Monday, December 5, 2011

Meeting of November 28 2011

Our host this month was Beth.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. All were present for this last meeting of 2011!  To put us in the mood of an English countryside in this novel, Beth served some wonderful english cheeses and a great ginger chutney.  She also prepared a delicious English trifle. Thank you Beth.

The book choice this month presented by Carla was Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.  Ms Brooks was originally an Australian journalist who worked as a foreign journalist for both Australian newspapers and eventually also American newspapers including the Wall Street Journal.  She worked principally in the Middle East.  She eventually became an American citizen.   Ms. Brooks has written 6 books, the last four are fiction.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006 for her novel March about the March girls' from Little Women absent father, gone to fight in the American Civil War.

Year of Wonders is a historical novel, taking place in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665-1666.  When the plague arrived in the village, the Rector convinced the community to quarantine itself and contain the plague within their community avoiding it from becoming widespread in England.  The story is narrated by Anna Frith, the housekeeper of the Rectory.  The other main characters are the Rector Michael Mompellion and his wife Elinor.  They together, work tirelessly to tend to the needs of the sick and help those still healthy.  There are several other characters including Anna's father Josiah Bont a miserable, mean person, his wife Aphra, Anna's selfish step-mother; Anys Gowdie and her mother Mem, the village herbalists and midwives and Anna's boarder, George Viccars.  All members felt that there was some excellent character development by Ms. Brooks,  both for the major persons such as Anna, the Rector and his wife Elinor and the more minor characters that were complex and interesting.

All members agreed that Ms. Brooks described very well the atmosphere of 17th century village life, of a mining and agricultural community.  She wrote in a language of the time and did not shrink from describing the realities of life in that time, the fragility of new borns, the filth, the never ending chores and work of both men and women, the belief in the wrath of God and also the superstitions and panic that can spread because of ignorance.  Some of us found parts of the story wrenching and difficult to read.  When Anna descends into the lead mine, the tension that is created can raise your blood pressure and even though you know that Anna is a main character and narrator you wonder if she will come out of the mine alive.  The lynching of Anys Gowdie is extremely well described. The hatred and desperation leaps off the page.

All members enjoyed the book but several of us were surprised by the ending, the last 50 pages.  Michèle read a review taken from Goodreads that gives the book 4 stars for the first 255 pages and one star for the last 50 pages.  Though some were pleased by the "happy" ending many of us felt that there was a definite disconnect with the story itself and that the description of how Anna turns her life around and where she finds herself is not at all true to the realities of the time in which the story is situated and so well described in the first 255 pages.

Beth read a part of a hymn written by Martin Rinkart in the 16th century that she feels describes the message that Rector Mompellion tried to pass on to his flock.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Historical novels always allow us to acquire knowledge of a past events and places and we have all enjoyed Year of Wonders for this reason.  Thank you to Carla for a good choice.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meeting of October 24th 2011

Our host for this month was Shirley.  Present along with Shirley were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene, Linda and Michèle.  Shirley served wonderful sausage, chorizo and a sweet sausage with an apple chutney.  She also served apple quesadilla and cream cheese and crab quesadilla.  She had a wonderful fruit dessert with vanilla ice cream.  Very nice.

The book choice this month presented by Jane was Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart.  Ms. Urquhart is a Canadian writer and this is her 8th novel.  She has also written 4 books of poetry, edited a Book of Canadian Short Stories and a biography of L.M. Montgomery.  In 2001 she was nominated for the Giller Prize for The Stone Carvers.  The Book Club read it in 2006.

In Sanctuary Line, the narrator Liz Crane is an entomologist who specializes in monarch butterflies.  Jane who is a member of the Monarch Teacher Network, gave us an enthusiastic explanation of the life of a monarch butterfly and its migration patterns from Canada to Mexico.  She also explained the goals of the Monarch Teacher Network in using monarchs as a learning tool in science, geography, about change and the need to use our environment responsibly.

