Monday, December 14, 2009

Meeting of November 23, 2009

This month's meeting was at Janet's home. In attendance were Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda and Michèle. Betty's sister Helen came as a guest. The book was Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. As usual Janet provided great hors d'oeuvres, wine, Chai tea and an apricot cake.

This book exposes Mr. Mortenson's experience in Pakistan when he finds himself brought back to health by the people of a village when he has an accident climbing Pakistan's highest mountain. He leaves promising to bring what is needed to build a school. He is one of few foreigners who has worked in remote Pakistan. Many members found his achievements inspirational and were amazed by how much he accomplished with little. They felt that he was a humble person who was willing to listen, willing to admit his errors and he did not bring in North American values but rather worked with the local elders and listened to them.

Mr. Mortenson feels that education can solve many problems such a poverty, bring peace and combat terrorists or at least allow young men an alternative.

Janet thought of the book "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. Jolene brought up "Paths of Glory" by Jeffrey Archer.

We also talked about the impact of his tireless work with the Pakistan people on his family, his wife and children. In one of the interviews with his daughter, she spoke of how proud she was of him but how little of him she could enjoy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meeting of October 26, 2009

This month's meeting was at Beth's home. In attendance were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. This month's book suggested by Linda was The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning. Ms. Powning lives in New Brunswick. She has written several books and this is her first novel.

The novel is about a woman who has recently lost her husband and is having great difficulty getting through the grief and moving on with her life. Most members enjoyed the book with some reservation. Many felt that a better editor would have helped the book flow better especially the first part that was filled with adjectives and descriptions that were too detailed. One member read the following passage that she had read to her husband:
"She felt young because she wore no underpants, and she'd shrugged back her bathrobe to show Tom how her breasts were like silver spoon backs."
The member told us that she then went to her cutlery drawer and took out teaspoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons and service spoons and proceeded to ask her husband which ones best represented her breasts! We had a good laugh.

Despite the shortcomings of the book, all felt that Ms. Powning represented a subject, grief, that solicited a lot of thoughtful discussion. Many of us talked about grief and how people we knew pulled through it and continued their lives or never really were able to build a life on their own after the death of a spouse. In finally going through the letters from her ancestors that were in the hatboxes, permitted Kate to imagine their lives and the losses they endured. She often imagined scenes from one or two sentences in a letter. Losing herself in the lives of her ancestors helped her in some ways to pull through the grief and eventually begin a life on her own.

Many members felt she had a good sense of place. Her descriptions of rural New Brunswick, of her home and garden, the river and the sea made it easy to visualize her surroundings. Those of us who are gardeners enjoyed her descriptions of the garden she and her husband Tom had created over the years.

We discussed the reasons why some people seem to survive grief and manage to build a productive and fulfilling life afterwards and that others have much more difficulty getting past the loss of a spouse. Some felt that women who have had an independent life before or during their relationship probably found it easier to build a life on their own after the loss of a spouse while others felt that it depended on making a decision to give of themselves through, for example, volunteer work.

One of our members who had read the book several years ago went back to her notes and had then thought that maybe the writing style, the jumbled thoughts and short sentences of the beginning of the book and then the more thoughtful descriptions and more flowing sentences may have been used to portray how grief affected Kate. At the beginning she was overwhelmed by the loss and unable to think straight and as time passed and she began to accept more her life, the book's writing style changed, became more fluid, easier to read.

Finally all members said that they enjoyed the book with some reservation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Books and Meetings in 2010

This list will be updated as members give us their choice of books.

Monday January 25
Michèle choice - Five Quarters of an Orange by Joanne Harris; Michèle hosting

Monday February 22
Colette choice, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Betty hosting

Monday March 22
Janet's choice - Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas; Carla hosting

Monday April 26
Jolene's choice: La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith; Jolene hosting

Monday May 31 (please note this is the 5th Monday of the Month)
Beth's choice: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy; Linda hosting

Monday June 28
Shirley's choice The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill; Colette hosting

Monday September 27
Jane's choice: The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown; Shirley hosting

Monday October 25
Carla's choice: Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees; Colette hosting

Monday November 22
Linda's choice: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay; Beth hosting

Meeting of September 27, 2009

This month's meeting was a Colette's home. All members were present, Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Joan, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. We also welcomed a new member Jane. We had not met since June, and we had a good chat about our summer activities, weddings being the major subject of discussion. Colette and Jane provided us with wonderful Chinese hors d'oeuvres, pot stickers and small egg rolls. We were also treated to a wonderful blueberry pie made by Colette's husband.

