Saturday, May 4, 2019

Meeting of April 29, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

Our April meeting was hosted by Jane.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  Jane had a very nice variety of cheeses, parmesan crusted cold cuts, her great pickled veggies and baguette stuffed with olives.  In honour of Tish's given name, Jane made a Clementine cake that was quite wonderful.  As usual red and white wine was served and tea.  

We discussed Beth's book choice If Beale Street Could Talk written by the American author James Baldwin.  Mr. Baldwin, having had a difficult childhood growing up in Harlem with a demanding step-father and multiple siblings escaped his family life when he could, going to Greenwich Village where he met artists and writers.  He wrote several short stories and published his first book Go Tell it on the Mountain in 1953 when he was 29 years old.  This first book was semi-autobiographical and referred to religion and life as a black person in Harlem.  Mr. Baldwin published over 20 books, novels, essays and plays,  He was also well known as an activist travelling back to the United States from France where he lived for several years, to participate in activities of the civil rights movement.  He was well known and considered an important American author.

If Beale Street Could Talk was published in 1974 and is the love story of Fonny and Tish. Fonny is falsely accused of rape and finds himself in jail as Tish waits for the birth of their first child.  Strong family ties and the love between the young couple and their family allow them to survive even though racism flourishes in New York and leaves Fonny jailed and his family desperately trying to find hard, believable evidence to free him.  There is despair and rage in the writing of this novel but there is also love and hope.

Everyone liked this book, found the story beautiful but emotionally raw.  Many found that the story tore at their soul, showed us how injustice was prevalent in the U.S. and still is.  We also discussed how, though more hidden and less reported, such injustices existed in our own country, notably in Nova Scotia's Africville in the 1900's and now in many areas of our large cities such as Toronto.  We also talked about the injustices towards our own indigenous people.

The ending is ambiguous.  We are not sure if Fonny is set free or has to stay in jail.  It is an ambiguity that mirrors life in the black community.

Thank you Beth for a great book choice that brought a lot of discussion and reflection.  We also talked about the differences between the book and the movie that came out in 2018. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from The Dry to Rebecca's Tale

The Dry (Aaron Falk, #1)

 Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #1) Still Alice  Wide Sargasso Sea
Jane Eyre Rebecca Rebecca's Tale
This is our 24th participation in the Six Degrees of Separation hosted by Kate at “booksaremy favouriteandbest” blog. It has been enjoyable and sometimes challenging! More often than not, the Muse & Views Book Club has not read the starter book, as is the case again this month, but that has not stopped us from taking up the challenge to link to a book that our club has read.

The Dry by Jane Harper is her debut novel, a mystery with police investigator Aaron Falk returning to old stomping grounds. Our first reaction this month was that Muse & Views Book Club has not read many mysteries. However, the first to come to mind is Still Life by famed Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny. As it happens, it was also a debut novel for Ms. Penny and several more mysteries have followed with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Ms. Penny is a favourite author and friend of the former American President Bill Clinton and his equally famous wife Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The next connection by similar title is to Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, though the word ‘still’ has a very different meaning. It is the moving story of a University professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s. Though this tragic novel is not a mystery, the mysteries of such a terrible disease are evident in this novel.

Going back to a ‘real’ mystery, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys tells the story of the mysterious person in the attic from a classic novel of the 19th century. She reveals to us why the young Antoinette Cosway, Edward Rochester’s wife, became the “mad woman” of such a classic and famous novel.

So, you will certainly have guessed that our next connection is to that classic Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Brontë. Jane, hired by Mr. Rochester to care for the young Adèle, falls in love with Edward. She wonders about the mysteries of Thornfield Hall, the strange noises at night, the screams. It is not just a love story but also very much a mystery.

Staying with a classic novel, though more modern, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has a similar theme of a young orphaned woman involved, in this case married with an older man, living on the large English estate of Manderley. When she arrives with her new husband, she finds that her husband’s late wife’s shadow is everywhere. Rebecca is considered a gothic novel but there are mysteries that scare Rebecca and the reader!

While Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre and we now go to a sequel to Rebecca with the novel Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman. This novel, set 20 years after Manderley Estate burns to the ground, is a true mystery as a young scholar, Terrence Gray, searches for the truth behind Rebecca’s mysterious death.

We have gone from a true mystery debut novel The Dry to a super Canadian debut mystery novel Still Life, deviating to a tragic story of an illness and back to mysteries in classic novels.  All books have been read by the Muse and Views Book Club. How long will we be able to last? See you next month.

If you wish to see how others have linked their books beginning with The Dry,  go to Six Degrees of Separation

Friday, April 5, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from How to be Both to Tuesdays with Morrie

How to Be Both 

Annabel The Shipping News The Light Between Oceans
Where the River Ends Twelve Golden Threads: Lessons for Successful Living from Grama's Quilt Tuesdays with Morrie

This month’s starter book is How to be Both by Ali Smith, a story told two ways in two different time periods. This is not a book any of our club members is familiar with so going from Goodreads reviews and descriptions we find that it is of the interplay of life and art, how we tell stories and create art, gender and sexuality, and how past decisions affect the present.

The book description brought to mind Annabel by Kathleen Winter. The story, set in Newfoundland and Labrador on Canada’s far east coast, is of the dual identity of the main character, a mixed-gendered child who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both at once. The mother makes the difficult decision to raise the child as a boy named Wayne, while continuing to quietly nurture the boy’s female side. And as Wayne grows into adulthood within the hyper masculine hunting society of his father, his shadow-self, a girl he thinks of as ‘Annabel’ is never entirely extinguished.

In Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Shipping News, when Quoyle's two-timing wife meets her just deserts, he retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on Newfoundland’s rocky coast. As Quoyle confronts his private demons and past decisions, he begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery.

For our next link we go with M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans. Set in 1918 Australia, it is the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who make one devastating choice that forever changes two worlds.

Once again, a story of life decisions in Charles Martin’s Where the River Ends, the idyllic life of fishing guide and artist, Doss, and his beautiful model wife, Abigail, is tested when she is diagnosed with cancer. Abbie makes a list of ten things she wants to accomplish before she loses her battle. The most daring on her list is a 130-mile trip down the St. Mary’s River, a trip down the river that had such an influence on her husband growing up.

In Aliske Webb’s book, Twelve Golden Threads: Lessons for Successful Living from Grama’s Quilt, we once again find the interplay of life and art. The grandmother who, while teaching her two granddaughters the basics of the art of quilting, passes on the wisdom of traditional truths necessary for a meaningful life.

And life lessons are the mainstay in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Here the author chronicles his own interactions with his mentor and professor, Morrie Schwartz. As Morrie faces his final days fighting ALS, Mitch visits him every Tuesday when they take time to discuss life, aging, love and death.

Life lessons and life-changing decisions has been the principal link to take us this month from How to be Both to Tuesdays with Morrie.

To see what others have submitted go to this link Six Degrees of Separation Enjoy! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Meeting of March 25th, 2019

The March meeting was hosted by Colette.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  Colette had some wonderful cheese and crackers,  lovely savoury puff pastry hors d'oeuvres, a scrumptious amoretto cheesecake and of course, wine, coffee and tea.

This month's book presented by Betty was The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman.  Ms. Wiseman is a first generation American, her family immigrated to the U.S. from Germany.  The Plum Tree was her first novel, published in 2012.  It was inspired by the stories her mother told her of life in Germany during World War II. She has since written 3 more novels.

The Plum Tree follows a young working class woman and her family as they struggle through the chaos and devastation of World War II in Germany.  Before the war, Christine and her mother worked for an affluent Jewish family, the Bauerman's in their village and she falls in love with the young man of the family, Isaac.  As the war begins, she and her mother are forbidden from working for the Jewish family. Christine and Isaac try to see each other in secret but it eventually becomes impossible and dangerous and as the war continues, the Bauerman's are taken to the Concentration Camp, Dachau. The story chronicles the difficult life of her family and Christine's constant search for Isaac.

