Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Great Gatsby

With all the flurry around the film (however quickly it came and went) we picked The Great Gatsby as our classic for the year.  (Being as it is so short, we will do another short classic for Ocotber, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

This book gave us a lot to discuss- mainly because there are so many great guides and questions posed online.  As usual, I am not going to go into these here because this blog is more of a pulse on whether or not the book made a good book club book, and whether or not we found things to discuss.

For a detailed list I recommend this list of discussion questions found at Reading Group guides.
There are also several articles that discuss the symbolism in the book- from the color of what the characters wear or are surrounded by, to the temperature of the scene they are involved in, there are symbols here that are well placed and well thought out.  The obvious ones (like the all-seeing eyes) are just as fun as the not so common (even the names of the girls imply innocence or guilt.)  Unfortunately, I found a detailed article for our club, but since the release of the movie it has been swallowed up in the web and I can't find it- but don't worry, there is plenty more out there to be found, you will just have to do the digging yourself.

One thing that caused quite a stir at our club was the symbol of Gatsby as a Savior like figure. While some of us were able to roll with it (he does take the blame and carry the sin of Daisy, and he dies for the sin) others found this too difficult a jump to make.  The author says in Chapter 6 that he invented himself, he was a 'son of God" and later notes he would be 'about his father's business', so it could well be argued that the author intended to make this connection.... but, as one of our members pointed out, then what does this say about Fitzgerald?  For Gatsby was no saint- he was troubled, obsessive, and dishonest, all to get the thing he desired...does this reflect the authors view of Christianity?  As you can see- this opened up a whole tangle of discussion that never really came to a decisive conclusion (the best way to leave book club, I think).

We quoted plenty of lines, enjoying the turn of phrase and citing feelings of disgust with the 20's roaring lifestyle.  It was a good book to discuss with a whole new take if you had seen the film. (I saw the movie first, and personally loved the imagery as I was reading many of the scenes).

Overall rating 3.5 stars out 5.
Out of the 9 at book club only one reader did not finish the book.

Not an amazing story, really, but interesting enough and short (bonus for many) and one most of us should have read in high school but may have skipped.  It was fun to revisit it as a club.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Reviews "Killing Lincoln" and "Many Ways To Say I Love You"

Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly

This book tells the details and workings of John Wilkes Booth and his manipulations behind the assassination of President Lincoln.  As a group we all agreed the book started a bit dry, with battle scenes and details that felt very text-book like.  As the book dives deeper into the mind and life of Booth, however, it picks up steam and intensity.

Booth was definitely motivated and definitely delusional, and the violence around this act, with the other murders planned to clean up the leadership of our nation, feel haunting at times.  While the writing may feel weak to some and at times be over simplified,  readers not familiar with the events around this assassination will most likely find this book is a great place to start that journey.

Out of our 9 members 2 did not finish the book.  A couple of readers would have rated it higher if the 'war chapters' had been better written, or skipped altogether, and one reader noted she loved the 'present tense' style of the book, as the format added to the intensity. Great photos add a touch of reality and put faces to the names you are reading about.

Book average by group 3 1/2 stars.

*Book is ideal for the reader who loves history but is short of being a history buff - may appeal to the YA student and teen crowd*

Many Ways To Say I Love You by Fred Rogers

This is a sweet little compilation of various quotes, poems, and song lyrics by Fred Rogers noted over the years.  This is part of a series, and they have been published since the death of Fred Rogers.  For readers who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood this book is a cozy little reminder of a gentler time, when TV was soothing and we all had a friend on TV. 

The quotes are thought provoking and insightful, however this isn't really a 'pick up and read cover to cover' type of book.  It is probably best enjoyed bits at a time, but also, for our group this was sort of a 'bonus read'.  We pick little side books every once in a while to add to what we are reading, and that is what this book was.  One of our former group members had mentioned she enjoyed reading this book as a mom and thought we might like it too. 