Most members liked the book, however found it slow at the beginning and found it difficult to settle into the book. There are several themes in the book, migration, immigration, cultural differences, oppression of migrant workers among others.  As in The Stone Carvers Ms. Urquhart is very good at describing landscape.  There is a definite sense of place in her books.  The story of Sanctuary Line takes place mainly in south western Ontario along the shores of Lake Erie.  Those of us who know the area could easily imagine it and others could easily picture the flat farm lands of the area and the shoreline of the lake.  She has given fictitious names to many locales but the area was still quite identifiable.

The book has a melancholy feel to it and memories of loss and tragedy are what moves the plot along.  Many of Liz's  memories of her summers on the farm with her aunt and uncle describe awkward experiences such as her uncle's attempt to have all square dance, the tension between Uncle Stanley and Aunt Sadie palpable, especially when Stanley urges Teo and his mother to join.  The visits to the old school where Uncle Stanley once taught have a very melancholy feel.  Stories from the past that Stanley recites are often tragic, the barn fire, the Butler lighthouse keepers.  One member noted that none of the "couple" relationships lasted, Stanley and Sadie,  Stanley and Dolores, Mandy and Vahil and Liz herself and Teo.

Some members like the ending and other did not.  However, all in all, we all felt it was a good choice. Thank you Jane.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Books and Meetings in 2012

The list will be updated as members choose their books.

Monday January 23 -  Michèle's choice The Mark of the Angel by Nancy Huston,  Michèle hosting

Monday February 27 - Betty's choice The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Betty hosting

Monday March 26 -  Colette's choice Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, Carla hosting

Monday April 23 -  Janet's choice Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, Jane hosting

Monday May 28 -  Linda's choice The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, Colette hosting

Monday June 25 -  Beth's choice, Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner, Linda hosting

Monday September 24 - Shirley's choice, Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, Jolene hosting

Monday October 22 - Jane's choice, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, Shirley hosting

Monday November 26 - Carla's choice Unorthodox,The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, Beth hosting

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Meeting of September 26, 2011

Our host was Colette for this first autumn meeting. Present were along with Colette, Beth, Betty, Carla, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley.  Colette had prepared wonderful sweet potato, basil and tapenade hors d'oeuvres, tandoori chicken, cheese and a wonderful fruit pie made by her husband Dan. She also served California wines.

Before discussing this month's book, we had a short discussion on what is necessary for a book to be considered a modern classic.  Beth, who is an English teacher gave us an excellent interpretation of what she feels is a modern classic.  She feels, and we agreed with her, there must be some perspective, distance of time.  Often a classic book will be quoted by other authors, in interviews, articles, etc.  She quoted Alexander Pope's couplet "What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed." They express profound thoughts that stay in people's minds. Classics are also often books first published in a new style and are at the beginning of a new trend in writing style or theme.

The book choice was Secret Daughter by Shilpa Somaya Gowda and was presented by Shirley.  Ms. Gowda is Canadian born and raised who now lives in California.  This is her first novel.  She began her career as an investment banker and then migrated to writing.  She is presently working on her second novel.  Shirley chose this book because it had many themes that she thought could be discussed; mother/daughter, cultural differences, sex selection, extreme poverty vs. rich, adoption and many more.

All enjoyed the book very much and as was expressed by Colette, books that allow us to learn something new about a culture or subject are always interesting.  We all noted the difference in how Ms. Gowda was much more descriptive as to the climate,  smells, sights, sounds, clothing, food, surroundings and people in India than in California.  It highlighted vivid dynamic India and bland California in North America.  Her description of the slums in Mumbai were descriptive but she did not go into as much detail as a previous book we read City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre.  The slums were not the core of the story in Secret Daughter.

We discussed Somer's character, the American mother,  quite extensively.  Some of us saw her as selfish and rigid, unwilling to embrace her Indian husband's culture.  However,  in further discussion many saw that her infertility changed her completely.  Though she was a self-assured professional career woman, she became an insecure woman, unsure of herself in every aspect of her life, as a doctor, mother and wife.