Members thought the book was a good read and found it interesting to have a story from the perspective of a German family.  There was a lot of detail about daily life during the war, the rations, the struggle to keep a kitchen garden so that vegetables and fruit were available for the family.  We learn what the family ate, the rye bread that the mother made, the eggs they gathered from the hens they managed to keep, the goat's milk they diluted to ensure everyone in the family had their ration.  Plum trees in the garden provided preserves in the winter.

There is significant description of the destruction of towns and villages, the air raids and shelters where villagers gathered when the Allied planes dropped their bombs.  There were also some horrendous scenes described from Dachau.

Some members expressed scepticism with respect to the love story since Christine and Isaac had little time together.  However one of our members told the story of her parents who knew each other for only a few months before her father was sent Europe during the war and their love grew and endured the long absence.  They also felt it was a bit incredulous that Christine could travel back to Dachau to look for her father and the plot that was concocted to prove Stefan's (a SS officer from their village) involvement in the atrocities committed in Dachau.  It did however add a lot of drama to the story.

The story does have a happy ending that is important for some of our members however we felt that it ended too quickly, everything tied up in a ribbon type of ending.  Though it could have been better edited, we felt it was a good first novel.  Thank you Betty for a good choice this month.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from The Arsonist to A Boy of Good Breeding

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

The Stars Are Fire Alias Grace Sanctuary Line
The Hatbox Letters Letters from Wingfield Farm A Boy of Good Breeding

The starter book this month is The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, a non-fiction book based on the devastating fires of 2009 in Australia’s Victoria State. It is the hunt for a fire-lighter. The Arsonist has been long-listed for Australia’s Stella Prize for the best book of the year written by a woman. It is not yet available in North America.

The obvious book to follow is our most recent read, The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. The book, though fiction, begins with an account of the 1947 fires in the U.S. state of Maine that destroyed 9 coastal towns, over 800 homes and left 2500 people homeless. It tells the story of a young wife, Grace, who does not know if her husband has survived the fires but she manages to thrive despite losing her home and the baby she was carrying.

What a lovely name, Grace, and that takes us to Margaret Atwood’s book Alias Grace, the tale of Grace Marks who has been convicted of killing her employer and his mistress. Though the book is fiction it is based on a true story of Grace Marks’ involvement in the killing of her employer in a Canadian town. Was Grace involved in the murder or simply an unwilling accomplice? But Grace has no memory of the day her employer was murdered and during her incarceration Dr. Jordan tries to bring back her memories of that day.

Memory is complicated and in Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart, Liz Crane has come back to live on the orchard farm once owned by her family. As she reflects on recent and past tragedies that have affected her family, she questions her memory of events and what others have told her. She wonders if her assumption of her idyllic safe childhood is reality.

Continuing on the theme of memory, in Beth Powning’s The Hatbox Letters, Kate Harding is having a difficult time moving forward and picking up the pieces of her life after the sudden death of her husband. In boxes of old letters and memorabilia from her grandparents’ 18th century home, she begins to see how the past is keeping her from moving on and creating a new life for herself.

Taking a completely different route, we link the next book by the title to Letters from Wingfield Farm by Dan Needles. This is a story of a stockbroker, Walt, who ditches his high finance life to work a farm on the edge of the Canadian Shield. He chronicles his adventures by writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. As he struggles to make a life for himself and questions if he really belongs on the farm, the small community he lives in comes to life.

In Miriam Toews A Boy of Good Breeding, Knute moves from the city back to her small hometown of Algren with her daughter and life in small town Canada which allows Knute to understand where she truly belongs.

So this month we have gone from fires in Australia and the U.S., to the complications and effects of memories, to life-changing decisions. This month Michèle managed once again to link to books we have read as part of the Muse and Views Book Club but have not been previously used in the Six Degrees meme.

If you wish to see how others connected The Arsonists, visit the Six Degrees Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meeting of February 25, 2019

The February meeting was hosted by Janet.  We were a small group, Colette, Janet, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  Janet provided us with a good array of cheese, crackers and smoked salmon and individual pavlovas with whipped cream and beautiful red strawberries from Mexico.

