Friday Morning Bookclub

October 16, 2016

Everything I Never Told You. A Review By Ann Walter

Filed under: Book Discussions,Everything I Never Told You — susanbright @ 10:37 am

everything-book

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know it yet.” So begins Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng.

Was it murder? Was it suicide? Or was it something else? The reader spends most of the novel thinking one thing, only to be surprised at the end with the truth. Yet, the book is more than a thriller. It is a family drama of exceptional insight with beautiful plotting and beautiful writing. By no means a ” feel good” story, it is nevertheless a book that leaves you thinking long after you put it down.

The year is 1977, the setting, a quiet all-American town in Ohio, where everyone knows one another and nothing like this has ever happened before. While the crime drives the narrative, each family member becomes more real as layers of their character are peeled back: James, the Chinese father, who has felt defined by racial stereotypes all his life; Marilyn, the Caucasian mother, whose dreams of being a doctor were shelved by the demands of marriage, family, and the times; Nathan, the older brother, whose brilliance is overlooked; Lydia, the golden child burdened with all the frustrated aspirations of her parents; and Hannah the overlooked child, a silent but keen observer of everyone in her family.

Ng creates people who are trying to do the right thing from their own perspective, and their conflicts come about because they don’t realize that situations look completely different to someone else. Although the characters are all flawed, they are presented in a nonjudgmental way that lets the reader care about their struggles and their sincerity.

Things I Never Told You moves gracefully back and forth in time, into the aftermath of the tragedy as well as the distant past, and into the consciousness of each member of the family, creating a series of mysteries and revelations that lead back to the original question: what happened to Lydia?

What did you think about this month’s book? All comments are welcomed and appreciated!

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March 15, 2014

You Can’t Help But Enjoy This Book: Orphan Train By Christina Baker Kline

orphanOrphan Train is one of those books you can read over a weekend. I found myself totally caught up in the intertwining stories of Molly and Vivian. Seventeen year old Molly was a foster child, had been bounced around from family to family and was used to disappointment.  In fact, when things did go right in her life, she had no idea how to handle it. At such a young age she had already figured out that it was better to be perceived as tough and weird than weak and vulnerable.

When once again, Molly found herself in trouble, her foster-mother, Dina was not at all surprised.  Dina was always finding fault in Molly, considered her untrustworthy and was just waiting for Molly to slip up. This time Molly had tried to steal an old ragged copy of Jane Eyre from the library.  Molly had wanted this book more than anything and was too shy to ask the clerk at the local book store to order it for her. The library had several other newer copies so who would ever miss it? Of course Molly was caught trying to sneak it out and it was either off to juvie or community service for her.

Molly removed her nose ring, put on borrowed clothing and reported to the home of 91-year-old Vivian where she would complete her 40 hours of community service. Just what Molly wanted to do….clean up some old ladies attic.  Although she did not realize it at the time, this assignment was going to be one of the best things that had ever happened to Molly. These two women  had more in common than anyone would have guessed. When Vivian was a young girl she too had lost both her parents.  Little by little, box by box Vivian shares her story of how she arrived in Minnesota via an Orphan Train.

Orphan Train  is a beautiful and inspiring story and I fell in love with both Molly and Vivian. Christina Baker Kline does a wonderful job of weaving these two very different, yet similar stories. The comparison between our modern-day foster system and the supervised welfare program called The Orphan Train Movement was fascinating.  My only criticism is that it left me wanting more, and how can that be a bad thing? I want to know more about the Orphan Train Movement that transported over 250,000 homeless children from eastern cities to  the rural midwest between 1853 and  1929. I want to know more about a welfare program which allowed couples to pre-select children by filling out an order form and checking off the age, gender, and even such traits as hair color they desired.

Orphan Train is an excellent discussion book. Over coffee and eggs (although not necessarily omelets) we talked about Molly and Vivian’s plight which led to a thoughtful discussion of The Orphan Train Movement which was the predecessor to our modern-day foster system.Was it a good plan? How could it have been better? Orphan Train is a quick, easy read and more than anything piqued my interest.

I give Orphan Train 4 1/2 omelets! How about you?

December 10, 2013

The Husband’s Secret By Liane Moriarty: A Review By Nancy

Filed under: Book Discussions,The Husband's Secret — susanbright @ 8:26 am
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The Friday Morning Bookclub met to discuss The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.  The book revolves mostly around the lives of 3 women and their families, the roads taken by the choices they and their spouses have made (whether in secret or not), fate, guilt, and the surprise conclusion if only other decisions/actions had been made/taken .
One of the joys of bookclub for me is that hearing other members speak about their thoughts and reactions can often make what I would consider a so-so read a more interesting one. I felt this way about this book.
We asked ourselves if we would open a letter from our husband specifically telling us not to unless he had died, discussed in our own lives what would have happened “if only” -was being delayed that 5 minutes  the reason the accident we just witnessed did not happen to us, the seeming randomness of fate.  We discussed what makes a good mother-in-law…lessons on what not to do are evidenced in the book, and we discussed what if anything should remain secret in a marriage…and the possibility that some of us may want to clean out our memorabilia before our children go looking….