As in several of our last chosen books, identity is a strong theme in this story.  Somer has lost herself, consumed by her infertility.  Her husband Krishnan has tried to blend into American society, embracing everything american, even meals such as Thanksgiving with "bland" mash potatoes and all the fixings.  Asha as she grows up, constantly wonders about her identity not able to identify quite with her friends who have two parents of Indian descent nor her friends who are "all american".  She longs to know who her biological parents are and writes them letters that she hides from her parents.  Jasu, Asha's biological father loses himself in drink when he cannot support his family.

Ms Gowda wrote an excellent story depicting the differences in culture, how it impacts on people and how some adapt and some do not.  Many of us mentioned that we would read other books by Ms. Gowda.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Meeting of June 27th, 2011

Our host for the last meeting of the Muse & Views Bookclub before the summer break was Linda.  Present were Beth, Carla, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Linda prepared a great snack for us with of course, both red and white wine, always present at our meetings.

The book choice was Beth's Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Mr. Ishiguro is a Japanese born British author well known for his book The Remains of the Day that won the Man Booker Prize and was made into a very popular film.  He has written 6 novels, plays and short stories. Never Let Me Go has a science fiction base as it is about cloning.  Though there is nothing in the story line that describes the raison d'être Hailsham, it becomes evident as we progress through the novel that these children are being groomed for the  health benefit of others.  The story is narrated by Kathy who is in her mid-twenties at this point and as she tells us her story and her friends Ruth and Tommy, she goes back and forth in time.

This book generated the most interesting, fulsome and animated discussion of any book in the past year.  While some of us liked the book some of us did not like the writing style.  However, we came to a consensus that maybe the style was dictated by the age and limited experience of Kathy the narrator. The book has a moody, dark and sad atmosphere. All of us were horrified by the emerging plot and realization of the reason for Hailsham and the acceptance of society for the program.

The previous book discussed The Forgotten Garden, was partly about self-identity and the importance of knowing who we are and where we come from.  It is evident in this book that the young people, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy wanted to know where they came from.  They travelled to Norfolk because someone had possibly seen a Ruth lookalike and Kathy went through the porn magazines left at the cottages to see if she recognized faces because someone had said that they had been cloned by prostitutes or others of that seedy part of society.

Some of the comments from members were that this book reminded them of books such as 1984 and Brave New World, both books about how society can be controlled and truth skewed.  Gattaca, a story about genetic enhancement was also mentioned. Some compared the control of society as similar to slavery.  The movie The Island, also about cloning was also mentioned.

We had a lengthy discussion about the ethical issues around the use of others to benefit ourselves or members of our family such as couples who have another child to help an ill older child with the harvest of a kidney or the bone marrow transplants.  We also talked about gender selection, genetic enhancement and other ethical issues.

Linda, who did not enjoy the book, decided to read other novels from Mr. Ishiguro.  She read The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans.  She felt the need to understand why he is such a celebrated author.  She recommends we read When We Were Orphans that she says is the best of those she read.

Have a great summer and we shall see you all in September!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Meeting of May 30th 2011

Our host this month was Jolene. Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. All were present!  Jolene prepared a very nice ham and cheese roll and other great hors d'oeuvres.  We also had a very nice strawberry and whipped cream cake.

The book choice was Jolene's The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  Ms. Morton is Australian and studied both in England and Australia.  The Forgotten Garden is her second book of three that have been published.  The story is situated in Australia and England and has three main characters in three different time periods.  Ms. Morton drew from parts of her own life in writing this book.  Her grandmother found out at age 21 that she was adopted and kept it to herself until she was an old woman.  Her home in Brisbane is very much like Nell's home, close to Antique shops and tucked into the Paddington hillside. And she heard many stories of family members immigrating to Australia from Europe.

The majority of members very much enjoyed the book, found the characters well developed and were captivated by the story.  Even though the story is situated in three different time periods most found it easy to follow.  All found the fairytales that were inserted into the story, written by The Authoress added another element to the book.  Several members mentioned the connections to Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca and  some to the scenes portrayed by Dickens such as how Eliza was treated by Mrs Swindell, Sammy's death on the streets of London and Eliza's tragic death.

