December, 2013: The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline

(Book #44) Geri, our special Christmas hostess welcomed a full house of book club members and their cookies! She made us a drink called a Stone Fence that somehow talked each of us into having more than we should. Though none of us were terribly impressed with the Gatsby inspired novel* that we read, the meal that is sparked was amazing. It was called a Nantucket Noel. There was beef tenderloin with a delicious reduction, corn pudding, lobster toast and shrimp. The only thing missing was Geri’s husband in a Santa costume in a motorboat! After the meal, Geri served a wonderful cheesecake and then it was time for COOKIES! Fourteen delightful varieties.

I gave the girls their mini book ornaments for the book each hosted this year and gave them their boarding passes for Fictional Airlines, our reading list for 2014. Off we go!

*My Goodreads review: While I enjoyed trying to identify similarities to The Great Gatsby, I didn’t find the novel terribly intriguing. It was difficult to see the greatness in Lenore — and the men attracted to her (with the possible exception of her grandpapa) are not an exceptional breed.

November, 2013: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

(Book #43) Mary hosted The Orchardist and she must have had to visit an orchard for all the apples she pared and sliced for a wonderful apple crisp. But that was dessert — that comes later. Mary served some great wines, a salad and a pork stew served over noodles.

When we discussed the book we talked about making hard choices and letting those you love make their own. I thought it was beautifully written; the author broke my heart at least three times. I think my favorite aspect was the way there were blanks in some memories — it must happen to all of us. Mostly I kept talking to the book telling the characters to talk to each other, tell somebody! We all had difficulty imagining why anyone would live so far away from neighbors or coffee shops!

October, 2013: The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

(Book #42) We put our newest member right to work — Chris hosted this gathering. For dinner we had the most delicious mini-pumpkins filled with cheese, cream and sage, a salad and shrimp creole. For dessert we had a chocolate cake which did not come of the bundt pan as it should have and had to be smushed back together as Chris reported it. Regardless of its shape or how it was encouraged to maintain that shape, it was decadent and delicious.

Some critics of the book described it as having a hallucinatory quality and we were all in agreement with that. Susan felt that the language didn’t fit the period and several of us thought that it was an unusual exercise to write a prequel for Jane Eyre. I mentioned most of those things in my review on Goodreads:

I read somewhere that Joyce Carol Oates suggested that Wide Sargasso Sea is more “hallucinatory prose poem” than it is novel. That was clearly how it read for me but it wasn’t necessarily pleasurable in that regard. While I was able to determine who was telling the story at any given time, I wasn’t enamored with the narrator switching. Plot changes are abrupt and rationale elusive. Why does Antoinette’s husband begin to call her Bertha except for the reason that she is transitioning into the mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre.

September, 2013: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifkin Brunt.

Another book on my favorite titles list.

(Book #41) Sharon hosted and her meal was inspired by the June’s wish to take her gay uncle’s partner back to England before his health prevented it. Our meal was British meat pies, peas and salad and Sharon served a berry cobbler for dessert.

The book was well appreciated by most of us and it sparked some interesting conversation — about art and about the mother and two daughters daring to paint on the brother/uncle’s canvas. I wasn’t convinced about the relationship between the two sisters but Geri and Susan found it realistic. My Goodreads review reveals that I was the odd one out opinion-wise:

I wasn’t as enamored by this book as I had expected to be. I liked Finn and Toby and I could appreciate that June had a crush on her uncle. I enjoyed the references to Finn shining through Toby or the other way around, but that was about it. Danielle did not seem at all real to me, the meanness of the older sister, her drinking and the leaf burial — was so out of proportion for its emotional source. And the lying was maddening. –we all fall into lying as teenagers but nothing ever seemed to mean enough to anyone to be honest with sister, brother, uncle, parents or themselves.

August, 2013: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

(Book #40) Melissa hosted this get-together and served as she put it, a little summer meal. (That’s the full description of the meal in our journal!)  We are left with my review:

Books appeal to us in such different ways — inspired language, glimpses of insight, or just a lovely story. There are certainly moments when Morton’s writing is inspired: “Odd that the stock should still be here when Nell was gone. Disloyal of it, somehow.” At other times the writing is overly descriptive as though each chapter required a weather report. (Weather descriptions have always been problematic for me, so don’t take that last comment too seriously.) Forgotten Garden appealed to me for its story, for the search, for the unraveling of old information. I’ve read some reviews in which readers were bothered by the author’s borrowing from Frances Hodgson Burnett, and I was concerned by that at first, as well. But I think it was quite clever for Morton to remind us that all ideas are sparked by other ideas/events, when on page 381, we meet Burnett at the moment when a garden serves as the inspiration for her Secret Garden. Reading Morton’s acknowledgements solidified that appreciation, as she thanks the authors who “fired her childhood imagination” and inspired her love of reading.

Big News: I have a grandson, Dennis Errol, named for my brother Dennis and a sweet friend of ours.

July, 2013: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

(Book #39) Susan hosted this gathering and we welcomed a new member, Chris, a friend of Geri’s. In honor of Renee and Kakuro’s first dinner together, we dined on Japanese food, Gyoza or dumplings, a noodle dish, Yakisoba maybe? and an assortment of sushi.