Some of us were a little jaded with the morality of the sins of the father brought to bear on the daughter and the notion that the rosary bead connection was not explored by the police but overall the book was well received and engendered a lively thoughtful discussion.

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 And after the discussion, we had a holiday book exchange and everyone went home with something good to read!

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June 16, 2013

Me Before You: Some Thoughts From Carol

Filed under: Book Discussions,Me Before You — susanbright @ 5:18 pm
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Me befor you

I had a dream last night, a series of dreams actually, where I was a disembodied head hovering over a wheelchair. It was, undoubtedly, the result of reading Me Before You. I guess my mind was processing the quadriplegic experience. That was my unconscious mind. In my conscious mind, the phrase “Love each other or perish” kept popping up, over and over, so much so that I had to look up where the quote came from. The poet W.H. Auden said it. If it weren’t five words, I would have entered that in “Describe Me Before You in three words.” Love each other or perish.

The same theme was in Tuesdays With Morrie. That story was different yet similar. Morrie was an old man struggling with a progressive disease. Will was a young man struggling with a sudden accident. They both had to make huge accommodations in their lives. What they both are, are guides for the rest of us. What I learned from them (well, it greatly reinforced what I knew to be true) is this:

1.)    Unexpected things, good and bad, really do happen….and sad things do happen to good people.

2.)    Real intimacy (as in great friendships, great love) is the most important experience in your life.

3.)    Be grateful for everything good. Every mundane thing. The orthodox Jews say a prayer for everything, including using the bathroom. It’s something like, “Thank you, Lord, for letting my body work.”

4.)    Live with no regrets. Both Morrie and Will had interesting and purposeful lives. They worked hard to find work they loved and have experiences they wanted. They were active participants in life, not passive observers. At the end, they never had regrets of wasted time.

5.)    Learn from others. Let everyone teach you something, challenge you, inspire you, shake you out of complacency. Even strangers. Even people we don’t particularly like can be a type of teacher, if only to show us how not to behave. Just listen, observe, and learn.

We have the power to bring ourselves and one another joy or misery, companionship or loneliness, right up to the very end. Even though other critical themes come up in this story, like whose life is this any way, who has the right to make decisions for you and tell you what to do, the theme of intimacy is what resonated with me.

April 24, 2013

The Triple Agent: A Review By Bob

agentThis past Sunday, I went with my wife to The Friday Morning Bookclub’s annual  couple’s  pot luck dinner meeting and discussion. A good time was had by the 18 attendees. We reviewed The Triple Agent by Joby Warrick. It was a lively discussion with fervor and intensity as it was just days after the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon and capture of the second perpetrator.
The book chronicles the events leading to the New Years eve 2009 suicide attack that killed nine CIA and FBI agents and two Afghani employees at Khost Military base in Afghanistan. The suicide bomber was a religious Jordanian physician/ zealot and Al-Qaida supporter recruited by Jordanian Intelligence and the CIA . The book is an easy read and very enlightening about our war against Al-Qaida.
Among the many comments there were the following conclusion that most agreed upon:
A religious zealot will never be converted
Mistakes were both made by CIA/FBI hierarchy and the inexperienced leadership at Camp Khost. Each group was so anxious to get what they felt was outstanding intelligence that normal safety protocols were abandoned.
Guarding against terrorist attacks has and will remain a way of life in our world.
Americans serving in the CIA, FBI and Military against the war on terrorism are extremely dedicated to their dangerous mission. They make numerous and tremendous sacrifices to protect our country and it’s citizens. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

I recommend the book and rate it a 4+

February 13, 2013

Home Front: A Review By Nancy

Filed under: Book Discussions,Home Front,Kristin Hannah — susanbright @ 9:17 am
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home front

The books’ main character is Jolene Zarkades.  She is an only child of parents with alcohol and marital issues who die in an alcohol-fueled car accident leaving Jolene to fend for herself at the age of 17.  Jolene joins the Army, becomes a helicopter pilot, and meets Tami who will become her best friend for life.  The novel begins in the twelfth year of Jolene’ marriage as Jolene is turning 41. Jolene has married Michael, a defense attorney, whom she met right after her parents death and then reconnected with after returning from the Army.  They have 2 daughters, Betsy and Lulu.  The marriage is in a rough spot with Michael spending all his time at work. Jolene is in the Army National Guards, something she is very proud of, takes her commitment seriously, and shares this passion with Tami who is also a helicopter pilot in the same unit and is living next door with her husband and son.

