Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meeting of November 22, 2010

The Muse and Views Bookclub met at Beth's home to discuss Linda's choice Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Beth had some delicious cheeses and in honour of France,  "deux petits gateaux".  Thank you Beth.

The novel tells the story of a young girl, Sarah and her family who are caught in the roundup of Jews in Paris in July 1942 into a Vélodrome and then to camps outside of Paris.  The second story of the novel is about an American journalist, Julia who researches the roundup of Jews and discovers a connection to her husband's family.

There was consensus about the worth of this novel, all enjoyed the book and this has not been the case in the books read this year.  Several of us found it very compelling and read it in one sitting. We all felt that despite the tragedy that is exposed in this story, the book is well written and was easy to read.  The flow between the past and the present is well done and many felt that the author timed the change from the Sarah's story during World War II and Julia's story in the present to be excellent.

Another consensus was that a novel that reveals a historical event that none of us had read or heard of previously adds to our knowledge and many enjoyed the book because of this. A Case Study about the Vélodrome d'hiver Round-up on "The Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence" reveals the horror of this event and shows that Ms. De Rosnay's account is quite accurate.  Many were surprised by the active participation of the French government and police in the horrendous activities of the Nazis.

We all felt that the characters were well developed, we could visualize them, even those that did not come up often in the story such as Julia's sisters-in-law.  Michèle even described an image of Bertrand, Julia's french husband, head held high, white scarf draped around his shoulders, hair a bit long with a lock of hair on his forehead, charismatic but also haughty.

The only negative comments about the novel is that many of us felt that some incidences were too contrived, coincidences too frequent and unnatural.  For example, her abortion was schedule on the anniversary of the Vel'hiv roundup, July 16th. Some of us felt that the ending when she meets with Sarah's son, George in New York and the obvious attraction was too much of a coincidence that they would both find themselves in New York, both divorced.

This was one of several novels we have read in the past two years that take place during World War II, Suite française,  Those Who Save Us, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and La's Orchestra Saves the World.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Meeting of October 25, 2010

Our Muses & Views Book Club met at Colette's home to discuss Carla's choice The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Benyon Rees.  Present were Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. Colette Colette prepared wonderful mini-quiches, humus with vegetables and wonderful cheese blintze with blueberry sauce.

We were quite divided in our opinions of this book.  Some found it an interesting and intriguing murder mystery and some of us found it rather boring.

In the preface of the book, the author essentially says "All crimes in this book are based on real events in Bethlehem. Though identities and some circumstances have been changed, the killers really kill this way, and those who died are dead just the same."  So the author gives us right away, an impression of despair and gloom.  From the descriptions, we get the impression of corruption and constant fighting not just between the Palestinians and Israel but also between factions within Bethlehem.  The general population is just trying to continue with their lives, heads down.  The author gives a very effective description of life for the residents of Bethlehem.  The story quite effectively shows the impact of raising one's head in an atmosphere such as reigns in Bethlehem when Omar Yussef, the quiet teacher decides to find out who murdered his christian friend George.  Everyone he speaks to is affected.

As it is in Palestinian families, the men are the more important characters in this book, there is little development of women characters such as Omar's wife, his young former female student or George's wife.  The fighting is amongst the men and the women work to try, despite the turmoil, to raise their children and care for their household.  It is a bleak story.

Colette invited her friend René who worked at the Canadian Embassy in Israel to come to speak to us about Israel.  He presented a very interesting slide show and his comments helped us understand the atmosphere in the region, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza strip.  Thank you to René and to Colette for inviting him.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Meeting of September 27, 2010

Our Muse & Views Book Club met at Shirley's home to discuss Jane's choice The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown. Present were, Betty, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley of course. Shirley had spent the day cooking and we had some wonderful hors d'oeuvres, Jamaican patties, a great dip with veggies and a lovely pumpkin cake.

