Monday, December 4, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from It to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Well we are a little late but here is our contribution completed this month by Shirley by herself!

It by Stephen King – story of children who see that which adults do not.

Keeping with ‘children’ as a link to the books, start with No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelin Michard – the story of a child being kidnapped, a family in crisis.

Followed by A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton where one moment’s inattention ends with the death of a child.

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards is the next link. After pushing a friend off a church roof, Sydney Henderson makes a pact with God that he will live a life without violence providing that the boy lives.

Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok is told from young Davita's point of view and we often share her frustration as she understands that very important things are happening and all she can do is wait to be told or try to figure it out for herself. As the deprivations of war and depression take a ruthless toll, Davita unexpectedly turns to the Jewish faith.

Also by Chaim Potok, the next link might be to The Chosen. This tells of the relationship between two Brooklyn boys Danny and Reuven, the world they grow up in, and their relationship with their fathers. The two negotiate adolescence, family conflicts, and the crisis of faith.

And the final link is The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. This is the story of the third generation of a Jewish immigrant family in Montreal. Duddy is combative, amoral, scheming, a liar, and totally hilarious.

This list makes the leap from the fright-inducing stories of Stephen King’s It to the hilarious Duddy Kravitz which is more in keeping with the Muse and Views book club selections.

Thank you Shirley!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays for all! 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Meeting of November 27th 2017

We met a Beth's home to discuss Shirley's book choice Home Front by Kristin Hannah.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Beth offered us a very nice array of hot and cold canapés along with a variety of nuts and sweets.  Of course we had the usual wine, red and white and tea and coffee.

Kristin Hannah is an American author and former lawyer.  She has written 20 novels, Home Front and The Nightingale are the most popular.  She has received several awards, especially for The Nightingale.

Home Front is a timely and intimate look at the effect of a deployment on a family.  Jolene, a helicopter pilot in the Reserves is deployed to Iraq and Michael, her husband, who is a lawyer, finds himself with the responsiblity of taking care of his daughters and keeping the home going.  As Jolene is about to leave, Michael expresses his doubts about their relationship.

Jolene finds her deployment and work in Iraq much more challenging than she had anticipated and the uncertainty of Michael's love and commitment to their relationship weighs on her emotions.  Michael begins to realize the sacrifices Jolene has made, the work she has put into their relationship and the lack of responsibility on his part in their relationship.

We all found the book to be a pager turner and easy read as the writing style is very straight forward.  The characters were well described and we found our feelings towards them changed as the situation changed.  Life on an Iraq base was well described, the heat, the dust and sand, having to line up to call home, the line ups for showers all made the difficult life soldiers had real.

The author described well the anger the characters felt,  Jolene’s inablity to speak out and Michael's concentration in his work to the detriment of his family, his inability to understand what Jolene was doing and the importance of her work for her as a person and a soldier.  She did a good job of describing the transition Michael went through as he found himself responsible for his children and the effect it has on his feelings towards Jolene.  

One of our members remembered that Tolstoy's Anna Karina begins "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy it its own way." It is a good description of this family and its struggles.  

Thank you Shirley for an interesting read.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation From Less Than Zero to the Language of Sisters

We missed last month but here we go again and I am surprised that we have been able to again use only books that we have read at the Muse & Views Bookclub.  

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis – story about the young adults from priviledged families, a lost generation

Rules of Civility by  Amor Towes  - the priviledged , how they live and how they suck in others who aspire to their type of life

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark – a popular teacher in a boarding school who believed that the rules of society were not necessarily to be followed. Again young adults from a priviledged background and rules

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro,  a boarding school with special relationships between boarders and the dark secret behind the School’s facade.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – the impact of a secret on a family when a decision is taken to give away a sister

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult -  the impact on a family when a decision is taken to help a child by giving her a sister.

The Language of Sisters  by Amy Yurk – sisters and their relationships 

There we are, another completed.  Next month Stephen King's It is going to be a challenge! Our Bookclub has never read thrillers!  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Meeting of October 23rd, 2017

We met at Shirley's home to discuss Jane's book choice The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan. Present were Beth, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  As usual, Shirley had a wonderful array of food for us, crab rolled sandwiches, stuffed cherry tomatoes, pigs in a blanket and wonderful bacon and fruit tarts.  She had a wonderful clementine cake, a Nigella Lawson recipe.  Click on the link to get the recipe.

