Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss

A Conspiracy of Paper -- book cover

Thursdays With Maureen met this month to discuss A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss.  Many of our members go to sunnier locales to forget the dreary, cold Indiana winters.  The four members attending all agreed we had a good discussion and  because the group was so small we got to know each other a little more.  We talked about everything ranging from the actual book we were supposed to discuss to travel in Tanzania, Savannah and Charleston, working as a CASA volunteer and finding satisfaction in retirement.

Some who attend book clubs do not want to deviate from the book but to me book clubs are also about meeting new people and making friends.  Everyone has their own story so why not count that as part of the discussion?

One member didn't have time to read this month's selection but the other three agreed it was good but rather long.  This was the author's first novel.  He was supposed to be writing his dissertation on 18th century British literature and culture but got caught up in this fictional story.  He never did finish that dissertation.

The author's web site describes the book as follows:  "Benjamin Weaver is an outsider in eighteenth-century London: A Jew among Christians; a ruffian among aristocrats; a retired pugilist who, hired by London’s gentry, travels through the criminal underworld in pursuit of debtors and thieves.  ...Weaver becomes entangled with a crime... involving the mysterious death of his estranged father, a notorious stock-jobber.  ...Weaver uncovers the beginnings of a strange new economic order based on stock speculation – a way of life that poses great risks for investors, but real dangers for Weaver and his family.  An enthralling historical thriller, a Conspiracy of Paper will leave readers wondering just how much has changed in the stock market in the last three hundred years…"

We all agreed that this was a worthwhile book although the mystery part of it got  bogged  down and became a little hard to follow.  One of the characters is a real person and Benjamin Weaver is based upon a real fighter who is credited with starting modern day boxing.  The story occurs in 1719 right before the very real first stock market crash.

The setting is fantastic. You, as a reader, feel as if you are walking the streets of 18th century London, the smells, the people, the taverns all come alive.  The author definitely knows how to evoke this particular time and place.  It was especially interesting due to the recent problems in the stock market.  We all would definitely say check it out!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
This month's selection for Between The Lines book group was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  This is a author and science writer Rebecca Skloot's debut book and took more than 10 years to research and write.  It has been named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010.  "...a triumph of science writing...one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read" says WIRED.COM. The book is being made into an HBO movie produced by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball.

According to her website, Rebecca Skloot is an award winning science writer specializing in narrative science writing.  She has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She financed her degrees by working in emergency rooms, neurology labs, veterinary morgues and martini bars. She has taught creative writing and science journalism and currently gives talks on subjects ranging from bioethics to book proposals at conferences and universities nationwide.

 The author's web site describes the book as follows:  Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

Several members did not read the book as it seemed a little formidable. Also, the premise that Henrietta's cells were used without her consent didn't seem compelling to some.  That was unfortunate because the discussion was livelier than most.  Even the non-readers participated. 

This is a great book for discussion as it brings up several issues especially medical ethics and the racial politics of medicine. One reader questioned whether the author was using the family for her own benefit as the scientists had used Henrietta.  Another responded that Skloot has donated to a foundation established for Henrietta's children and that this was a story that needed to be told.  A few of our members are retired nurses and they in particular offered insight into the evening's issues.

I hate to admit that I was one of the members who did not read this book.  I have since recommended it to my other book club and we have put it on this year's list.  This is a "multilayered story about faith, science, journalism, and grace . . . Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people"Publishers Weekly, Starred Review.

Between The Lines book group highly recommends this book - check it out!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Another book our program director, Dina, wants to recommend is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  It was discussed and recommended as a favorite book at the 2012 Road Scholar program she attended.  (Road Scholar, Adventures in Lifelong Learning, is a program created by Elderhostel, Inc.). 

Editorial Reviews says this book is very different, but is filled with wisdom and heartwarming characters.

The New York Times says "...it is a best seller in France and several other countries and belongs to a distinct subgenre: the accessible book that flatters readers with its intellectual veneer…Renee's story is addressed to no one (that is, to us), while Paloma's takes the form of a notebook crammed with what she labels "profound thoughts." Both create eloquent little essays on time, beauty and the meaning of life…Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators' kinetic minds and engaging voices...propel us ahead". 

This book was first published in 2008 and has been on numerous book club recommendation lists.  We are highlighting it now in case you missed it. Dina has started recommending this book to patrons and is considering using it for one of her book club's selections this year.  Check it out for yourself!

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

Dina, our program director,  just read a book that she is eager to share with others. 

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson "has shades of Daphne de Maurier and Hitchcock" says USA Today.  The review goes on to say "The scent of lavender seems to waft from the pages of The Lantern, a hypnotic tale of suspicion set in the south of France. The Lantern is a worthy addition to novels "written in the tradition" of Daphne du Maurier.”  The Lantern has been shortlisted in the Epic Romantic Novel category for the Romantic Novelists' Association's 2012 Awards. 

While reading it Dina said "I was mentally transported to the house and setting.  I could smell the flowers so fragrant coming up from the pages. I was pulled in right away as the mystery unfolded".

Dina also recommends checking out the author's blog at deborah-lawrenson.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Charming Historical Mystery Series

I've been immersed  in three centuries in the past couple of days. With all the coverage of singer Whitney Houston's death and then the exciting six Grammy wins for the new sensational young singer Adele, I'd say that about covers the 20th and 21st century.  So, it's time to step into the 19th century and applaud author Charles Finch's charming mystery series.

30 year old Charles Finch is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries.  His first novel, A Beautiful Blue Death, was nominated for an Agatha Award and was named one of Library Journal's Best Books of 2007, one of only five mystery novels on the list.  He was born in New York and currently lives in Oxford, England. 