Ian Brown is a Canadian journalist who works for the Globe & Mail. This book is a recount of his struggle in searching for the best possible life for his severely disabled boy Walker. It is also a journey through the evolving genetic research going on in many labs across North America that Mr. Brown takes us through as he strives to learn as much as possible about this rare disease that Walker has, called cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC). He won for this book, the B.C. National Award for Canadian non-fiction, the Charles Taylor Prize and the Trillium Book Award in 2009. Jane said that she hesitated before recommending this book but felt that the book was so well written and had touched her so much she wanted to share it.

All members present felt the book was certainly worth reading but some had difficulty getting through it because it was for them, so very emotional. One member commented that Mr. Brown is heart wrenchingly honest and compassionate in his description of his son Walker. The love he feels for his son is indisputable and present on every page of the book. He is also not afraid to show frustration and anger in dealing with the health system and the provincial welfare system. Though there is no description of impatient tirades with doctors or government administrators, it is easy to understand, by his description of waits in hospitals to see specialists for example, that he is a tad cynical.

We had a discussion about how society treats those who are disabled, the need to integrate them and accept them as they are and for who they are. The teachers in our group talked about integration in the classroom and how other children come to accept them and include them in activities much more easily than we do as adults. However, all agreed that not all disabled children can integrate into the educational system as it exists with its limited resources.

All said that the book was uplifting even though the despair he sometimes felt at night for example came out in his description of events. This book describes almost uniquely, Mr. Brown's experience, emotions and journey he has had with his son. There is very little about Ms. Johanna Schneller's experience, his wife and Walker's mother. It is however, very evident that both love their son unconditionally but experience the journey with Walker very differently.

Mr. Brown wrote several chapters about his visits in France to meet Jean Vanier the founder of l'Arche, an international organization that supports intellectually disabled adults. A exchange by correspondence between Mr. Brown and Jean Vanier, published in the Globe and Mail is very much worth reading.

Many of us thanked Jane for recommending "The Boy in the Moon". It was a book for some, difficult to read but very much worthwhile that made us think seriously about how society treats the disabled. Ian Brown referred to Robert Latimer who asphyxiated his severely disabled daughter in 1993. "The big remaining question for me is, why isn't our province on trial? ..... That family wasn't getting the support they needed...." Isn't that true across the country, the disabled are often an afterthought.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Books and Meetings in 2011

This list will be update as members choose the books.

Monday January 24 - Betty's choice, Where the River Ends by Charles Martin; Michèle hosting

Monday February 28 - Michèle choice, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Betty hosting

Monday, March 28 - Colette's choice, Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, Carla hosting

Monday April 18 - Janet's choice, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, Jane hosting (April 25 is Easter Monday)

Monday May 30 - Jolene's choice, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, Jolene hosting (May 23 is Victoria Day)

Monday June 27 - Beth's choice, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Linda hosting

Monday, September 26 - Shirley's choice, Secret Daughter by Shilpa Somaya Gowda, Colette hosting

Monday, October 24 - Jane's choice, Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart, Shirley hosting

Monday, November 28 - Carla's choice, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Beth hosting

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Suggestions for Summer Reading 2010

Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith
Any (or all) of Guy Gavriel Kay's books

Meeting of 28 June 2010

Shirley, Janet, Jane, Beth, Colette and Jolene met at Colette's house to discuss The Book of Negroes, Shirley's choice this year. Colette served great hors d'oeuvres, with a little help from her husband, a gourmet cook.

Author Lawrence Hill was born in Toronto in 1957 and is from a famous Canadian family. His father Daniel Hill, Sr., was Ombudsman, and Dan Hill, Jr., is a well-known singer. Lawrence Hill has won many awards, including one for this book. He still lives in Hamilton, Ontario. A recent CAA magazine quotes him as saying that he once met with the Queen (a most unpretentious lady) and her corgis and found himself in the ironic position of telling Her Majesty about British archives and history. Mr. Hill has written other books, including Any Known Blood, set a little later, during the time of the Underground Railway, and told from a male point-of-view.

Shirley pointed out that the cover of our novel in Canada is from the actual Book of Negroes. In the US, the novel goes by the title Someone Knows My Name. It depicts slavery in the 1700's through the eyes of Aminata, and shows the different reactions of slaves to the same circumstances. Hill found himself relating Aminata with his own 11-year-old daughter Genevieve Aminata Hill.