This is Jennifer Ryan's first novel.  She was born in England and now lives in Washington DC with her husband and children. She was a book editor specializing in non-fiction books such as economics, politics, health and biographies.  The Chilbury Ladies' Choir was inspired by stories her grandmother told her, who was 20 when WWII broke out and who lived in a small British village.

The story is told in the novel through letters written by some of the characters and journal entries by other characters.  It is similar to an epistolary novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson told through a series of familiar letters. It could also be compared to Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 written by Joyce Denny's and part of the Bloomsbury Group.

As we read the journal entries and letters we not only learn about what is happening in the village of Chilbury during 1940 from March to September but we become acquainted with the main characters, Mrs. Tilling, Kitty, Venetia and Edwina Paltry. In reading the letters and journal entries we become familiar with other characters in the novel such as Prim the choir master, the Brigadier, Kitty and Venetia's father, Colonel Mallard, Henry and his fascination with Venetia and Kitty's puppy love for him, and Mr. Slater who Venetia targets on a dare by her friend Angela.

Most of us enjoyed the novel and found it a nice light easy read with interesting characters and a good story line.  The map of the village and the descriptions of the different buildings and areas of the village allowed us as readers to imagine the characters in their environment.  The Ladies Choir is a good unifying tool, allowing us to observe the interaction between the characters and also showing how, when war left a village with only the women and older men, the strengths and backbones of the village came from the women.

Several members commented on how  characters such as Venetia, Mrs. Tillings and Henry evolve as events happen and the story line changes.  At the beginning though Hitler is taking over many areas of Europe, England is unaffected, it is almost like a phony war.  As events occur and Hitler begins to bombard southern England, Dover is constantly hit and Chilbury is bombarded, the deaths of husbands and boys and those of loved members of the village, Prim and Harriet changes the narrative in the journals and letters. Venetia matures, not only because of these events but also because of her growing love for Alastair Slater. Mrs. Tillings becomes less timid and develops as a strong supportive person.

Some felt that there were some areas where we were left hanging a bit.  What happens to Mrs. Tilling's son David?  Does Edwina really get away without consequences? Some also felt that Kitty's journal entries were not the narrative of a 13 year old.

Though we found the book to be an easy light read, it had excellent character development, good references to how WWII affected England and villages.  It had two good love stories and though many events were quite predictable such as the baby swap and Mrs. Tilling and Colonel Mallard's developing relationship, it was enjoyable to read.

Thank you Jane for a good choice.

Books and Meetings 2018

The list will be updated as members choose their books.

Monday January 22nd -  Janet's book choice, Still Lifeby Louise Penny, Colette hosting

Monday February 26th - Carla's book choice, The Nightingale  by Kristin Hannah, Janet hosting

Monday March 26th - Betty's book choice, The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka, Carla hosting

Monday April 23rd - Michèle's book choice, Kamouraska by Anne Hébert, Jane hosting

Monday May 28th - Linda's book choice, Flee, Fly, Flown by Janet Hepburn, Shirley hosting

Monday June 25th - Beth's book choice, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, Linda hosting

Monday September 24th - Colette's book choice, They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson, Michèle hosting

Monday October 22nd -  Jane's book choice, The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, Betty hosting

Monday November 26th - Shirley's book choice,  Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Beth hosting

Monday, October 9, 2017

Meeting of September 25th, 2017

This is our first meeting since one of our founding members, Jolene, passed away.  We drank a glass of wine in her memory.  Members with us today are Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Michèle and Shirley.  Michèle served several cheeses and pâtés with grapes and figs, and with wine of course.  Naimimo bars, butter tarts and flourless chocolate cookies were served with tea and coffee. 

This month we are discussing Annie Proulx’s book, The Shipping News, Colette’s choice.  Annie Proulx, born Edna Ann Proulx in 1935 is an American author who began her writing career as a journalist.  She has written several novels and short stories.  Her latest novel is Barkskins.  One of her short stories, Brokeback Mountain, was turned into a very well-reviewed and received movie.  The Shipping News won several literary awards including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  It was also made into a movie with Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench and Julianne Moore.  Ms. Proulx wrote The Shipping News while staying in a cottage near l’Anse aux Meadows in northwest Newfoundland.