This month's book presented by Janet was On the Up by Canadian author Shilo Jones.  This is his first novel. Mr. Jones worked in several areas and along the way earned a B.F.A. from Simon Fraser University and an M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia.  He lived many years in Vancouver and now lives with his family in Kelowna, B.C.

It is safe to say that this book presents a very different side of Vancouver than that promoted by the Vancouver Tourist Board. Through the three main characters, the brothers Mark and Carl and the young journalist Jasminder it provides a very violent, seedy and criminal picture of the real estate market, mainly condo, of Vancouver or VanCity as it is often referred to by the characters in the book.  Several of the chapters begin with a stream of consciousness rant by one of the characters. The story is filled with scenes of racism, violence, misogyny that Shilo Jones admitted were hard to write but he felt necessary to the story line.

It made the book difficult and for some impossible to read.  It is the first time in the 21 year history of the Muse & Views Bookclub that the majority of our members did not read the book to its conclusion. The book is well written and if you can get through the first two hundred pages, the latter half is easier to read and you become intrigued and those who finished it, say you want to find out what happens.

Janet was brave to assign us this book.  I don't think we will be reading any future novels by Shilo Jones.

At our last meeting we chose, Shirley's book of 2018, A Gentleman in Moscow is the recipient for the first Jolene Bale Award.  We were pleased to present Shirley with the certificate at this month's meeting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Meeting of February 4, 2019 (replaced January meeting cancelled because of weather)

Our January meeting, held February 4th because of weather, was hosted by Colette.  Present were Betty, Colette, Jane, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  Colette had a great array of cheese, crackers, a dip and wonderful warm stuffed pastry rolls.  She served a pecan pie for dessert and of course, wine, coffee and tea were also available.

In January of each year we choose the best book of the previous year.  This year A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles presented by Shirley won.  We also awarded the Jolene Bale Award named in honour of our dear friend and original member of the Muse & Views Bookclub who passed away in August 2017.  It also went to Shirley for A Gentleman in Moscow.  Congratulations Shirley!

This month's book presented by Michèle was The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve.  Ms. Shreve was born in Boston in 1946 and died in March 2018.  This was her last of 19 books.  Muse & Views read one of her most popular books The Pilot's Wife in 2002.

We all agreed that this book is an easy read and most of us wished she had given more information about the fires that are a historical fact.  A few of our members enjoyed the book, one member found it to be almost like a thriller.  Would Grace and Rosie survive the fire huddled in the ocean?  Was Gene dead, would he come back? Would Grace find her mother?  Several of our members found the book a bit like a Harlequin Romance and felt that there were just too many coincidences. When the whole village burnt to the ground, Grace's mother-in-law's house survived. When Grace's daughter became ill, she found a job with the new doctor who treated her daughter.  She found the jewels  hidden in the hems of her mother-in-law's glamorous clothing that permitted her to buy a car and help her feed her family.  As Grace's confidence grew, everything seemed to fall in place, even after Gene came home and set her back she found the strength to improve her life.

We discussed the title The Stars are Fire that comes from a quote in Shakespeare's play Hamlet.  Marg had done some research and in a letter to Ophelia, Hamlet begins by saying Doubt the Stars are Fire, Doubt that the sun doth moves... trying to convince her that she should not doubt his love for her.  The title could have to do with the pianist Aidan's love for Grace.

So we had mixed feelings about the story. For those of us who have read several of Ms. Shreve's novels, it is certainly not her best.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from Fight Club to The Orenda

Fight Club
The Last King of ScotlandThe Count of Monte CristoA Man Called IntrepidAlone in the ClassroomThe Other Side of the BridgeThe Orenda

February starts with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. This is not a book read by the Muse and Views Book Club and we adhere to our own rules when it comes to Six Degrees of Separation – we must have read the book as a club to be included in the game.

According to Goodreads, ‘This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.’ In looking over twenty years’ worth of books, it is difficult to find a lot of darkness which may say something about our members and their taste in books. To that end, one title stood out and that also was a time that we deviated from the norm. We chose a movie, The Last King of Scotland, which is based on a 1998 novel by journalist Giles Foden. For those unfamiliar with it, this is the story of the rise of Ugandan President Idi Amin and his reign as dictator from 1971 to 1979.