There were some interesting themes, for example a lot about motherhood, the need and desperation to become a mother as Rose felt, surrogate motherhood, the relationships between mothers and daughters, Nell and her daughter Leslie, Nell and her granddaughter Cassandra, Rose and her mother and Eliza's desperate and tragic attempt to take back her daughter after Rose's and Nathaniel's deaths.  

Many of us enjoyed the book and felt it was romantic in its depiction of scenery and characters, especially in England, Cliff Cottage, the walled garden, Nathaniel's drawings that illustrated Eliza's fairytales.  There was a magical environment to the stories and characters, Eliza so tragic, Linus, evil and creepy, Rose, manipulative,  Lady Adeline, uptight and mean.

There was some discussion on our need to know our complete identity and where we come from and how that influenced Nell's whole life and her relationships with her sisters, her daughter and her granddaughter.

Thanks to Jolene for this book, we hope that she may come to enjoy it as much at some point in time

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meeting of April 18th, 2011

Our host this month was Jane at Colette's home.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle and Shirley. Jane prepared a great snack for us, some wonderful cheese and pork balls with sauces.

The book choice was Janet's In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje.   Mr. Ondaatje is a Canadian citizen born in Sri Lanka.  He arrived as a young man and completed his studies at Bishop's University, University of Toronto and Queen's University.  He has taught at several Canadian universities. He has been awarded 5 Governor General's awards, the Giller prize, the Man Booker prize and France's most prestigious award, the Prix Médicis.

This story is situated in Toronto and some parts of rural Ontario  in the 1930's in settings that are very familiar to people who have lived in Toronto and those who know the Muskoka region well.  This was a part of the novel that many of our members enjoyed because they could visualize the scenes quite easily.  It is a book written of a time when Worker's Unions were beginning to take shape everywhere across the world.  It describes a more seedy and violent side of trade unionists than what we may have witness in our time.

Most members felt that it was certainly not an uplifting story.  However, some felt it reaches through you when you are in pain, and that it takes a particular  frame of mind to enjoy the book and get the most out of the novel.  It is a story of people who living dreadful lives that make them react to events in their life in sometimes inappropriate ways for society.  None of Ondaatje's characters are particularly sympathetic. He  is very descriptive in setting scenes, almost like a script for a play.

Two of the characters in this book come back in Ondaatje's The English Patient, Carravagio and Hana.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meeting of March 28, 2011

Our host this month was Carla and the book choice was Colette's Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson.  Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Jolene and Michèle were present. Carla had prepared a proper English tea for us,  fancy sandwiches, cucumber, radishes, cream cheese and tuna, without crusts and cut round and triangles, wonderful sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam. Of course we were also served a proper tea in a proper china tea set.

Before we begin discussion about this month's book, Jolene has a suggestion about the May book The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  It is a voluminous book with many characters.  For those who will not be reading it in one or two long sittings, she suggests that you keep a record of the characters and their relationships.  This will help in remembering what has previously happened in the story.

Colette gave us some information about the author Bill Bryson.  He is an American writer who lived in Great Britain for several years.  He has written several travelogues such as this month's book, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under and books about science such as A Short History of Nearly Everything.   He is presently living in Great Britain.

We all found some parts of the book amusing, some of us more than others.  There is a theme of love of the country and its people throughout the book that is obvious.  His powers of observation are excellent that lead him to describe many anecdotes with detail that may seem trivial but end up by becoming important in the story. He describes his encounters in scottish pubs that reminded some of us of similar encounters with people in Scotland, an accent and expressions so particular to the Scots that it was very difficult to follow any conversation or answer their questions!  He comments that the British would make good communists, not because they would want other than a democracy but rather that they tend to accept what cannot be changed, what they have no choice but to endure without protest such as line-ups for the train or traffic on the highways.