Our group unanimously liked the book, for many reasons: the fact that historical figures like Wilberforce appear in this novel; the way Hill was able to tell the story from a female viewpoint so well; the tragic irony of seeing a ‘baby-catcher’ have her own baby stolen; and the strength shown by Aminata. One theme that emerged was how people in desperate circumstances come to realize their limitations but do what they can.

Next meeting will be September 27 at Shirley's, discussing Ian Brown's The Boy in the Moon, Jane's choice.

The October meeting will be at Colette's, discussing The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees, Carla's choice.

Have a great summer!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Meeting of May 31st, 2010

Muse and Views met May 31 at Linda's to discuss the Thomas Hardy book Far From the Madding Crowd (FFTMC), Beth's choice. In attendance were Linda, Shirley, Carla, Betty, Colette, Beth and Jolene. Asian food, pinwheel sandwiches, yummy cake, and a free book table added to the fun.

Beth gave us a detailed description of Hardy's background and writing passions. He lived in the late Victorian period from 1840 to 1928 and was born in Dorcester, near the area that he writes about, renamed Wessex in his books. He was an architect by trade, but once he became successful as a writer, particularly with FFTMC, he gave up his architectural career. His novels were popular even during his lifetime, and his poetry has grown in appreciation since his death. Poems like Darkling Thrush have even been set to music. Among his 10 novels are A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), from which the term "cliff hanger" may be derived, Tess of the d'Ubervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure.

Beth pointed out Hardy's fascination with architecture, ecology, Christian faith, and mystery. Ghosts, coincidence, preserving the environment and a distaste for class distinctions are frequent aspects of his writing. An intriguing question involved his burial. The executor of his will wanted him interred in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, and indeed that is where his ashes are. However, his heart was apparently taken to be buried with his first wife, with whom he had had a difficult relationship and over whom he felt remorse. Did the heart make it back to Dorset, or was it misplaced? A theme right out of Hitchcock! Finally, Linda mentioned that Hardy is held in particularly high esteem in Japan and they make pilgrimages to his home in England.

Five out of seven members in attendance liked the book. All agreed that because it was written in serialized form, it was quite it l-o-n-g. Janet added her comments via e-mail, pointing out that we all hope our daughters don't make the mistake that Bathsheba made, choosing the looks and superficial Troys over the strong and steady Gabriel Oak's in life. The lengthy descriptions typical of the period did not always appeal to our modern tastes, but the happy ending, interesting plot, and good characterization were appreciated. Those who had had the opportunity to get the movie from the library found the film helpful and close to the novel in detail. Biblical references, evident even in the names, were also interesting.

Beth and Linda had personal connections: Beth's husband has an ancestor named Richard Jeffries, who wrote a book at the same time as Hardy, and no doubt would have become just as popular, if Hardy had not stolen the limelight. :) Linda has a friend in a professor named Dr. Baker, a writer himself and avid reader, and we encouraged her to invite him to book club next May when he is in town again. Linda may pick a Sue Grafton novel for him to discuss with us.

Other business: Next meeting is at Colette's place June 28, discussing The Book of Negroes, Shirley's choice. Colette will encourage Jane to give us her September choice by the end of June, so that we can read it over the summer break. Carla has opted for The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees for October.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Meeting of April 26th 2010

We met at Jolene's home to discuss this month's book, La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith, Jolene's choice. At the meeting Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette Janet, Jolene, Linda, Shirley and Michèle were present.

Mr. McCall Smith is best known as author of The No. 1 Laides' Dectective Agency and he has also written The Portuguese Irregular Verbs Series and In the 44 Scotland Street Series and The Isabel Dalhouse Series. He has also written several non-fiction books in his original professional field of medical law. He was born in Southern Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe. He has also written several books for children.