Personally, I enjoyed it, but I sort of wonder where a book like this fits in our world of reading today.  A lot of members didn't really have time to get to it, and because it isn't a driving story I do think this type of little book gets overlooked sometimes.  Here is our group breakdown:

5 of our 9 members finished the book
average rating 3 stars

*Book would great as a gift to new parents or grandparents*

Coming up : Book Store and dinner field trip - discussing Wolf Hall by Hilary Matel

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Club Reviews "It's Just My Nature" and "I Don't Have to Make Everything Better"

In January our book club reads a self- help or life improvement book of some sort.  If the book is an easier read we may throw in an extra, just to keep us plowing through the month.  Most of us read everything assigned, and such was the case this month.

Our first pick was an energy profiling book (which the author says is not to be confused with a personality test) designed to help you see the driving force between different energy types. It is called "It's Just My Nature" by Carol Tuttle.

In the book she basically introduces 4 energy types that tend to be motivating factors in a person's life.  There is upward and fun energy Type 1, connecting and subtle Type 2, active and accomplishing Type 3, and the perfecting and fine tuning energy of a Type 4 (very basic nutshell, there!).  The author herself is a Type 3, so we had to laugh when our own Type 3 member Peggy showed up in an outfit already hanging in her closet.


The book made for an interesting discussion (and a special guest who has taken courses from Tuttle came to help us decipher our questions) as we probed the idea of what drives us.  Tuttle also explains how not living true to your driving force (for instance trying to be active and finish projects for everyone when your true type is to be more subtle and detailed) can bring a lot of confusion to your life and even trigger anxiety and depression.  This is a wake-up call to be true to your inner self and quit apologizing for your tendencies.

For some of us, that is exactly what we didn't like about the book...a few of our readers feel we should always be growing and changing and working on ourselves.  The other half (I felt we were split on this book) loved the idea of embracing your natural energy and allowing the space for others to be themselves.  I personally have found this book to be an eye-opener in my marriage and my husband and I have loved the insight we got in understanding each other.

Some of really struggled with the author's style.  She tends to write and speak in a way to trigger reactions (mission accomplished) and is blunt and even harsh in her words sometimes. A few of our readers didn't love her example stories from her own life, as her personality tends to be a little 'in your face'  (comparable to a Dr. Laura phone call).

Overall, however, there is a lot to be learned from this book and freeing yourself to wake up every day and be who you were born to be.  For a group of women (even employees) it is a great tool to dig into each other's minds. Recommended for people who like figuring out what makes people tick.

Our second pick was "I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better" by Gary and Joy Lundberg

Again, we were sort of split on this book in it's entirety.

What we LOVED about this book is the idea that we need to stop trying to fix each other's lives.  How many times do you just want to vent to someone, and they rush in with  a million fixes? They have all sorts of ideas for you with "You should have done this....." or "I would have done that....."  these 'suggestions' can sometimes make people feel misunderstood or even pressured to measure up.  In reality, most of us just want to be heard, and deep down we really know what we should do in most situations, anyway.  This book really walks you through the steps of being more of a sympathetic ear, and letting your relationship do the supporting- not your advice.

As a whole, our book club loved that idea. We all agreed this could be a strengthening concept, even a relief in some cases, and it is easy to see how hard it can be to give people room to shift through the emotions of their own experiences. It works in all relationships, from your children and spouses, to your best friends, and even your co-workers.

What we didn't like was the length of the book. It is very repetitive and could be edited down to about half it's own length.  The same thing is said so many ways, it gets a little tiresome.  For me personally, I think there is a time and place to sometimes give a tip or two- probably because I have so many clients that are seeking advice- and these authors make you feel like you should never offer your opinion. On top of that I do think sometimes repeating back sympathetic phrases or mirroring in conversation can feel condescending.  The trick is to carefully choose when you are truly being sought after for advice and trying to give it with a sympathetic heart.  The take away from this book is a valuable one.

Overall we enjoyed this book and it's ideas, and recommend it to readers who appreciate an easier self-help read that encourages you to be more listening and open and less 'fix everything' when relating to others.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Adding this recap on a few of my favorites from 2012-
watch for January book club recap and review COMING SOON

Several years ago I discovered setting a goal for how many books I could read in a year sort of pushed me to read more than usual.  While I love and the groups they have to promote this idea- the group "50 Books in a Year" is very daunting. 