In general most enjoyed the book and its anecdotes that made them laugh.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meeting of February 28, 2011

Our host was Betty and this month's book was Michèle's choice, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  All members were present including Linda via Skype.  Betty provided lovely hors d'oeuvres mini egg rolls and mini spanakopitas.  We were also treated to a lovely cake with strawberries and blueberries.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a story of several persons of the christian Igbo group in Nigeria, a young servant boy named Ugwu, Odenigbo a mathematics professor, twin sisters Olanna who lives with Odenigbo and Kainene and her white lover Richard.  There are also many other characters in the tale. Their stories become intertwined as the civil war evolves.

Many members found the story a difficult read, and some felt a sense of dread as they read it. As the story progresses we find out more and more about the cruelty and conflict that caused death and famine.  Several members pointed out the difference between the Igbo people represented by the young servant boy Ugwu and the "elite" represented by Odenigbo and his university friends.   The contrast is very evident and the naivety of the educated stands out in the discussions about independence in Odenigbo's dinner parties with friends, and the reality of civil war as it takes its toll .

We discussed how Ms. Adichie is good at describing the atmosphere and the importance of food whether it is in Odenigbo's home and his dinner parties or in Ugwu's mother's home in his home village.  We noted the importance that food has in the story from the abundance available before the war began to the famine the lack of food created.  She created in both circumstances a sense of place and what life was about in both worlds.

We also discussed Kainene and Richard's relationship and all felt that Richard was a weak man.  There was consensus that Kainene was a strong woman who had chosen a weak man.  We also discussed why Richard was in Nigeria, why had he moved there and many felt that we don't find out much about his political views or thoughts.

 Despite the difficult background of the Nigerian civil war members  enjoyed the book and as with several books this year, the historical side of the story was much appreciated. In North America, we knew this war as the Biafran war and it was associated to famine.  This book has given us the chance to learn more about the conflict and its impact on Africa.

Those who would like to read more from Ms. Adichie, can read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus or her book of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Meeting of January 24, 2011

The Muse and Views Book Club met at Michèle home to discuss Betty's choice Where the River Ends by Charles Martin.  Present were Betty, Carla, Jane, Janet, Jolene, Michèle & Shirley.  Feeling nostalgic, Michèle made her mother's recipe for a dip with vegetables among other hors d'oeuvres and her mother's recipe for Tarte Fleur de Lys.

Before beginning the discussion on this month's book, the "Academy Award" of 2010 was announced.  Each member had the opportunity to vote.  The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill recommended by Shirley received 5 of the 10 votes. The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown recommended by our newest member Jane, came in second with 3 votes.  Congratulations Shirley!

Charles Martin is an American author who lives in Florida.  He has several degrees including a Ph.D. in communications.  He has written 7 novels; Where the River Ends is his 6th book.  He was inspired to write the book when he met the parents of a young woman whose husband served her with divorce papers in the hospital.  As he paddled down St. Mary's River in his kayak, the story of Abbie and Doss developed in his mind, thinking about the spouse who stays through the journey while his wife slowly dies.

Generally everyone enjoyed the book except for one person who found the story too incredulous to be believable.  Most of us have known someone who has died or is living with cancer and in many ways the story touched us as we thought of the persons we knew.

Many saw a correlation between the journey down the St. Mary's River and the journey cancer victims take through the many treatments as they strive to beat the disease.  As Abbie began treatments, she lost her breast, her hair because of the chemo.  She lost all her physical beauty, all hope of a cure or treatment that would allow her to survive and she is left with only the will to continue.  At the beginning of their voyage down the river they are robbed of everything they brought with them except for one canoe, a paddle and Abbie's medication, the bare minimum needed to continue the journey. Only their will to finish the journey survives. Several of us, however, grew tired of the river descriptions and some skimmed the descriptions of the river banks, the bends in the river and the vegetation.  Many of us liked the end of the book and the connection Doss finally achieved with his father-in-law.

The discussion turned to coping with illness and how hope is necessary to have the will to continue when faced with an illness such as cancer.  Several of us relayed experiences we had witnessed.  It was for several of us, the opportunity to share.  Thank you Betty for a good choice.

Those who chose not to read the book because you knew you would not attend this meeting might want to pick up the book.