This month's book, recommended by Carla was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Carla's son married this summer, a woman of Chinese heritage. She described the parts of the wedding ceremony that were very similar to the customs described in the novel when Lily marries; the groom and his entourage go to the bride's home to bring her to the wedding and the bride's family and entourage let her go with reluctance; the Tea Ceremony performed by the groom; the red envelopes with money offerings.

The majority enjoyed the book, especially getting insight into another culture , the value of women in the household, how her family's place in society controlled her life, the requirements on her from childhood to old age. If a girl did not realize a good marriage, she had little value to her family. The story also told us about foot binding and Nu Shu that is women's writing, sworn sisters and Laotong or old sames.

Beth discussed the writing style. She felt that it had a formal melodramatic quality to it but was very readable. Many members felt that the book was sad. Beth also pointed out that many themes in the book are universal, the relationship of women friends, the difference between our relationships with women friends and our relationship with our husbands; the often tenuous relationship with in-laws. She also talked about how Lily refused to see the pain and hurt she had caused her Laotong Snowflower, until she was bluntly told by the sworn sisters and how she tried repent for her actions after Snowflower's death. It showed how our interpretation of the importance of our place in society can make us blind to the impact of our actions and words.

The book generated a lively discussion about the foot binding, women's place in society depending in what society you are born, family ties and how little or how much they have changed depending on your culture. An example is how we treat our elders. Many older societies such as the Chinese do not tend to leave their elders in seniors homes as western society does.

The book was a good read, interesting with a good flow and informative giving us insight into another culture. Thank you Carla!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Minutes of Meeting of June 22, 2009

We met at Shirley's home June 22 and fell in love with her new kitchen! In attendance were Shirley, Linda, Colette, Janet, Jolene, and Colette's guest Jane (who had originally suggested the book under discussion). We all enjoyed Mary Ann Shaffer's and Annie Barrows' book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Shirley served, among other treats, potato hors d'oeuvres, pork nibblies, and meringue desserts, all featured in the book.

Sergeant-at-arms Jolene brought the evening to order using a hammer (see p.48 of the book), and Colette followed up with background information on the authors and on 18th-century essayist Charles Lamb, whose literature was the reason the fictitious correspondence between the Dawsey and Juliet characters began in the first place. Colette noted that Mary Ann Shaffer had gone to Guernsey on a whim in 1976 and developed an interest in the fact that the Channel Islands had been occupied during the war. Ms. Shaffer unfortunately died a few months before her work was finished, and her niece Annie Barrows, an accomplished author in her own right, helped complete and polish the work and get it to print.

Everyone loved the style of the book and found it ironic that the author originally thought it would be easier to write a series of letters than a regular narrative. She discovered that to develop characters and keep each of their voices consistent were no small feats, but she was successful. The humourous description of people like Adelaide ("a woman too good for daily wear" p.125) and of chickens "with razor lips and back-to-back eyeballs" (p. 127) were all appreciated. Janet commented from personal experience that the postal system in England, at least in the late 80's and early 90's, was exceptional, and people wrote letters because telephoning was expensive. Others appreciated the fact that the history of the Channel Islands and the war were included as a backdrop to the story and that the premise of the book was a club not unlike Muse and Views in many ways, where books seem to have a "homing instinct, bringing them to perfect readers." (p.10) The happy ending meant Linda didn't have to give us an assignment to write an alternative!

To those who were away, we missed you. Of particular interest is the fact that our usual blogger Michèle is on a road tour and has even visited Stanley Park, a famous site in one of our recent book choices. As well, Beth sent regrets but suggested 84 Charring Cross Road as a suitable summer read, with an epistolary theme similar to tonight's book.

Enjoy your summer. See you back at Muse Sept. 28 at Colette's for discussion of Lisa See's Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Happy reading, Jolene

Friday, May 29, 2009

Books for our Fall meetings

Because the list of books for 2009 is getting far down in the blog, I have chosen to repeat those for our Fall meetings here:

Monday September 28

Carla's choice  Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See at Colette's home

Sitting Quietly

I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died”—a widow, eighty years old. Without my husband, the days are long. I no longer care for the special foods that Peony and the others prepare for me. I no longer look forward to the happy events that settle under our roof so easily. Only the past interests me now. After all this time, I can finally say the things I couldn't when I had to depend on my natal family to raise me or rely on my husband's family to feed me. I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend.