The Shipping News is a story about a New York reporter, Quoyle, who decides to move to Newfoundland with his aunt after difficult family life overwhelms him.  The aunt has an ancestral home in Newfoundland and together with  Quoyle’s daughters they move and slowly renovate the home.  Quoyle eventually finds work as a reporter writing about the shipping news on the island.  As in many of her books, there is little joy in this story; characters who are mean spirited, sexual abuse is rampant and very little kindness is apparent. Certainly Quoyle is very protective of his daughters and eventually Quoyle and Wavey get together but it is left to the last 15 pages.  One of our members who has read several of her short stories that are dark and depressing, described this book as her « happy » book.  One member who recently read her newest novel, Barkskins agrees that The Shipping News is not as dark.

Newfoundland’s depressed economy as the cod supply diminishes and Quoyle and his aunt’s stories are influenced by the impact the economy has on the people of Newfoundland.  She describes well life as it is on the island; it almost felt like flipping through an album or a scrapbook, seeing bits and pieces of lives and events that eventually fit together.

Her writing style, did irritate some of us: very short sentences with no verbs, sentences with no subject.  However her descriptions of the landscape and the sea, the rugged beauty were very well done.  Her descriptions of the sea and the weather were full, beautiful and scary in some parts.

She captured well all the characters, the meaness in some of them literally jumped off the page.  Quoyle was a very sympathetic person despite being downtrodden.  He is an ordinary, not particularly attractive person, who copes and perseveres. He is a patient man and as the story develops Quoyle moves closer to a life that offers him satisfaction and love. 

There was a sense in the story from the characters  and descriptions of the pull where we come from has on us as we grow older, how a very strong sense of place stays with us even if we move away. 

It was a worthwhile read, thank you Colette for an excellent choice that generated good discussion. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from Wild Swans to The Lotus Eaters - September 2017

One more time, the links are all connected from books read by our Muse and Views book club.

After reading about Wild Swans, the first linking book would definitely have to be our last book,  Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, a book describing one part of Mao's cultural revolution.

Follow that with another view of Mao's cultural revolution in Waiting by Ha Jin which outlines the government control in the rural countryside during the cultural revolution.

Then a link to Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie which is the story of the illiteracy resulting from that same cultural revolution.

Perhaps one could form the link then to The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi as it is the story of powerlessness and what happens at the loss of control of one's fate or future.

The next link could take us to Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. This book is a story of hardship and betrayal in 19th century China. It is also the story of friendship between women.

And for the sixth book, one that describes women's friendships and struggles would then take us to Vietnam with The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation - From Pride and Prejudice to Two Solitudes - August 2017

This is this month's Six Degrees of Separation contribution from the Muse & Views Book Club in Ottawa, Canada.  This month's has been prepared by Shirley.  It should be noted that Jane Austen is the favourite author of several of our members. 

1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, the ultimate romance novel.   

2. It must of course be followed up with Mr. Darcy Presents his Bride by Helen Halstead because Mr. Darcy played such a large part in Pride & Prejudice and is loved by so many that we needed to keep him around 

3. The followup link is  The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger as the 'bride' becomes 'wife', the husband is all important. 

4. And then as we think of 'time' we link The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon. (December 2005

5. Then we take another turn and look to 'dog' as we read Charles the Bold: The Dog Years by Yves Beauchemin. (January 2007

6. The next  link is the 'years' to  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 

7. And finally we  finish up with Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan. (April 2005), a political classic. 

There it is, Shirley has managed again to use all books that we have read in the 19 years of the Muse & Views Book Club.  How long we will be able to do this I don't know but it is interesting! 

If you would like to see how others have linked Pride and Prejudice click on the link Six Degrees of Separation. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from Picnic at Hanging Rock to La's Orchestra Saves the World

Here is Muse & Views Bookclub participation this month put together by Michèle and Shirley. Again all books are from our "read" list that you can find on our blog. I don't know how long we can continue using our list but here goes!  

Starter Book -  Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
It is considered a classic from Australia. Young Ladies from Appleyard College go on a picnic at Hanging Rock.  Three girls gone for a walk, never come back.  Some believe this is based on a true story.  This is not a book read by our Book Club. 

1.     Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt.  (read in 2000) Story with a suspicious death, based on a true story so they say. 

2.     The City of Fallen AngelsJohn Berendt.  The link here is the author. Though the story is also based on fact, apparently.  Story is set in the European city of Venice.