All liked the book and found it to be an easy enjoyable read. The story describes in part, life during World War II in rural England. The story and the creation of La's Orchestra brought out England's determination throughout World War II and the bombing to keep everyone's spirits up and not allow the enemy to defeat them. It also brought out the push during the War for all to do their part, however small. La for example, not only conducted the Orchestra but also helped out a local farmer and grew a vegetable garden. Everyone had to do their part. This was also spelled out in La's struggle with her conscious when she found the need to talk to Constable Percy Brown of her suspicions that Lenny Agg had stolen Henry Madder's money and then to Tim Honey about her suspicions that Felix was in fact German and not Polish. She felt it was her duty to protect England. Many stories written about England and WW II, talked about the British determination. Beth referred specifically to Lady Diane Cooper's biography in which she described the determination of the British.

Most of us felt that the last part of the book was a bit rushed as if the author was trying to tie up all the loose ends, La's attempt to participate in demonstrations during the Cuban crisis is a good example.

Many of us liked that she eventually met again with Feliks. Carla compared it to "Love among the Ruins" the poem by Robert Browning. Some of us, however, had not realized the link between Felix's boys and the young men at the beginning of the book who visited Suffolk, La's home and the back garden where she had grown potatoes and the building where the Orchestra practiced and performed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Meeting of 22 March 2010

Meeting of 22 March 2010

Muse and Views met March 22 to discuss Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas, Janet's choice at Carla's home. In attendance were Janet, Carla, Colette, Beth, Betty, Shirley, Jane, and Jolene. Carla served wonderful appetizers and cinnamon buns, which were a great hit in 2010 (and would have been almost unheard of in the struggling WWII period of the book :) Roses added to the atmosphere and reminded us that spring is here.

Janet led the discussion, pointing out first of all that she has just finished a book on a similar theme called Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about a 16-year-old girl from Nigeria in a bad relationship with her Roman Catholic father. In another text-to-text connection, Jane pointed out that on page 249 of her copy of Reading by Lightning, Guernsey (of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society fame) is mentioned.

Reading by Lightning has won a first-novel award for the author, and everyone loved the historical backdrop about the Barr Colonists who settled in Canada. Janet has a personal connection to this period of Canadian history because her husband is from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, where many of the Barr Colonists settled. Descendants of these early colonists still live there 100 years later. History does not look fondly on Barr himself, who allegedly made off with money from the people he promised to help prosper in a new land.

Others in the group also found personal ties to situations in the book, including family and faith relationships. Janet wondered if the book was intended to be an extended metaphor, juxtaposing religion, science, Darwinism, and the ambiguity of post-modernism. Since the book is listed in many on-line sites as an example of bildungsroman, we asked Beth to explain the concept to us. "Bildungsroman" is apparently of German origin, meaning "education" and "story." It refers to a literary genre developed in the 1800's, referring to coming-of-age novels, with a young character struggling to come to terms with society and self. Many in our group, however, felt that Lily Piper did not fully mature as a person, since at the end she was still in conflict with her mother and was intellectually shallow at times.

Most loved the book and its writing style, although a few found the slow start frustrating. There were realistic, vibrant, and often humourous descriptions of people and situations, on such varied topics as Brits, wet mittens, epilepsy, and WWII.

There was some confusion, however, about the meaning of the title. Did it refer to the last scene in the book, or to the fact that Lily would read George's letters with his belemnite close-at-hand to ward off lightning? Even the author's comments on were not satisfying. Jane had heard that the original title was to be Problematica (referring to George analyzing fossils), but at the last minute, the publishers apparently had to change it because of another book coming out with the same name.

Most also agreed that the book ended too quickly. We would have liked to see the story carry on so that we could find out what happened to the characters, who were so vividly painted. On, Ms. Thomas herself says that since George was becoming more and more cynical, it's perhaps just as well that we don't see what the war would have made him.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Meeting of February 22, 2010

This month's meeting was hosted by Betty. In attendance along with Betty were Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley. Betty served some excellent cheese and vegetable rolls and chocolate along with a wonderful apple crisp.

