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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What We Thought: New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell

Afternoon Book Club
New Life, No Instructions
Gail Caldwell
October 2016

“Most of all I told this story because I wanted to say something about hope and the absence of it, and how we keep going anyway. About second chances, and how they’re sometimes buried amid the dross, even when you’re poised for the downhill grade. The narrative can always turn out to be a different story from what you expected” -- Gail Caldwell

Readers expressed mixed feelings about this book. They discussed it parts and not as a whole story. The part about the author’s rehab and recovery from a hip replacement took up most of the discussion. It prompted responses from readers about their own experiences with hip replacement surgery and recovery from serious illness. Readers also remembered that polio was a serious threat to their generation and spoke of direct experience with friends and relatives who contracted it. 

This memoir is a story of love and devotion. The author’s parents dedicated their lives to her and treating the effects of polio. Caldwell’s circle of friends is a testament to her strong character and true friendship. They supported her throughout her life in Cambridge without hesitation. Caldwell’s love for her dogs Clementine and Tula impressed readers. They were amazed at the attention and care she gave them despite her long and difficult recovery. 

Readers decided that this was just not a story about a woman and her dogs but also about how Gail Caldwell dealt with a dramatic change in her life, endured and persevered and went on to forge a new beginning with her family and friends, past and present.

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so for that pleasure…And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh! And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”   
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.

Have you read New Life, No Instructions? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.   

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What we thought? Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Afternoon Book Club  
September 2016
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

“There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves. An ocean worth crossing one dark mile at a time. The whole of the sky. And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonders, as Karen once said, the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.”                 
                             -------Paula McClain, Circling the Sun

Although the author has written Circling the Sun as fiction it reads like a biography of Beryl Markham who  lived in colonial Kenya at the same time as safari hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen coffee farmer and  writer of  Out of Africa as Isak Dinesen.

Readers were transfixed by the spirit of Beryl and her determination to live the life she chose despite obstacles along the way. They were fascinated about how she was able to take on traditional male occupations like horse training and flying airplanes despite her youth. She decided what she wanted and made a way to get it. She truly was a woman before her time. She didn’t care what people thought of her and weathered scandals and alleged affairs with Edward, Prince of Wales and his brother Harry.

Readers decided that her early childhood influenced her spirit and life path. Although her mother had abandoned her in Kenya taking her younger brother with her to England Beryl made another family and life- long ties with the native Kipsigis tribe who lived on Green Hills, her father’s farm.  Kibii the son of the tribal leader became her brother and she grew up with him in the warrior tradition. She was bold and afraid of nothing not even a lion that attacked and stood on her back. 

Readers admired how Beryl was not tamed by the men who desired her. They were impressed by her free spirit and the fact that she would not tolerate being controlled and turned into a traditional English wife. Denys Finch Hatton was the one man who appreciated her life and did not want to dominate or change her. He was the same soul who could not be contained by Beryl or Karen Blixen. Readers said they wanted to read more about Beryl and her own book, West With the Night.
“because you can’t chart a course around anything you’re afraid of. You can’t run from any part of yourself, and it’s better that you can’t. Sometimes I’ve thought it’s only our challenges that sharpen us, and change us, too.”  Paula McLain, Circling the Sun.

Have you read Circling the Sun? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What we thought: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Afternoon Readers Book Club August 2016

The Japanese Lover
Isabel Allende, translated by Nick Caistor and 
Amanda Hopkinson

“I am aware of the mystery around us, so I write about coincidences, premonitions, emotions, dreams, the power of nature, magic.” 
Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende has published several novels which have been translated into 35 languages. She has also written a collection of stories; three memoirs, including My Invented Country and Paula; and a trilogy of children's novels.

The Japanese lover is a magical story of love, marriage, and lifelong friendship that
spans eight decades of Alma Belasco’s life from a childhood in Poland until the end of her life in California. The theme of enduring love between Alma and Ichimei, the son of her Jewish uncle’s Japanese gardener which survived separation and loss and life changing events made a deep impression on readers. This prompted a discussion about the parallels between the American internment of Japanese American citizens and the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. It was mentioned that there was no internment camps in Hawaii like those in the American west. Readers’ attention was also drawn to the stories of other characters who were overcoming difficult situations in their lives.Readers enjoyed the book but took their time with the characters and their secrets and stories

Books recommended by readers; The Garden of the Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng is a novel about the gardener to Japanese Emperor Hirohito, set in Malaysia during and after the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, Totto-chan, the Little Girl at the Window, by Tetsuko Koroyangi, a memoir by a student and a school in Japan during World War II, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound region of the state of Washington coast in 1954, the plot revolves around a murder case in which Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, is accused of killing Carl Heine, a respected fisherman in the close-knit community and The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, a novel about the love and friendship between Henry Lee, a Chinese American boy, and Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American girl, during the internment in World War II.