"The best sort of historical mystery - clever, charming, full of period detail, and a delight to read" says David Liss, historical novelist and author of the New York times bestselling The Whiskey Rebels.

The series in order is:

     A Beautiful Blue Death
     The September Society
     The Fleet Street Murders
     A Stranger in Mayfair
     A Burial at Sea
There is also a Kindle short story entitled An East End Murder which I haven't read.

The protagonist, Charles Lenox, is of the upper-crust in Victorian England when gentlemen of his standing are not supposed to work.  He becomes an amateur detective and is quite good at it.  He's intelligent, determined and decent.  The series is fresh and rich in historical information.  You will feel yourself walking the gas lit streets of Victorian London right along side Charles.

If you love the TV PBS series Downton Abbey, the Queen's corgis, Sherlock Holmes and all things English check out this series!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Between The Lines Book Club

Our library's first book club was started about six years ago.  Our patron, Dawn Cance, is a retired librarian who asked our program director if she could start a library book club.  She generously donated her time as moderator for five years. She has now passed the "job" on to another volunteer patron, Marty Diller.

Marty Diller
 The club has been instrumental in helping many members new to the area make friends and feel a part of the  community.  We have had as many as 17 members with some coming and going as they winter in Florida or Arizona.

We have become a tight knit group and the club is currently closed to new members.  It seems the best number of members for a good discussion is between 8 and 10.  If everyone attends the discussions it can get rather loud and rambunctious but they are always enjoyable.  We've tried various ways to get the discussion back on topic with varying degrees of success.  It seems some want to stick to the book while others don't mind a more rambling discussion.  But, no matter, we all love our book club and wouldn't think of missing this time with friends.

One memorable discussion includes the memoir  A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel.  We thought it would be a good choice because of the Indiana connection; however, no one really cared for this book except one lady. She is from a small town in Indiana and said this book really spoke to her. We all chuckle any time this title is brought up and she always defends the book.  So, you see,  if one person gets something out of the discussion and was introduced to a book that makes a difference to that person then the reading and discussion are worthwhile.

Beach Mystery Reads

What is it about vacations? I have just returned from two weeks at a beach and am surprised that I didn't read more.  I brought along South of Broad by Pat Conroy, The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart and several classics that I loaded on my I-Pad for free.

So, there I was, all set to enjoy time to catch up on novels and classics and what did I read?  Mysteries that I found laying around the condo where we were staying.

First up was John Sanford's Bad Blood. Over the course of just three novels, the detective Virgil Flowers has become one of the most beloved new characters in crime fiction. This book is certainly not for the squeamish but there is something about Virgil Flowers that kept me wanting to know more.

Next up was ex-crime beat reporter, Michael Connolly's The Overlook featuring Harry Bosch.  In his first case since he left the LAPD’s Open Unsolved Unit for the prestigious Homicide Special squad, Harry Bosch is called out to investigate a murder that may have chilling consequences for national security.  Turns out to not be quite as it seems.

The Drop by Michael Connelly

I'm not sure I would pick up another John Sanford book but after watching the DVD The Lincoln Lawyer starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller, a cynical defense attorney, and reading The Overlook I am definitely a Michael Connelly fan.  I would love to visit Harry Bosch again in the new book The Drop.  
I just hope I have more beach time one of these days!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"The History of Love" by Nicolas Krauss

The Reader’s Garden book club discussed The History of Love by Nicolas Krauss on January 24, 2012. Ann led the discussion as she loved the book. Many liked it but felt it needed a study guide to understand it. 

The beginning of each chapter shows icons that tell you who is speaking. The heart icon is Leo Gursky. The compass is 10 year old Alma (there are many females named Alma in the book). The book icon is the original History of Love author speaking. The Hebrew letters before a paragraph is Bird speaking. 

If you can get all the parts straight, the story has humor and depth.  We were fascinated as to how the author could have put it all together. We recommend this book for other groups. We had a great discussion.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is our next selection. We have not read any books by Lisa See and she has written quite a few. We will discuss this book on February 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm by the fireplace.  Melody will lead the discussion. If you are interested in getting a copy and joining us please contact the library. 

Future dates that Reader’s Garden meets are March 27, 2012 to discuss Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow and April 24, 2012 to discuss Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.

Why don't you check out one of our book clubs?  The Reader's Garden book discussion group is facilitated by Dina Ferree, our program director.  We can guarantee that you'll learn something and meet some interesting people in person and in the books!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Author Rebecca Makkai's Visit - June 12, 2012

Author Rebecca Makkai will be visiting the Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County on Tuesday June 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm in the large meeting room. Rebecca is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower was published in 2011. It is a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her short fiction has been chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011), and appears regularly in journals like Tin House, Ploughshares, New England Review and Shenandoah.

Rebecca Makkai’s first story, at the age of three, was printed on the side of a cardboard box and told from the viewpoint of her stuffed Smurf doll. Sadly, her fiction has never since reached such heights of experimentalism. Rebecca holds an MA from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English and a BA from Washington and Lee University. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, The Best American Non-required Reading 2009, New Stories from the Midwest and Best American Fantasy, and featured on Public Radio International’s Selected Shorts and This American Life.

Rebecca is married and  has two young daughters.  For the past eleven years she has taught at a Montessori school. She is currently at work on her second novel, The Happensack, the story of a haunted house and a haunted family, told in reverse.

Join us in welcoming Rebecca Makkai at our library on June 12, 2012.