The book discussion included some minor disagreement but everyone’s favorite chapter was the description of Renee going to the movie with her dying husband and we all agreed the ending was unnecessary. Sharon felt it was well written, while Susan said it didn’t really capture her attention until Kakuro moves in. I may have been the toughest critic as is noted in the Goodreads review here:

After the first few chapters I screamed “Pretentious!” causing great alarm among my pets (none of whom are named after Tolstoy or his characters.) Because it is one of our book club reads, however, I felt I must push on. There were a few moments, somewhere in the middle, when I responded positively, but that was all over when one of the two narrators spent a page deciding how to ask to use the toilet. I found the backstory of the concierge and its impact on her life to be more turn of the 20th century than 21st, and really, Spoiler Alert, that ending?

June, 2013: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

(Book #38) My daughter Frances helped me host this event and we invited the girls to her apartment rather than my home. They all took a peak at the nursery and then those naughty girls staged an impromptu shower for Frances, using the book’s theme of vacation.  They packed a suitcase full of baby travel items!  Susan gave him a stuffed animal from the zoo!

The menu was a combination of some of the favorite dishes of our assassinated presidents in a red, white and blue setting.

Both Geri and Melissa commented that the book was difficult to read at times because of the abundance of facts (we’re used to fiction) co-incidences and I understand that, but it is also what I love about the book. I love Vowell’s writing style and the overlap of details. We talked about monuments, and we were horrified that the T. McVeigh t-shirt sold out. We discussed whether we thought Mudd was an intentional participant and we had to raise our hands if this is where we learned the reference “Your name is Mudd.”  Geri read a favorite moment when Sarah makes fun of anyone preparing her for entering and embalming museum:

The Museum of Funeral Customs is on the edge of Oak Ridge Cemetery, a five-minute walk from the tomb.  Supposedly the fellow who swoops over to greet me is the museum director, but he speaks in the hushed low voice of a funeral director.  He warns me about “the sensitive nature of our exhibits.”

Please.  I actually giggle when he tries to steel me for seeing the re-created 1920s embalming room, as if I’m not wearing Bela Lugosi hair clips; as if I didn’t just buy a book for my nephew called Frankenstein and Dracula Are Friends; as if I was never nicknamed Wednesday (as in Addams); as if in eighth-grade English class, assigned to act out a scene from a biography, when all the other girls had chosen Queen Elizabeth or Anne Frank, I hadn’t picked Al Capone and staged the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre with toy machine guns and wadded-up red construction paper thrown everywhere to signify blood; as if I’m not the kind of person who would visit the freaking Museum of Funeral Customs in the first place.

May, 2013: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

(Book #37) For starters, what a great title. Some day I have to make a list of my favorite titles, even if I wasn’t so crazy about the book.

Mary hosted this gathering and we started with snacks and drinking wine at the island in her kitchen. Once we were all assembled we sat down to a lovely dinner of chicken and noodles with a green salad on the side. 

We talked about the isolation of the book’s setting, and how we would now be able to wow friends and family with our knowledge of Janus Rock. We talked about the choice the couple made and whether or not any of us would be capable of making that choice, but we thought perhaps we should have two or three miscarriages before testing our morality. We talked about the parts of the book that made us cry or sob outright, and the frustration that we felt for the husband who just could not get a break.

Favorite Quotes:

You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.

The oceans never stop … the wind never finishes. Sometimes it disappears, but only to gather momentum from somewhere else, returning to fling itself at the island … Existence here is on the scale of giants. Time is in the millions of years; rocks which from a distance look like dice cast against the shore are boulders hundreds of feet wide, kicked round by millennia.

April, 2013: Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis

(Book #36) Decadence. Sharon was going for decadence when she hosted this event. She had chocolate money strewn on the table and the appetizers were pigs in a blanket. This book was a very different read for most of us, a decadence of alcohol, sex, drugs, more sex and more sex. One of my favorite comments came from Mary, later in the evening when she wondered if she’d ever be able to get that donkey out of her head.  The book was so different than what we typically read that Geri returned the book, arguing that it couldn’t be what she ordered. We certainly aren’t prudes, but, Martin Amis clearly has way more imagination than the likes of us. 

The meal was delicious. Sharon served salmon and a wonderful salad. For dessert there were two choices of cupcakes: chocolate and lemon. I felt it was important to try both as the chocolate was supposed to imitate the Hostess cupcake.  I say when, and I say Hostess.

March, 2013: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

(Book #35) As I explained for February, 2013, a short time after we started this group, I began keeping a journal of all of our gatherings. At some point I decided I should have the hostess record the events of the meeting, but the journal would stay too long at one house, not be delivered to the next or the next and soon there was no record except those items I could remember. I wasn’t able to attend this meeting, so once again I have only my Goodreads review:

Beautifully crafted. This book fulfills the need I experience constantly while traveling, wanting to know the personal history of a staircase or painting or gown — who has touched it, influenced it, marked or stained it. People of the Book is a fascinating read.

Favorite Quotes:

We were too intelligent, too cynical for war. Of course, you don’t have to be stupid and primitive to die a stupid, primitive death.

The book has survived the same human disaster over and over again. Think about it. You’ve got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything’s humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize ‘the other’–it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists…same old, same old.”