I have never read quite that many (unless you count picture books to the kiddos), but I have found that 35 is a nice number that pushes me to read a little quicker and try different genres.  This also includes any audio books that I listen to, usually that is about a half dozen a year.

I did hit 35 this year- and I am going to weed through them and give you my top picks. (Not in any particular order, I can never pick a 'favorite' because that changes day to day.)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This is a great little book with a strange twist on the retired life.  When Harold receives a mysterious letter from a friend that he knew decades ago, his life of chair sitting and TV watching gets turned upside-down.  I loved this sweet book, it was unexpected, simple, and warm.  It leaves you to ponder what parts of yourself you give up when you don't live life with a purpose, and it leaves you inspired by an every day man who decides to walk for a cause.  Lovely sentences such as "He walked so surely it was as if all his life he had been waiting to get up from his chair."  and "Everyone was the same, and also unique, and that was the dilema of being a human being."  remind you not all writers are created equal. Perfect to warm your heart on a wintry day.

The Night Circus by Erin Mortgensen

I read this book completely blind, meaning I had no true review or summary to go off of.  I loved it that way, so I will say very little here, too. You probably have heard people talk about it by now, anyway...suffice it to say it is different from most books you have probably read this year.  It is imagiative, luxurious, and sensual (but not graphic in any way), and written in a way that makes you want to read it all the day you pick it up.  The plot isn't necessarily stellar or shocking, but there is enough other bits of story telling fun and written loveliness that you won't care. After ward, enjoy the Night Circus pins and fan based trailers all over the place online.  Pure escapism......

Born To Run by Christopher McDougal

My brother has been trying to get me to read this for a year- and this was the summer I tackled it.  It is amazing, with feats of fitness described that are almost unbelievable, statistics that will leave your jaw on the floor (the more you spend on running shoes the greater your chance of injury???really????) and just  loads of inspiration that will make the runner happy and the non-runner want to run.  Lots of non-fiction trivia that is informative and interesting.  I did enjoy this a lot. (bit of language peppered throughout) It got me running again, even if it's just slowly, after almost a year hiatus.

For the historical fiction fan who loves stories about stories read:
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

For the new age thinker who wants to deepen their thinking of self read:
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

The Best-Seller you should skip:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Unrealistic, vulgar, raunchy and unbelievable.
Twist and turns, yes, but you hate everyone so bad who cares which way they go anyway?

Happy Reading!

see my complete book shelf and read more full reviews at

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life of Pi- my take away story (re-post)

Last night I headed out to finish up some Christmas shopping with my 13 year old son, and we decided to see "The Life of Pi".  I have a LONG history with this book.  I read it probably close to 10 years ago, and debated it with friends at the time. A couple of years later my book club read it- and discussed and debated it then, too.  A recent reading of "Beatrice and Virgil" brought me back to Pi and Martel's means of storytelling. 

Now, the film.  I wasn't sure it could be done, but it has been.

The movie is a glittering visual of the book come to life. In some ways, the visuals nicely unfold where as with the book your mind is trying to conjure up the image (I even bought an illustrated copy to assist me on this journey after reading the novel the first time).  Fans of the book won't be diasppointed. 

But I thought the movie would make a conclusion for me. I thought it would help me decide what to think.  It doesn't.  It leaves you left open and raw and wondering what it all really means.  So here is what it means to me, after 10 years of reading, debating discussing.  It may be something entirely different for you, and that is the way Martel intends it to be. As a Christian Mormon faith filled person I am moved by the message of this story.

SPOILERS on all accounts from here on out.

First off, it is important to note that Richard Parker, the tiger, is indeed Pi.  There are many clues to this fact. He admits that he must say this to the reporters when they dig deeper and demand the truth from Him. As he crawls on the boat watch his hands, his mannerisms....he is a tiger.  In the beginning of the story you are given another clue- the priest in the chapel approaches the young Pi and says "you must be Thirsty...." (this was the REAL GIVEN name of the tiger).