Michael does not support the war in Iraq and does not  socialize with his wife’s friends or National Guard unit.  He has distanced himself from the family, but  is also trying to cope with the recent death of his father. He seems unable to talk to  Jolene about this and seems to
be experiencing a mid-life- is this all there is crisis.   Jolene is trying to restart their relationship when her Guard unit (of which she
is Chief) gets called  to active duty in Afghanistan. The ensuing chapters deal with  aspects of  war : from getting ready to leave families, to the physical conditions of  living and fighting in third world conditions, to injury and death. Not everyone in  Jolene’s unit makes it home, and the ones that do are forever changed.  On the “home front”,  Michael has to become a single parent, the daughters have their own issues with Betsy displaying most every negative middle school girl characteristic imaginable, and the fortunate, nurturing presence of Michaels’ mother Mila and the entertaining physical therapist, Conny.

The members of our bookclub have read other Kristin Hannah novels, and this is similar in nature.  While not “high literature”, we found this to be an easy read that allowed us to see aspects of war and the armed services that we might not have previously considered.  Many bookclub members shared personal stories of their family involvement with the military in this and other wars.  While we found some of the character development to be lacking or formulaic,(except for Lulu), and had issues with the way  certain things came together (Michaels’ convenient legal case of a vet with PTSD, and the therapist who is called for expert advice), we had lively conversations about the brotherhood/sisterhood aspect that exists in the military, about the need for support and mental health counseling for families and the soldier given in a timely and generous manner, and the knowledge that at any time anyone in a military program can get “the call” for active
duty.  So while the writing may have not been a favorite of some, the conversations generated by the work were enjoyed by all.

January 16, 2013

Once We Were Brothers: A Review By Barbara

brothers

In the book “Once We Were Brothers”, Ben Solomon, a retired Polish immigrant, accuses Elliot Rosenzweig, a wealthy Chicago philanthropist, of being a former SS office, Otto Piatek.  Ben and Otto were raised in the same house, but ended up on different sides of the Nazi occupation.  Ben pursues his accusations with the help of a young attorney, Catherine Lockhart.

Discussion of the book was lively.  Some loved the book while others liked it, but thought it was not exceptionally well written.  Aspects of the book were thought to be unbelievable, particularly Catherine quitting her job to devote her time to Ben’s cause.  Although the book interwove the story of Ben’s pursuit of Otto, with Catherine’s developing relationship with the investigator, Liam, there was not much discussion of the latter aspect of the book.

One interesting part of the discussion focused on Otto’s character as he became more ingrained in the SS. Although Otto may have initially moved more toward the Nazis because he was encouraged to do so by Ben’s father in order to be in a better position to help Ben’s family, some felt that there was no excuse for his involvement with the Nazis at any level.   There was also discussion of whether his philanthropy as Elliot Rosenzweig was partly out of guilt, or whether it was totally out of ego and wanting recognition.  Some questioned why he would become such a public figure without fear of being recognized.

Overall, there was agreement that the book  raised a lot of food for thought, and was certainly well worth reading.

December 15, 2012

This Month’s Book: Faith…..In Three Words

Filed under: Book Discussions,Faith,In Three Words — susanbright @ 8:57 am
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Faith I found this month’s book: Enjoyable yet disturbing

Here is what some of our readers have to say:

My new favorite

Real page turner……..yes it was!

Superb character development

Family secrets disturbing

How would you describe this month’s book…..in three words?

Faith by Jennifer Haigh – Reviews, Discussion Goodreads

October 11, 2012

The Story Of Beautiful Girl……In Three Words!

This month’s book…….Made me cry!

Thought provoking story

Unsettled my soul

Provoked many emotions

Just not fair

How would you describe The Story of Beautiful Girl in three words?

September 20, 2012

Gone Girl: A Review By Dana

Filed under: Book Discussions,Book Recomendations,Gone Girl — susanbright @ 4:25 pm
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Gillian Flynn’ psychological thriller, Gone Girl, is (as is most often the case in this genre) an exercise in determining what is real and what is not.  The author, via chapters with alternating viewpoints of he said she said, walks you through the thoughts of two people from the time they first met to a time where their 5 year old marriage is in trouble. Can it be that the“Amazing Amy”, as she is referred to in her parent’s somewhat fictional books,  is not so amazing anymore? Or is it her husband, Nick’s fault that they are facing such trying times at this point in their marriage?

One day Amy is missing, the scene appears to have been purposefully staged, and her husband (as is often the case) is the prime suspect.  As you are reading, you are obsessively questioning what is really going on, who to believe, and if in fact her husband actually was involved in her murder. The author quite shrewdly takes you on a ride with your belief system, constantly shifting you back and forth. Evidence of manipulation, extraordinary intelligence, premeditation, adultery and deceit as well as serious mental illness is all in the mix.

This book is creatively witty and clever and a true page turner.  As is true of a good psychological thriller, it spooked the hell out of me!

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