Tolkien's unpublished works.  He also worked as a writer for the CBC radio series The Scales of Justice.  His first book, The Summer Tree, was published in 1984. He is considered a fantasy fiction writer of novels that have a historical aspect.  They are usually in fictional settings  that resemble real places such as in China, Italy, Spain or Turkey taking place during real historical periods.

A Brightness Long Ago tells the story of a power struggle between mercenaries to take over the Court in fictional Batiara after the murder of its brutal ruler by a young strong woman, Adria.  The Beast as he is called, has young women brought to him that he rapes and kills.  Adria has decided to end his rule by posing as his next victim and kills him by poison from her lips.  The story is told by a merchant of the Court, Danio Cerra who helps Adria escape after she poisons the Beast and finds himself in the middle of the struggle to take over the Court.

For several of our members this was their first fantasy novel and many found it very interesting.  We all found the characters to be well developed and the writing lyrical and poetic at times.  There were several characters both major and minor, all well described and developed.  The only character some thought we did not get to know was the narrator Danio. Some thought there were too many descriptions of battles and the slaughter of people.  We also had a discussion about how and when the story should have ended, some of us thinking that the death of Adria should have been the end.  One of our members, who is an avid reader of Guy Gavriel Kay, felt that ending the story at that point would be too devastating and dramatic.  We agreed, whatever our opinions of the book, that Mr. Kay is an excellent storyteller.

As with many books where opinions differ, we had a great discussion.  Thank you Shirley for introducing us to this very interesting Canadian author.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Books and Meetings 2020

This list will be updated as members choose their books.

Monday January 27th - Carla's choice, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Marg hosting.

Monday February 24th -  Betty's choice, Educated by Tara Westover, Janet hosting.

Monday March 23rd - Janet's choice, Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson by Mark Bourrie, Carla hosting.

Monday April 27th -  Marg's choice, And Then There Were Nuns by Jane Christmas, Jane hosting.

Monday May 25th -  Linda's choice, The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman, Shirley hosting.

Monday June 22nd - Beth's choice, Linda hosting.

Monday September 28th - Colette's choice, Michèle hosting

Monday October 26th - Jane's choice,  Betty hosting

Monday November 23rd - Shirley's choice, Beth hosting.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Meeting of October 28, 2019

Our October meeting was hosted by Shirley. Present were Betty, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and of course, Shirley.  As usual we ate very well. Shirley presented us with a menu inspired by the three sisters of the Fall Harvest,  pickled green beans enrobed in prosciutto, a wonderful corn and cheese dip with corn chips, and for dessert, a pumpkin (squash) & carrot cake with a divine cream cheese icing!  Of course wine and tea were also served.

This month we discussed Jane's book choice Starlight by Richard Wagamese.  He was a Canadian Ojibwe author and journalist.  He wrote several novels and books that could be considered as memoirs or books reflecting on life.  His most noted novel is Indian Horse which was adapted to film.  Starlight was his last novel, a continuation of Medicine Walk that we read in 2014.  Richard Wagamese died in March 2017 before finishing Starlight. His literary agent and the publisher McLelland & Stewart, opted to publish with little editing and as is unfinished,  the story ends abruptly, letting the reader wondering what happened.

As Medicine Walk, everyone loved the book.  We found his writing poetic, descriptive and strangely calming and touching.  Many of us did not want the book to end, slowing our reading down so it would last longer.  A continuation of Medicine Walk, the old man has died and left his farm to the young boy he raised, Frank Starlight.  Frank has hired a man, Roth, to help on the farm and they become friends.  We meet Emmy and her daughter Winnie when Frank rescues them in town and brings them home to live with him.

Frank has become a well-known photographer. At the beginning of the book he describes Frank Starlight's night outing to photograph a pack of wolves.  His description of Frank running with the wolves leaves us breathless.
He ran easily. Like a wolf. He bent closer to the ground and loped, the slide of his feet skimming through the low-lying brush without a sound, and when he found the pace of the pack he angled off through the trees and took a parallel tack to them, keep them on his right and dodging the pine and spruce easily, his night eyes sharpened by use. He ran with them, the scuttling pace easy after the first three hundred yards. (page17)
The main characters, Frank himself who we knew from Medicine Walk, Emmy and Roth are well developed, we easily understand the relationship between them.  Cadotte, the man Emmy was running from gives us shivers, "He was a brute and he simmered in a palpable silence and stillness that could fill a room with its sweeping malevolence." (page 11)

None of us found the abrupt ending disappointing.  We could each of us, imagine how it ended and thinking back to Mr. Wagamese's other novels, it is likely that the story ended well.  We are all sad that no other novels will come from this wonderful storyteller and writer.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Macmillan Publishers embargo on eBooks

In response to recent coverage of Macmillan Publishers eBook embargo for libraries, it’s important to recognize the impact on libraries like ours, the Ottawa Public Library, which serves almost 238,000 active members in our community. 