At first reading, I felt this view of himself was only to allow Pi to deal with the sin of eating meat.  We know what an offense this is to him.  After viewing the tiger's consumption of  the goat ( an unexplained event presented by the director through the bars of the cage in the movie) he may see this carnivore lifestyle as completely animalistic and a means to survival.  He ate fish meat as well as the meat of the cook's (hyena's) body, while choosing to throw his mother (or the zebra) over board.

 Pi also must 'train' the tiger, as we must harness the animalistic nature (human nature) inside ourselves, in order to survive the elements of the world.  On further thought I feel the tiger represents any offense that distances us from God.  Often we do these things under 'justified' circumstances, as a means of survival.  At some point, however we must stop.  We must surrender to God and confess that we give our life if He wants it.... we give all we have.  Pi does this during the storm.....

After that confession, or coming face to face with God (Pi says he has seen God's face- while Richard Parker, the sinner inside himself, is afraid to see it and hides), God provides the miracle for which we can live righteously again.  In the story, this is the island.  The waters are fresh, the vines are edible, and Pi finds solace and hope again.  He may live on the island forever to hide the from the elements of his journey- or so he thinks.  He is shown a clue (the tooth in the fruits of the trees) as to the detrement of hiding on the island.

We too, can not hide only on the miracles of God.  We must experience the miracles, allow them to change us and nourish us, and then get 'back in our boats' and face our journey.  Remembering the miracles provides us with the hope and sustanence we require as humans to press on.

Eventually, we all must let go of the natural tendancies, or human/animal nature, inside of oursleves.  Pi was exhausted and surrendered completely as Richard Parker left his side.  I find it interesting that the tiger did not try to reconcile or say Goobye- it just left. Pi later reveals this was hard for him, he had grown close to Richard Parker, and wanted a way to say goodbye.  Imagine ourselves, seeking a cerimonious fanfare as we leave sin just doesn't work that way.  Often times we just wake up and simply stop sinning.  The animal inside us just walks away, regardless of how attached to it we may feel we are.  I feel Pi had been worn down and became humbled in a way that the sin had no more need of him.  The sin moved on, finding others to engulf.  Part of us may want to thank that nature, for it has taught us and saved us in many ways, but our lives take a turn when we let it go.  We then become a missionary, one who shares their story...a 'good story' of how we were saved. 

The last part of the story always troubled me most.... the line "And so it is with God" spoken by Pi after his audience chooses the 'animal' story over the horrific human story of survivial.  I have read one viewer say this is our choice as humans, to simplify religion down to simple symbols that we can relate with and attach to, as we ignore the bloody and painful realities in the true history of religion.  I find a lot of power in that opinion of the story as a whole, and I agree this is one of the layers of the story, but I am moved to believe something far more personal in the end.

All of us travel a journey of survival.  We fight the tigers within ourselves that draw us to sin and to choose lifestyles below our belief system.  We are given miracles to save us and we are eventually taken to a place of humility where we see the face of God, and we become sanctified.  In the end, we too will have an audience for our journey's story.... one who will judge our story and deem it good or not.  No doubt our story to our final audience will be one of justified actions, simple symbols and sugar coated explanations that we hope paint ourselves incredible in God's eyes.  However, He of course, knows the truth. he knows the blood, the cursings, the leaving of beliefs to survive.  But to Him, it doesn't matter. We win approval as He chooses the symbols of ourselves, the better story, and allows us to forever live in the glory it brings us.

This is a story of power and one of true art, which is all too rare in the media of today.  I hope my ideas (they are just ideas- I am NO EXPERT) open your mind to the possibilities of this story.

 Happy reading. Happy movie viewing.

 Merry Christmas

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Bridal Wreath and When the Elephants Dance

For May we conquered two books. No secret, no breaking it up, just two full books. I am not sure if this was a great idea, because May is crazy busy for families, moms, and teachers (which we have in our club) but we did it anyway.

Our first pick was The Bridal Wreath, by Sigrid Undset

There was some personal investment in this pick as one of our members was raised in a life rich with Swedish heritage. We met at book club surrounded by by Swedish food and talked of traditions. The food was a great way to start our discussion, which focused on both the story, which tended to be a little bit dreary, and the culture, which was historical and foreign to so much of what we know.

