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Saturday, October 1, 2016

What we thought: The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

Evening Book Club
The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar
September 2016

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” Virginia Woolf

Readers expressed strong opinions about this book. Most said they really liked it, but some did not like the story or the characters at first. They definitely disliked Maggie the therapist because of her relationship with Peter the photographer. He was the most despised of all and readers felt he was a narcissist with no redeeming qualities.  They were put off  by Maggie’s self-centered behavior; everything was the fault of someone else. She was not willing to give up her desires or professional career until faced with the disastrous consequences of her behavior.
The same was said about Lakshmi whose actions always got her into trouble. She did not think about outcomes before she acted. Several choices that she made backfired with terrible consequences for her and others in her circle of acquaintances. She may have not been innocent or as na├»ve as she appeared. Sudhir, Maggie’s husband was everyone’s favorite because of his love and devotion to her and his sincere attention to Lakshmi an Indian woman who would have been of lower caste in Bombay.

The story was character driven and revealed how the interior lives of all of them were a product of their childhood and the culture of their families and countries. Readers discussed how lives were affected by relationships and choices made. They decided that the decisions of their adult lives were not deliberate but that in the end changes were made after great reflection their part. At the conclusion of the book readers felt there was closure and hoped that things would work out to reclaim lives and start over. 

Readers said that the title Story Hour was not only about the hour of therapy with Maggie and Lakshmi but also about the individual stories and secrets of all of the main characters. Perhaps there will be a happy ending. Some readers said they were not happy with the ending of the book so they shared their own endings with the group. Everyone was satisfied with this and felt better about the author after the discussion.

“I close my eyes. In the dark I hears the ocean banging its head against the sand. I have come as far as I can. What happen now is the job of the same God who made the small Lakshmi and the big ocean. I begins.”  Lakshmi

Have you read The Story Hour? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What we thought; The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Evening Book Club
August 2016
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Three Halifax adult book clubs, Evening, Afternoon and Mystery Readers joined together to enjoy a pot luck supper and book discussion. The meal was served buffet style featuring a variety of appetizers, salads and side dishes; fried rice, pineapple chow mein, edamame with fresh cilantro, three bean, cole slaw and garden salad, along with a fruit plate and cheese and meat selections. Spinach quiche was a treat along with marinated chicken, baked ham, baked beans and brown bread. The traditional Holmes Library Pink Potluck Punch and assorted flavors of spritzers complemented the menu. After the main course all readers adjourned to the Library’s reading room for a book discussion accompanied by a picturesque decorated cake and other chocolate treats. 

Readers were conflicted about the book. Some said it was a straight forward story about a young woman and her schemes for survival. Others said it was about justifying the moral decisions people make in desperate situations. Readers had their own ideas about the characters and no one convinced others to change their minds about the motivations and actions of Grace before and after the shipwreck. There was some discussion of how the survivors were able to tolerate the terrible suffering in the lifeboat. Some readers did not want to spend much time talking about it and were eager to get to the rescue. They were disappointed that the author did not spend much time on the rescue and questions were raised about survivors in the other lifeboats. Although other characters were prominently featured the discussion focused on Grace and her sister and her husband’s family. It was decided that this was the author’s intention and she succeeded in the direction of her story. 

Readers decided that despite accolades and awards The Lifeboat had too many loose ends and unanswered questions to qualify as a good read for them. They commented that they never connected with any of the characters and although the deaths were sad they didn’t care very much about the people. They needed more details and time to engage with their lives. 

The discussion concluded with the members of the book clubs drawing straws to determine who would pick September’s book selection. After two rounds Library Director Jean was left with the short straw. The group unanimously changed her name to Director Hardie. 

 “Am I to be blamed for this? We do not ask certain ideas to enter our heads and demand that others stay away. I believe that a person is accountable for his actions but not for the contents of his mind, so perhaps I am culpable for occasionally letting those thoughts turn themselves into words.”  Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat.

Have you read The Lifeboat?  What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What we thought: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Evening Book Club August 2016
Kitchens of the Great Midwest
J. Ryan Stradal

“...have a house without a pie, be ashamed until you die.”
J. Ryan Stradal, Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, is a story of how regional food is the background of our lives and forms lasting impressions of comfort and home. The discussion centered on the characters and how they fit into the life of Eva Thorvald, the girl with a once-in-a-generation palate. It continued throughout the evening with comments about the how did the characters fit into the story. There was confusion about the brief introduction of some of them and why they were essential to Eva’s story, but most said they liked Eva. Some said there were too many of them and that a few plot lines were not necessary to the story. Others said the characters reappeared later and tied up loose ends and left some questions to be answered by the reader. This is how Stradal writes, quirky and jumping from one situation to another. Readers are forced to fill in the blanks and make up their own stories. 

Most readers appreciated the humorous situations but were put off by the reality of gritty living conditions of rural life in Minnesota. It was decided that the author wrote about the culture of Minnesota and how food reflected the tastes and history of the people who live there.  All readers agreed that they liked the parts about some of the food, especially the local tomatoes and sweet corn as well as the story about Pat’s bars. Readers enjoyed one member’s recreation of Pat’s chocolate peanut butter bars for the group’s snack.

The most intense discussion was reserved for the end of the evening when everyone had strong opinions about Eva’s pop-up dinner party with the non-refundable $120 reservation, $10,000 cost for two people, and  three year wait with no choice of date. The menu was good, but the portions were small and there were no substitutions or seconds available. Readers questioned whether the diners were deliberately chosen for that particular evening and how they were part of Eva’s life. Did Eva know her mother would be at the dinner and how would she have known?

Listed here are books readers suggested.  The Beans of Egypt Maine, Caroline Chute , Shotgun Lovesongs, Nickolas Butler, Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader, edited by Martha MacIntosh.

Have you read Kitchens of the Great Midwest? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in comments.