This month's book, Colette's choice, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a book originally published as a serial in the "All the Year Round" periodical in 1859-1960. It is considered to be one of the first mystery novels and a pioneer in the publication of sensation novels - tales of women woven around criminal activities. Mr. Collins was a friend of Charles Dickens who was the owner of the periodical.

The book was published in three-volume form in 1860 and along with its publication in book form came The Women in White perfume, cloaks and bonnets and sheet music of The Woman in White waltzes and quadrilles. In the 1982 a U.S. movie version of the book came out and in 1997 a British version of the movie was made. Andrew Lloyd Webber also created a musical in 2005.

The book presented some challenges for several members of our Muses & Views Book Club. The length of the book 645 pages, was difficult for about half of the members present to finish. However, some watched the movie that gave them a good idea of the plot and the characters. Michèle said that the 100 pages she did read gave her the desire to finish the book. Carla, decided to try listening to c.d.'s of the book on a trip to Toronto but the book, read by a person with a decidedly British accent and the description of Marian Halcombe's waist when Mr. Hartright first saw her in the drawing room, ".....her waist, perfection in the eyes of a man, for it occupied its natural place,...." was too much for both Carla and her husband. However, Carla did read the novel, borrowed from her brother, and enjoyed it, once she got past, Mr. Hartright's description of Miss Halcombe's waist.

All those who read it enjoyed the the narrative first person characteristic of the novel. Each person in the novel tells his or her side of the events and the story in their own words. This method of writing helped develop the characters in the novel. All who read it found the story engrossing and had a difficult time putting it down. The novel was a good suspense, and the ending was particularly gripping.

We had some discussion about the frustrations of the Victorian era, class, pre-arranged marriages and the plight of women, how little they could do alone and how much single women were dependent on relatives for their livelihood.

Colette wondered if this was a good choice for the book club, all said that there was a place for the classic novel and a look back at the writing genre of the past. We all thanked Colette for her choice. Jane provided us with two articles written by John Sutherland, The missing fortnight and Why doesn't Laura tell her own story?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Meeting of January 25, 2010

This month's meeting was at Michèle's home. In attendance were Betty, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley. As Framboise made in her creperie called Crèpe Framboise, Michèle made some galettes bretonnes served with a confit d'oignons and a goat cheese served with a fig jam. For dessert, a clafoutis aux pommes et abricots secs as was described in Mirabelle's book.

The first item of our meeting was awarding the "Academy Award" prize for the most well-liked book in 2009. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which was Colette's book won hands down. Colette gave her prize to Jane since she had originally recommended the book.

This month's book, Michèle suggestion was Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. The Book Club read Chocolat by Joanne Harris in 2001. Joanne Harris is a British author born of a French mother and British father. Many of her books are set in France. Five Quarters of the Orange is the last of three books with a food theme, Chocolat and Blackberry Wine are the other two books. She says on her website that this was one of her favourite books to write because of Framboise, the main character. You can read her comments on this link of her website.

Many members commented on the excellent character development in this book. Both Framboise and her mother Mirabelle are quite believable and easily pictured. Though both are not particularly "charming" characters, we were still drawn to them. Mirabelle did not seem particularly "motherly" however it became quite obvious that she did everything to keep her children fed, clothed and safe during the German occupation in WW II. Ms. Harris also described scenes and places well keeping your interest in the story.

Members also found the descriptions of the German occupation quite believable and interesting to see how the WW II affected the parts of France where there was no fighting but German soldiers everywhere. Michèle points out that in almost all villages in France there is a memorial to those who died during WW I both not much to honour those who died in WW II. There are some memorials to honour the those who were in the Resistance only.

Some members commented on the mother/daughter relationships in this book, Framboise and Mirabelle, Framboise and her daughter. The book Mirabelle created writing her thoughts and recipes helped Framboise better understand her mother and brought her closer to her own daughter Pistache.

Jolene, who always brings something a bit different and interesting to the discussion saw in the description of "Mother" the Pike as similar to pighead on a stick in Lord of the Flies.

All , in all, everyone enjoyed the book. Michèle suggests those who particularly enjoy Joanne Harris' writing might want to try Holy Fools and The Lollipop Shoes.