Kristin Lavransdatter is A Norwegian coming of age heroine, juggling the life of appearances, family, and love. Her life with her family is one of hardship and the story is not a happy one by any means. This book is also only the first part of the story, which is usually now found as a trilogy. The language of the book at times was difficult, as well as the names of the characters, but the story is considered a classic to many.

Our group was really divided on whether or not we enjoyed the book. Many felt the wording and names made it difficult to enjoy the flow. A few didn't care for the story and disliked the book, while still some loved the cultural exposure and historical journey the books was, in spite of it's depressing nature. For readers who love books with a classic feel, aren't afraid to tackle a language style that may feel foreign to them, and are interested in the general historical setting and myths this book would be an interesting choice. It was a good pick for us and being split on a book sometimes adds to the discussion.

Next we discussed When the Elephants Dance, by Tess Uriza Holthe.

This book depicts the survival of a Philippine family and their friends as they are trying to hide from the horrors of WWII and it's affect on the Philippines. As Japan and America seek control over the land the cruel means of war ultimately ruins all they have. This book has two main plot lines: the first being the survival of the family. They are searching for food, searching for each other and trying to avoid the cruel Japanese. The second plot line is the stories they begin to share with each other while in hiding. Both mythical and heart wrenching, each one brings a history to the table. The war is violent, riddled with torture, rape, and violent killings. The book is not afraid to depict these scenes. The stories shared and personal and strange, beautiful and fun, varying from each story teller.

We pretty much all were just amazed by the book and the stories told. It is a story of hope and family and love amidst horror and violence. It will open your eyes to a part of Philippine history that most of us live unaware of. The book is well written and characters very rich. This was a great discussion book.

Next month will be reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and stay tuned for a few snapshots from our reading retreat!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Three Cups of Tea- March Read- plus the SECRET book

Well, we finished Three Cups of Tea (or most of us finished Three Cups of Tea) with a lot to say about it. We loved the story of Greg and his drive to accomplish his task- fulfill his promise to build a school after failing to climb K2.

We were amazed with some of the side notes of the life of a mountain climber. The months without showering, the cold weather climbs, and the mangy lifestyle off the mountain. But then again, the determination, the goal setting, the fearlessness of the lives is equally stunning.

His story is filled with obstacles and problems, enough to stop a regular person in their tracks- but not Greg. He makes it happen.

The biggest debate over the book was the writing. I felt like it was reading a really long report written by a smitten high schooler. Some of the members felt the writing was too scattered, and the absence of a first person narrative kept us fro really connecting with the main character. Some felt the writing wasn't great, and the author seemed to dollop just a little too much praise on the hero of the story. Others, however, had no problem getting caught up in the story and enjoying it for what it really was- a triumph of one person truly making the world a better place.

Our second book, also our secret book (no bashing allowed) was The Violent Bear It Away, by Flannery O'Connor.
Here is the advice form our book club on this book. Do your homework first. The book is littered with symbolish, types, and spiritual messages on different levels. If you read it straight as a Southern-Gothic (do I feel kind of cool saying that? Of course I do) you will miss what the author is trying to create.

You will question yourself on the many symbols of confession, baptism, Christ and the sacrament, and the call to destiny. It will not leave you unaffected as the violence of the novel will grab your attention as it whispers the message along the way. All of this being said, however, needs to be post scripted with another tip; don't take the book to seriously. When and uncle is telling his nephew to just roll his dead body down the stairs to get momentum to his future gravesite it is okay to laugh to yourself. There a lot of sarcastic and funny moments to be enjoyed.

My personal note is to remind you to read this with a friend. You will need to discuss it, pick their brains, and bounce off ideas form each other. I still find myself pondering this book and why the author chose to write it the way she did. When that happens weeks after I have finished a book I know I read something special. This is a departure fro your typical read, and we all appreciated that.
For next month: read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls and our next secret book, The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve. (Chills just went up my spine).

Come ready to argue, cry, or cuss. But come ready to discuss.