I am old enough to know only too well my good and bad qualities, which were often one and the same. For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me—as a girl and later as a woman—to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life. I dreamed that my mother would notice me and that she and the rest of my family would grow to love me. To win their affection, I was obedient—the ideal characteristic for someone of my sex—but I was too willing to do what they told me to do. Hoping they would show me even the most simple kindness, I tried to fulfill their expectations for me— to attain the smallest bound feet in the county—so I let my bones be broken and molded into a better shape.

Monday October 26

Linda's choice The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning at Beth's home


"She leans forward and rummages in the hatbox, knowing that she is being hooked by its sweet smell. She tips reading glasses from her head, settles them on her nose, unfolds a paper and presses it to her face. She breathes deeply. What is it? Lately she finds herself in a peculiar state, slowed, as if floating without impulsion, in which she examines her own feelings. There's a familiar, disturbing stab in her heart that she remembers from when, as a child, she laid her head on Shepton's prickly pillows, or lifted the lids of stoneware crocks or opened the games cupboard under the stairs. It's a small ache, a presage of grief, evoked by the distilled smell of age. It's a reminder, she thinks, of joy's sorrow-edge. Of how every moment tilts on the edge of its own decline. There's something else, though. Responsibility to the past. And flight from its demands. The feelings she's come to recognize, holding in her hand, say, a small pin that Tom was once given at a ceremony in Ottawa for "service to the arts." How, she chastises herself, during her process of dispossession, could she think of parting with this piece of silver? Doesn't she have the responsibility of memorializing Tom?"

©copyright Beth Powning

Monday November 23

Betty's choice Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin at Michèle's home

In Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time , Greg Mortenson, and journalist David Oliver Relin, recount the journey that led Mortenson from a failed 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully establish schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. By replacing guns with pencils, rhetoric with reading, Mortenson combines his unique background with his intimate knowledge of the third-world to promote peace with books, not bombs, and successfully bring education and hope to remote communities in central Asia. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world—one school at a time.

Meeting of May 25, 2009

This month's meeting was at Linda's home. She provided us with a lovely plate of cold cuts, cheese and dip. We also had an excellent lemon cake with our coffee.  Beth, Betty, Carla, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and ShirleyItalic were present.

This month's book was Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. It is her first novel. Ms. Blum has written articles and worked for the Stephen Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The interviews she conducted at the Foundation gave her the idea and incentive for her novel. 

All thought the book was very well written, the character development was excellent and the physical description of the characters allowed you to easily imagine them, especially the Obersturmführer.  She paid attention to details, description of the weather, of rooms, such as the rooms of the bakery, the hotel she stayed for the weekend with the Obersturmführer. 

The title of the book Those Who Save Us is well represented in the story in many ways some that are obvious because they relate to the idea of "saving" someone from horrible situations and others that come from our tendency to use the word "save" in our everyday conversations. 
  • Max the good Doktor "saves" Anna's dog
  • The Doktor is grateful to Ann for rescuing him from Frau Rosenberg (page 13)
  • Anna "saves" Max by hiding him in the servant's quarters of her father's house
  • Mathilde the baker "saves" Anna from the wrath of her father by sheltering her when she discovers she is pregnant
  • Mathilde and Anna "save" the prisoners at Buchenwald Camp by providing bread that she hides in a tree trunk for them and also by getting information out to the Resistance
  • The Obersturmführer tells Anna "Do you know, you alone save me. Your purity, your values - our shared values -..." (page 271)
  • All that Anna did in Germany, with the Obersturmführer was to "save" her daughter Trudie
  • Jack "saved" Anna and Trudie by marrying Anna and taking her back to America
There are many other incidents that refer back to the title.  The novel is complex and leads to an excellent discussion; about Anna relationship with the Obersturmführer, the impact on Anna's ability to love, the relationship between Anna and her daughter Trudy; about the impact on Trudy's life and her inability to be happy; how much would we do to protect and "save" ourselves and our children, how far would we go. 