Perhaps we could leave the modern world and into the classic world of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Here we have Edmond Dantés thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.

A tenuous link perhaps but A Man Called Intrepid could be our next book. Bill Stephenson, known as Intrepid, is the Canadian-born World War II spymaster whose story brings with it politics, intrigue, heroism and espionage. Once again it is a fight against the darkness.

Darkness rears its ugly head in Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay. A Canadian book, set in 1929 in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa valley, it’s a book not easily defined – part murder mystery, part historical memoir, part travelogue, part character study. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood.

Next we link to another Canadian book, The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson who is a master of character development with an eye for detail. It has all the darkness of a story of sibling rivalry, jealousy, duty, guilt, obsessive infatuation, personal choices and the weight of expectations.

Our final link is to TheOrenda by Joseph Boyden and is perhaps the darkest of the novels linked to Fight Club. Fight Club details fights in after-hours boxing matches where two young men fight ‘as long as they have to’ while The Orenda begins with a brutal massacre and the violent kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl which re-ignites a deep rift between two tribes. It is not an easy or comfortable read; it is provocative, demanding that we examine our Canadian history with an unflinching eye.

So it turns out that Muse and Views Book Club has read a few dark passages over the years, linking books set in Uganda, France, Britain and back to our home country, Canada.

If you would like to see what other book lovers are presenting, click on Six Degrees of Separation . As we suffer through a horribly frigid winter, I know that summer in Australia is suffering through extreme heat.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation from The French Lieutenant's Woman to Brooklyn

The French Lieutenant's Woman ebook by John Fowles

Kamouraska ebook by Anne Hébert, Noah Richler The Piano Maker ebook by Kurt Palka The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - A Novel ebook by Jennifer Ryan 
The Music Shop ebook by Rachel Joyce Vaclav & Lena ebook by Haley Tanner Brooklyn ebook by Colm Toibin 
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is the jumping off point for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. The book is considered post-modernistic, it has a narrator, offers multiple endings, it has been categorized by some as a feminist novel. The novel was interpreted into a film produced by Harold Pinter, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.

Kamouraska, by the famed Québec novelist Anne Hébert, is the story of Elisabeth who is at the death bed of her second husband. She reflects on her life, her first marriage to a brutal man, her affair with the American doctor who found himself in the small village along the St. Lawrence River in Québec where Elisabeth lived, and her escape from prosecution for the murder of her first husband.

Both books were adapted to film with a conflicted woman as the main character; both were situated in beautiful, savage scenery by water (the St. Lawrence River in Kamouraska and the Atlantic Ocean in the village of Lyme Regis in Dorset County in The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Both films received critical reviews but floundered in popularity.

In Kamouraska, Elisabeth’s nightmarish past catches up to her in her dreams as she sits by her second husband’s death bed. In The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka, the main character, Hélène Giroux, arrives in a small village in Nova Scotia, where her nightmarish past catches up to her and she is arrested and tried.

In The Piano Maker, Hélène works as the pianist for the choir in the town church and music plays a part of the novel's background. In Jennifer Ryan’s novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, the town church and music reflect the struggles, affairs, deceptions, and triumphs of a village choir during World War II.

Music also plays an important part in the background of Rachel Joyce’s second novel, The Music Shop, where shop owner Frank finds the perfect music for each of his customer’s needs. Meanwhile, Frank is absolutely smitten by Ilse only to wonder where she disappeared to for years.

Like Frank, in Haley Tanner’s novel Vaclav & Lena, Vaclav wonders for seven years what happened to Lena.

Vaclav and Lena are Russian émigrés who find themselves in Brooklyn. This connects to our last book as protagonists Eilis Lacey from Ireland and Italian Tony make a life for themselves in Colm Tóibín’s novel, Brooklyn.

 So there we are, the Muse & Views Book Club submits its Six Degrees participation for the first month of 2019, from England to Brooklyn via Québec, Nova Scotia and Brooklyn, New York.

If you would like to see what other book lovers are presenting, click on Six Degrees of Separation