Digital content is fast becoming the preferred - or only - access to books for many readers. A single copy of a new title in eBook format for a period of two months is not sufficient nor is it acceptable. In some instances, this embargo will force readers to wait a year or more to borrow an eBook.  

Readers and other Book Clubs are invited to join us in urging Macmillan to reverse their new policy by joining the #eBooksForAll campaign.  Visit ebooksforall.org to ensure access to information and content for all here in the Ottawa area.
Libraries bring together authors, publishers, teachers, and readers for the purpose of boosting knowledge, creativity, literacy, ideas, and imagination.  We need more people reading, not barriers that limit access. 
Muse & Views BookClub

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Meeting of September 23rd 2019

Our September meeting was hosted by Linda. We spent a wonderful half hour catching up on our activities over the summer. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  There was a nice variety of cheese, sausage and crackers along with of course, wine, coffee and tea and Linda had two types of cheesecake!

This month we discussed Colette's book choice, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, a classic detective mystery. Dashiell Hammett is often considered as the "dean" of hard-boiled detective fiction. He began writing when he worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  He wrote not only novels, but also short stories and was a screenwriter.  He was a political activist and did prison time for refusing to name members of the communist party.

Most members enjoyed the book.  The Maltese Falcon was originally published as a serial in the magazine The Black Mask.  Sam Spade the main character and detective re-appeared in lesser known novels but became well known when the movie came out and Humphrey Bogart played Sam Spade. The style of the book read very much like a a script.  There is considerable description of the environment, what rooms look like, the style of a car, the clothes characters wore, how they held a cigarette, how they wore a hat.  There is very little about the thoughts or emotions of the characters themselves.

A couple of our members did not enjoy the book as much and though it was published in 1931, felt that women were type cast and not at all equal to the male characters.

Members however, appreciated reading a classic detective story giving us some context for more modern novels of the same nature.  

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from Three Women to Blood Letting and Miraculous Cures

Three Women 
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus Far From the Madding Crowd The Woman in White Perfume: The Story of a Murderer The High Mountains of Portugal Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

Starter Book – Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is the true story of the sex lives of three American women within long-term and short-term relationships, some as short as one night of passion.

Our first link will have to be Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. This is a non-fiction account of how women and men view relationships (very differently) and the importance of sex in a relationship. 

If we continue on the theme of sexual relationships, we find a classic, Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a woman farmer, and the three suitors she attracts from neighbouring estates and villages – the farmer, the soldier and the devoted shepherd. Hardy describes the rural life and passionate sexual relationships between Miss Everdene and her suitors.

Going from a very modern book, to a ‘guide on relationships’, to a classic, we stick with classics and link next with The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a classic gothic horror story, including madness and intrigue.

Many who have read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind see it also as a horror story and a descent into madness. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born in the slums of Paris with the gift of a sublime sense of smell. As he learns the trade of perfumer he becomes obsessed in finding the ‘ultimate perfume’ created from the scent of a young virgin. Perfume can be seen as a story far from reality - Grenouille was born under a stall at a market, spent part of his life in a cave in France’s deserted Cévennes region, then his search and obsession for the ultimate scent. 

Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal with three incredulous stories is also far from reality. Three linked stories, each told separately almost like novellas, take us through Portugal in the 1930’s to modern day Portugal in the 1980’s. Written as fables, you must suspend your search for logic and reality to fully appreciate these stories.

Going to another book of linked stories, this one well grounded in reality, is Vincent Lam’s Blood Letting and Miraculous Cures which takes the reader through twelve interconnected stories following four young doctors through the challenges of medical school and the world of practice and hospitals.

This meme has been quite a challenge since the list of books read by Muse & Views Book Club that have not been used is getting shorter and shorter! 

If you would like to see how others have composed the Six Degrees go to Books are my Favourite .