We also had a good discussion about Anna's refusal to talk about the past. When Trudy says that she wants Saint Nikolaus instead of Santa on Christmas Eve of 1945, their first year in America "I said you will not speak of him. He no longer exists. He belongs to the past, to that other place and time, and all that is dead. ....The past is dead, and better it remain so."  She says it other times also, she does not see how talking of the past can help.  We discussed how reality shows and programs such as Oprah, Dr. Phil encourage people to discuss every part of their life as if it can help.  We wondered if it is really necessary to analyze everything and why many feel it necessary to tell all. 

Several other books were suggested:  Elie Wiesel's "Night" that asks many questions and helped inspired "Those Who Save Us". It is not a novel but rather Mr. Wiesel's memoirs of his experience in the concentration camps.  Hannah Arendt wrote many books and reports about the War and in particular  "Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil"  Christabel Bielenbergh wrote two books about her experience in Germany as an expatriate married to a German man. "The Past is Myself" and "The Road Ahead". 

This book was a difficult book to read for many of our members but it was an excellent Book Club choice that generated a lot of discussion and thought. Thank you Shirley. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Suggestions for summer reading

There were several suggestions for summer reading for those of us going on a leisurely vacation with time to read or spending some warm summer days sitting in the shade.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
Promises in Death by J.D. Robb
Suite 606 by J.D. Robb
Salvation in Death by J.D.Robb
You´ve been Warned by James Patterson
The Senator´s Wife by Sue Miller
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
Belong to Me by Marisa De Los Santos
Marley & Me by John Grogan
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
The Halifax Connection by Marie Jakober

All are welcome to add other titles.

Meeting of April 27, 2009

This month´s meeting was at Jolene´s home. She provided us with excellent appetizers including a wonderful cheese and ham pastry. We had almost full attendance this month, Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Joan, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. Our book choice this month is Beth´s, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor.

Beth informed us that the author Elizabeth Taylor was one of several British authors, well known in the 1950´s to 1970´s who wrote about women´s lives. Ms. Taylor was not a sentimental writer but rather wrote with considerable detail about everyday challenges in women´s lives. Beth compared this book to Margaret Laurence´s The Stone Angel. The subject matter is about coping with ageing and the limited options as we grow old. The subject matter had all of us thinking of our own mothers and their situations. Janet mentionned the movie The Curious case of Benjamin Button that begins with the main character being old and depicts the limited options that he has because of age.

All liked the book, however many found the subject matter depressing. There was however considerable discussion and comparison of our own parents´ situation and of our own futures. We also discussed the differences between the book and the movie that most of us saw. Jolene installed the DVD on her new large screen and we were able to watch one scene in particular, that is the first evening meal, that set the tone for the atmosphere at the Claremont Hotel.

Jolene noted that the author seems to have inserted herself in the novel on page 136 of the paperback version when Mrs. Palfrey talks to ¨Miss Taylor¨ at the Library.

We all agreed that this was a good choice and thanked Beth. Our next meeting is on Monday May 25 at Linda´s home and the book choice is Shirley´s Those who Save Us by Jenna Blum.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Meeting of March 23, 2009

This month's meeting was at Janet's home and she provided us with wonderful appetizers and we had a beautiful and excellent chocolate tart made by Julia! Members present tonight were Beth, Carla, Colette, Janet, Joan, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. The book choice this month was Jolene's and we read "Mr. Darcy Presents his Bride" by Helen Halstead.

Ms. Halstead is an Australian author who began by self-publishing this book under the name "A Private Performance".  The book was eventually picked up by Ulysses Press and the title was changed.  

This story is follows Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and give the reader an account of Elizabeth Bennet & Fitzwilliam Darcy's first years of marriage and Elizabeth's entry into London high society.  There are several sequels to Jane Austen's book and Jolene brought several for us to peruse: "Mr. Darcy's Decision" by Juliet Shapiro, "Darcy's Passion" by Regina Jaffers, "The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet" by Colleen McCullogh.

Several of our members found the book frustrating and a bit boring. They found that it was difficult to determine who was speaking in the book sometimes. Also many descriptions of the evening balls or dinners were repetitive. Some felt the language was a bit stilted.

However some of our members quite enjoyed the book. They enjoyed the descriptions of the different homes such as Pemberley and the description of the 12th Night Ball.  Many members enjoyed reading about what happened after "Pride and Prejudice" to the Bennet's sisters.  It was a good easy read. 