3.     The Mark of an Angel – Nancy Huston.  The link here is it is set in a European city, Paris, but there are also twists of history as the characters are affected by the violence unleashed by the Algerian  conflict and Saffie is affected by her youth in Germany during WW II . 

4.     Those WhoSave Us – Jenna Blum. The link here is the impact on Trudy’s life as an adult of her mother’s life in Nazi Germany during WW II.  We cannot get away from our past.

5.     All theLight We Cannot See Anthony Doerr.  The link here is WW II.  Again the impact on young lives.

6.     La’ s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith.  Again the link is WW II, a different way of coping.

There it is, our meme for this month.  If you would like to see how others linked Picnic at Hanging Rock, click on the link Six Degrees of Separation.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meeting of June 26, 2017

We met at Colette's and, although she was unable to attend, Jolene hosted.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. We began with a very nice wonton soup and lovely tea sandwiches, a very tasty dip and some nice cheese.  Jolene also made a wonderful frozen rasberry pie with a chocolate crust.  We also had a nice bubbly which some of us drank as a mimosa with orange juice.  Thank you Jolene.  The dessert was especially nice.

This month's book was Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien presented by Beth.  Ms. Thien was born in 1974 in Vancouver the year her parents immigrated to Canada. Her father was a Malaysian Chinese and her mother was from Hong Kong.  She studied Dance at Simon Fraser University and then completed an MFA in creative writing at UBC.  Do Not Say We Have Nothing is her fifth published book and second novel.  She also published two books of short stories and a children's book, The Chinese Violin.

Ms. Thien's last  two books, Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Dogs at the Perimeter, have dealt with repressive and cruel regimes in China and in Cambodia.  It has meant that she spent the last 10 years researching the devastation and cruelty caused by regimes that controlled the people of their country by fear, repression, starvation and cruelty.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is the story of three musicians in China, Sparrow a composer, Jiang Kai a pianist and Zhuli a young violinist. The story spans about 60 years beginning when Mao Zhedong came to power in 1949 through to the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989.  The story is narrated by Jiang Kai's daughter Marie who lives in Vancouver.  The story begins in Vancouver with Marie recounting her father, Kai's suicide in Hong Kong in 1989 not long after the events of Tiananmen Square.  The story recounts the trials and tribulations of the three musicians and their families through China's rollercoaster history, from the schemes of the "Great Leap Forward" era of the 1950's,  the famine especially in the countryside when Kai loses his whole family to starvation; the Cultural Revolution and the re-education camps that Zhuli's parents were forced to endure; the destruction of all Western- inspired culture when the Shanghai Conservatory of Music was closed and instruments were destroyed and the pro-democracy student-led demonstrations that ended with the massacres of Tiananmen Square.

Throughout the story the three musicians study and teach.  Western classical music is frequently referenced, beginning and ending with Glenn Gould's interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations.  Many of Ms. Thien's most beautiful passages come out of references to music such as Beethoven's Emperor Concerto when Marie is riding in the car with her father in Vancouver (pg 14) or when Sparrow listens with his father to Bach's Goldberg Variations No. 21.

"The seventh canon of Bach’s Goldberg Variations rolled towards Sparrow like a tide of sadness. Sparrow wanted to step out of the way but he was too slow and the notes collided into him. They ran up and down his spine, and seemed to dismantle him into a thousand pieces of the whole, where each part was more complete and more alive than his entire self had ever been.” Pg 74 
 All of us found the book to be a challenging read.  In the first half of the book, especially when it jumps from Vancouver to China and from one era to another, it is difficult to understand who is who and when events are taking place.  However, all found that the book is a worthwhile read.  One of our members described her phrasing as "delicious" and musical.  The complexity of the story required time, many of us taking three to four weeks to finish the book, and a couple of our members read it more than once.  It was informative as we learn a lot about China's modern history and how the decisions of its leaders impact the population and especially the two families we follow.

Beth suggested, for anyone who would like to learn more about China's modern History, Nien Cheng's book Life and Death in Shanghai published in 1986 and available at the Ottawa Public Library.  Michèle also suggested that we read Bob Douglas' review on the website "Critics At Large" The Power of Music and Remembering  .

Thank you Beth for selecting this challenging book and thank you Jolene for providing such wonderful food, good for the soul and spirit.