Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Club Selections 2014

I belong to a book club that meets once a month. It's not affiliated with the library. In fact, it meets at the First Presbyterian Church. But, Monday night we met at a member's house for dinner and selection of the next year's books. I've belonged to the group just for a year, but it's been going on for fifteen years. The January meeting is the selection meeting, while the February book has already been selected. So, we were really picking the books for March through next February. All books must be available in paperback, so we do read the current year's books.  It was a lot of fun. Whoever nominated a title discussed it, and then we each had six poker chips to vote on titles. Here are the eleven books we're reading in the next year. (We don't read a book in January. That's just dinner and selection.) It's a nice mixed selection of books. The summaries come from our list of books.

In March, we're reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker. "A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, it spans the decades between the 1950s and the present. When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be...until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father's past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader's belief in the power of love to move mountains."

We're discussing M.L. Stedman's debut novel in April, The Light Between Oceans. "Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a tiny island a half day's boat journey from the coast of Western Australia. When a baby washes up in a rowboat, he and his young wife Isabel decide to raise the child as their own. The baby seems like a gift from God, and the couple's reasoning for keeping her seduces the reader into entering the waters of treacherous morality even as Tom - whose moral code withstood the horrors of World War I - begins to waver."

The first nonfiction book of the year is Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. ""Aslan rips Jesus out of all the context we thought he belonged in and holds him forth as someone entirely new. This is Jesus as a passionate Jew, a violent revolutionary, a fanatical idealogue, an odd and scary and an extraordinarily interesting man."

Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life is by Kate Braestrup. "A welcoming modern guide to the simplest, most effective way to satisfy a universal spiritual hunger, it's for the religious and nonreligious and even irreligious in its generous, good-humored approach to spirituality."

Of course I volunteered to moderate the discussion of the only mystery on the list, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. "Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer - in case he or she decides to strike again." It's also our summer potluck (called a pitch-in in Evansville), and our teen invitational meeting.

One of my friends raves about Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. "When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial home sin California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?" Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs.

A couple of us are hoping to go to Kentucky to hear Jamie Ford in March. He's the author of our September book, Songs of Willow Frost. "Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese American boy, has lived at Seattle's Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother's listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday - or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday - William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song. Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford's sweeping novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home."

The next nonfiction title is Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Quote from Bill Gates, Sr. "Stunning...Belongs on the 'must read' list because it offers perspective, insight, and clear-eyed optimism for why and how each of us can and should meet one of the great moral and humanitarian challenges of our time."

Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way relates the compelling stories of three American teenagers living abroad in the world's top-notch schools while an education expert explains how these systems cultivate the 'smartest kids' on the planet."

Our December book is The Inn at the Edge of the World by Alice Thomas Ellis. "The five guests at the inn on a remote Scottish Island have at least one thing in common-they are all in flight from Christmas. Are their respective unhappinesses impervious to the influence of the uncanny?"

Again, we'll have dinner at a member's house in January and pick the next year's books. But, we've already picked the February 2015 book. It's Fannie Flagg's The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion . I've already reviewed it here, an enjoyable story of a woman who discovers there are secrets she didn't know about herself, secrets that go back to the 1940s and a family that owns a Phillips 66 filling station in Pulaski, Wisconsin.

Interesting list, isn't it? I've never heard of most of the nonfiction titles, but one reason to be in a book club is to read books I wouldn't normally read.


Libby Dodd said...

I've read The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. It's a fascinating book. Enjoy.

Beth Hoffman said...

So many terrific selections. I've always loved "Murder on the Orient Express" and I'll bet that will be a fun discussion.

Kaye Barley said...

Now you have me wanting to read MYSTERY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS again!

It is, indeed, an interesting list! I'll be checking in here to hear what you think of each of these. I read an ARC of EMPTY MANSIONS and found it fascinating. Hard for a gal like me to even grasp that kind of wealth. I think I'm going to check out THE INN AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.

Rosemary said...

Hi Lesa - yes, I'm also now itching to re-read the Agatha Christie! And the Alice Thomas Ellis looks good - I'd heard the title before but I never realised it was set in Scotland. The Light Between Oceans was, I think, scooped up by a very small publishing house here, who were of course thrilled when it became so successful. I haven't read it, but the synopsis can't help but make me think of a picture book my children had, about a lighthouse keeper's wife who comes across a boat full of babies - she looks after them all day and then all their mothers turn up and they all have a jolly picnic.All very bizarre really, and no doubt nothing like this novel, but we loved it at the time!

Enjoy your book group.


Linda C said...

Thanks, Lesa, for posting your group picks! I reserved Beginner's Grace from the library and may see about some of the others. You know me, I like my fiction to just take me away without making me think too much!

Lesa said...

Libby, My friend will be pleased to hear you enjoyed The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. He loved the book, and now he's nervous about leading that month's discussion.

Lesa said...

Oh, I'm already thinking about "Murder on the Orient Express", and what I can bring to that discussion. Well, that's what I'll bring to the discussion, not to the pitch-in that evening.

Lesa said...


I need to drop you a note. I have a couple titles you might like!

Reine said...

This sounds like a terrific book club, Lesa. I hadn't heard of the light between oceans before I'm excited to read it now. Thanks for sharing these selections with us! There are a couple of the others on your list I'll check out as well.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Reine. If Linda hadn't asked, I wouldn't have done it, so you all really have her to thank.

Nancy said...

Lesa, I had never heard of most of these books, including fiction. It does sound like a wonderful selection.

Lesa said...

I hadn't heard of most of the nonfiction selections, Nancy. It's an interesting list.

Karen C said...

Sounds like there will be some good discussions with these books!

Lesa said...

I think so, too, Karen. And, this group isn't shy about expressing opinions!