There was quite a discussion about the lack of development of Mr. Darcy and not enough about the development of their relationship.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meeting of February 23, 2009

This month's meeting was at Carla's home. Carla provided wonderful appetizers, a excellent dip with vegetables,  mushrooms stuffed with crab and cheese and a very nice cheese with nuts and apple melted! We were only seven this month, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley. The book this month was Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor recommend by Janet.

Timothy Taylor is a Canadian author from Vancouver. This is his first book. It was a finalist for CBC's Canada Reads competition in 2004 and was also short listed for the Scotia-Giller Prize.  

Most felt that the characters were well developed but many felt that the book was disjointed, difficult to follow and "weird". Many felt the book took a long time to take off. However some members very much enjoyed the book. All thought that it was definitely a foodie book.  Those of us who have been to Vancouver and know Stanley Park and the neighbourhood around the Park enjoyed reading the description and recognizing the areas we had visited. 

The book also gave a good insight into a homeless community, in particular the community in Stanley Park and all the problems and challenges of homelessness not only in Vancouver but in general. 

There was quite an animated discussion on Jeremy's attitude after the restaurant re-opened towards his new clientèle and what he served them. Many members agreed that he was making fun of them, serving them squirrel and other things without necessarily telling them. Was Jeremy taking his revenge? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Meeting of January 26, 2009

Our meeting was held at Colette's home with Betty hosting. Thank you to Betty for great nibbles and an excellent wine choice. Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Joan and Michèle were present. This month's book was The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson suggested by Joan. This is the second book by Mary Lawson that the Book Club has read. Crow Lake was enjoyed by all members in 2004.

The book was unanimously enjoyed by all members present. All felt that the book was well written and that the story flowed well.  Each chapter began with a headline from The Temiskaming Speaker with the date. This helped the reader understand the chronology of  the two story lines. Carla mentioned and others agreed that Ms. Lawson is excellent at setting the mood and describing the surroundings. 

There was considerable discussion about the three main male characters, Arthur, Jake and Ian and the relationship between the brothers Arthur and Jake.  Janet compared them to the twin sons of Isacc and Rebekah in the Bible,  Esau and Jacob, the good and the evil.  There was a discussion about why Arthur does not stand up to Jake, how past incidents such as Jake's fall from the bridge affect Arthur's reaction to Jake's presence and actions. Many felt that Arthur's reaction was fuelled by guilt and his need to atone for failing to properly protect his brother and disappointing his mother. 

We also discussed how Ms. Lawson managed to keep suspense in a story line even though we knew from the beginning what eventually unfolded in the story. A good example is at the beginning of the book when Jake insists they play the knife game. 

We also discussed Ian's character, his denial as an adolescent of his eventual life choice to f become a family doctor taking over his father's practice. Again, it was evident from the beginning what Ian's choice would be but Ms. Lawson still kept suspense in the story line. 

This was a good choice, thank you Joan.  For those who have not viewed the video interview available on the left side of the blog, it is interesting to hear Ms. Lawson talk about her writing style and the connection she made between her two novels.

A "Name the Book Club" competition was held. Six suggestions were nominated: 
  1. Cream of the Crop
  2. Eclectic
  3. Monthly Muse & Views
  4. Ladies of Lit (LOL)
  5. Nights of Wine & Proses
  6. Read it & Eat
From a secret e-mail ballot, the name that won is "Monthly Muse and Views", suggested by Jolene.  All agreed that it is a good choice for the name of our Book Club. We also agreed to shorten the name to "Muse and Views". 

We also held our "Academy Award" of books read in 2008.  A Thousand Splendid Suns the book suggested by Michèle won easily. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Books & Meetings in 2009

Monday January 26

Joan's choice The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, at Colette's home, Betty is hosting.

Monday February 23

Janet's choice - Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor at Carla's home

Monday March 23

Jolene's choice - Mr. Darcy Presents his Bride: A sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Helen Halstead at Janet's home

Monday April 27

Beth's choice - Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor at Jolene's home

Monday May 25

Shirley's choice, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum at Linda's home

Monday June 22

Colette's choice The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows at Shirley's home

Monday September 28

Carla's choice Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See at Colette's home

Monday October 26

Linda's choice The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning at Beth's home

Monday November 23

Betty's choice Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin at Janet's home