Category Archives: book club

Book Club

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Read It Forward – 13 Reasons Why Book Clubs Are Saving the World

What is it about a book club that makes it so irresistible? Personally, I believe it is the structured discussion of a set topic. It is nice, neat, orderly; we all know exactly what to expect. And yet, we don’t. Book club discussions often lead to interesting places. I’ve formally been a member of a book for the last five years. During that time, I’ve read books I never would have picked up otherwise and had discussions I never dreamed I would have all thanks to book club.

The Standish-Sterling Book Club, however, is not my first. I like to think that Grandma Buttrick and I had our own little book club of two for a few years. Every time I visited, usually weekly, she never failed to ask me what I was reading. I loved sitting with her in the den, cold drinks in hand, talking books. I clearly remember both of us reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books and discussing them at length. Even when poor eyesight and memory issues made reading difficult for her, she still loved to talk books. I wouldn’t leave until I told her about the latest book I read.

When Grandma passed away in 2014, I saw it as no coincidence that I soon discovered the Standish-Sterling Book Club. The fact that they were discussing The Fault in Our Stars at the time captured my imagination. I’d read it as well, and due to the loss of an old childhood friend, that book will stay with me for the rest of my life. I wrote about the connection here and even quoted part of the book. On some level, I like to think that Grandma knows all about book club and that our family still shares books.

Regardless, book club will always be a part of my life, even if one day I must start one myself. I get too much out of it – as a reader, a writer, and a human being. This article nails it when it comes to the importance of book clubs and their resurgence. I hope the trend continues. I don’t see myself giving up book club any time soon. I enjoy it far too much.

As a teacher, I wish I could impart my love of books on all students. I truly believe that everyone can learn to love reading. Those who supposedly hate reading just haven’t found the right books yet – or they equate reading with reading in school. In school, students often have little or no choice as to reading material – although that is changing for the better and one of many reasons why I love Donnalyn Miller’s work. You can find more information on her work here. She stresses how important it is for teachers to help students discover good books and learn how to make solid reading choices on their own. I hope one day book clubs – and more importantly, the love of reading – will become so pervasive that students will want to create their own. There is so much to be gained through reading and too many good books to allow a hatred of reading to grow.

The Fault in Our Stars

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Robert Service
Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.

It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.

Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.

I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!

As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

Great Alone

Modern Mrs. Darcy

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It was only a matter of time before I stumbled upon the Modern Mrs. Darcy website.  It contains everything a booklover could want in a website:  reviews, endless reading lists including summaries, podcasts, commentary, and so much more.  My only surprise is that it took me so long to discover this treasure.  Oh, did I mention that there is an online book club as well?  Frankly, I expect the best from a website named after the wife of one of my favorite literary characters of all time:  Fitzwilliam Darcy.  If you are in the mood to dive into all things books, check it out.  Now.  You can thank me later.

By the way, this piece, written about the author’s experience on September 11th was my introduction to the site.  It is insightful and fascinating.  Much more to come from Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn

I can’t recommend The Alice Network by Kate Quinn enough, particularly if interested in historical fiction and World Wars I and II.  American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and trying to find out what happened to her cousin Rose.  Set in 1947 and the aftermath of World War II, Charlie leaves her mother behind and travels to London to find Eve Gardiner, her only lead in her search for Rose.  She is lost, driven by emotion, and angry that she is unable to access her own money.  What happens next sets Charlie on an adventure throughout the French countryside.

Throughout the novel, we get Eve’s history during World War I and her involvement with the Alice Network, which is almost another novel.  I normally don’t read afterwards in novels, but I did this time.  I am glad I did.  It turns out that much of Eve’s story does involve real actions taken by the Alice Network during World War I.  Eve’s story intertwines with Charlie’s in unique and interesting ways, ultimately answering Charlie’s questions about Rose and helping Eve to make long awaited peace with her past.

There is romance in both stories to some extent, but it tends to move the plot along and isn’t romance for the sake of romance.  The part I enjoyed most is Charlie’s determination to live her life on her terms and her terms alone.  Throughout the novel, she is bombarded with familial and societal expectations.  Ultimately, she leaves them behind and creates her own future.  The reader is taken along for one fun ride.

In Eve’s story, much of the action is hard to take.  It is difficult to realize just how much she and her fellow Alice Network members risked every minute they lived under German occupation.  It is ultimately satisfying for the reader when she finally makes peace with her past.  I only wish that a few of the male characters were more fully developed, but it is a minor issue considering it is not their story.  I hate to admit this, but it would make a wonderful movie.

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

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I just finished reading The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.  I found it difficult to put down, and that hasn’t happened for quite some time.  That isn’t to say that I didn’t find issue with some parts of the book.  It simply means that I enjoyed the overall story, particularly Minka’s story of survival during World War II.  I could certainly relate to Sage as well, particularly to her desire for solitude and her relationship with her grandmother.  Unfortunately, I found several things about the modern story to be “off.”  If you are planning to read the novel, you might want to stop here.  Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions.

First, let’s start with Sage.  I couldn’t quite reconcile her personality with her actions.  She may be an atheist and she may harbor lots of guilt, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for her to become deeply involved with married man (Adam).  Being a guilt-ridden atheist doesn’t make one lack moral judgement.  In fact, I would say that her guilt demonstrates that she does indeed have a moral compass.  She even grudgingly agrees with Mary that her relationship with Adam is inherently flawed.  If she was so guarded in her human interactions that she chose to work alone overnight as a baker, why wouldn’t she see all the potential pitfalls in their relationship?  Not only is Adam a funeral director in their shared small town, which practically guarantees that he knows most people in town, he works for his father-in-law.  If Sage was so intent on punishing herself by remaining in an adulterous relationship with Adam, why wouldn’t she consider those who would be hurt by its revelation, namely Adam’s wife and children? It just doesn’t add up.

Then we get to Adam.  Sage already told Adam that she wanted to break it off.  He then doubles down and divorces his wife.  Sage then definitively breaks it off with him.  None of it makes sense to me.  I can understand why Adam decided to divorce if he felt so strongly about Sage; however, wouldn’t one think that he would check with Sage before he just throws his marriage and possibly his career out the window?  It is this impulsiveness in the present-day story that gets to me, which leads me to Leo.

I find Leo to be the most troubling character in the novel.  Something just doesn’t sit well with me.  He waltzes in and sweeps her off her feet with no real backstory.  The backstory available is hardly worth mentioning, and frankly, cliched.  At least it takes Sage a little while to realize that she is falling for Leo.  That doesn’t appear to be the case with Leo.  He fell for Sage practically the moment he met her.  His old-world manners and mannerisms could be charming if they were more fully developed, but that just isn’t the case.  I am all for a happy ending, but Sage and Leo’s relationship at the end appears false and forced in a way that I can’t quite decipher.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  Minka’s writing and real-life story make the novel well worth reading, even if she appears to be the only well-rounded character in the novel.  It is enough.  I highly recommend taking the time to read this book, particularly if interested in the World War II era at all.

On a personal note, I finally realized why W.M. found his way into my subconscious lately (read here).  Somehow, I connected Leo’s character with W.M.  I am not sure why, but I did.  I am happy I figured it out!  Mysteries like that have a nasty way of staying with me.  Now to figure out why.

 

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