Have you The Japanese Lover? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What we thought: Last One Home by Debbie Macomber

Afternoon Readers Book Club July 2016

Last One Home
Debbie Macomber

“We all face difficulties of our own, and how comforting it is to immerse yourself in a book—my book, any book, any romance. It’s entertainment, it’s escape, and it can even be an inspiration.” Debbie Macomber

Readers were eager to talk about this month’s selection and what it meant to them. They all agreed with the quote from the book jacket, that Last One Home “…delivers an inspiring new stand- alone novel about the power of forgiveness, and a second chance at love.”   The story covers many serious themes and connects them all in heartwarming ways that resonated with readers. Readers commented on the family relationships and misunderstandings, life altering events and missed opportunities, self-discovery, personal growth and hard work which resulted in love and career opportunities. 

Readers appreciated the realistic portrayals of all of the characters and said that Cassie’s young daughter was authentic and they knew pre-teens who were just like her. Cassie was a very good mother and readers said that they expected Amiee to grow into a terrific young lady. Amiee’s craving for KFC was so intense that everyone wished they had some during the discussion but said they would save the chicken legs for her. Some said they preferred the mashed potatoes, gravy and cole slaw. A lot of time was devoted to talk about the food and celebrations in the story creating a familiar atmosphere.

Readers were interested in the focus on Habitat for Humanity and the details of how people were able to work into order to obtain a new house built just for them and by them. It was fascinating. Some readers knew quite a lot about it and others were interested and surprised to discover how this topic was woven into the heart of the story.

Readers were inspired to talk about memories of The Mayflower Grove which was built in 1901, as an amusement park in Bryantville on the shores of Little Sandy Bottom Pond (Route 27). It was named after the flowers that once grew so abundantly in the area. The Brockton and Plymouth Street Railway Company wished to increase the number of passengers on their new trolley line from Whitman to Hanson. They installed a “turn-out” to allow the trolleys to make stops off the main track. To stimulate business it was decided that an amusement park would be built, and along with it came the Mayflower Grove. It consisted of a dance hall, a movie theatre, a restaurant with a barbecue site, a hotel, a boat launch, games, a pool room, a carousel and much more! Mayflower Grove attracted entertainment from all over; regular entertainers included the Bingville Band and the Bryantville Kitchen Orchestra. Miss America visited in 1926 and 1927. Years later between the depression and damage from hurricanes, the park was sold to developers and the Mayflower Grove ended. 
Everyone enjoyed reading the book and plan to read more Debbie Macomber as well as watch her stories on the Hallmark Channel. The author has recently published an adult coloring book depicting scenes from her Rose Harbor and Blossom Street series; The World of Debbie Macomber, Come Home to Color.

Have you read Last One Home? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What we thought: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Afternoon Readers Book Club
June 2016

Lost Lake
Sarah Addison Allen

Readers enjoyed this book. On the surface it was a light fantasy with interesting characters. Further discussion brought out complex layers of family conflict and questions about reality and imagination. Grieving about death and lost chances permeated the lives of all the characters. People were drawn to Lost Lake to deal with their hopes and dreams and to satisfy their need for companionship and understanding. They were looking for different endings to their life stories.

A ghost and a talking alligator made appearances throughout, but seemed almost normal. Most of the relationships eventually worked out although there were a few surprises. Readers appreciated the quirky characters and discussed them as if their circumstances were real. Maybe they were real. Stranger things have happened. There were many characters but all were essential. Readers talked about them as if they knew them and thought about what would have happened if their stories continued beyond the conclusion.

Addison is a popular author and several of her books have been selections for both the evening and afternoon book clubs. Readers commented on how skillfully she crafted the backgrounds of her characters and integrated them into a complete story. Several have also read her books on their own; Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, First Frost, Waking Kate, and Firefly Dance.

“You can’t change where you come from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don’t like the ending, you can make up a new one.”  Sarah Addison Allen.

Have you read Lost Lake?  What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.