Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger!
Three dozen years ago, this Wednesday, I became a mom, bringing our son into the world. Derek did not slip quietly in, but roared with hunger and passion.
Today, he is a proud father and I’m a grandmother who lives too far away from her grandson. This year, I resolve to remedy this separation and cut my three hour flight, or three day drive, to less than a half hour. I also resolved, during my Christmas holiday family break, to return to reading, where I found my time better spent than hoping the next streaming series or movie would live up to its hype and being perpetually disappointed.
A few days before Christmas, I discovered an audiobook edition of one of my favorite books from the early 90s. Revisiting this novel thirty years later, it still brought tears to my eyes, but did not resonate as vibrantly as my rose-colored memories did. I’m glad I listened to it, but I’m not sure it rates a five star favorite ranking anymore.
I quickly followed that audiobook with my annual reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this year narrated by Frank Muller and recorded in 1980. I immediately listened to many other Christmas short stories, including The Night Before Christmas by Moore, A Country Christmas by Alcott, The Fir Tree by Anderson, The Birds’ Christmas by Wiggin and “Yes, Virginia There Is a Santa Claus.” Betwixt and between all the classic Christmas tales, I enjoyed the Dune graphic novel. On the final day of 2021, I started Connie Willis’ A Lot Like Christmas, which became my first book of ten to finish since the beginning of 2022.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.
As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history. A true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.
If it weren’t for my book clubs, I’d only ever read Tolkien, epic fantasy or the occasional space opera. Thankfully, I have many wonderful women in my life who push my reading boundary buttons and pull me out of my comfort zone. This book, a true crime non-fiction selection published a couple of years ago, was recommended to me last year by one of my small town local librarybook club members. Killers of the Flower Moon was our final book of the month selection for 2019, which we discussed in mid-November. We typically skip December and choose to read a classic over the winter months for discussion in early January. This year’s classic is Hard Times by Charles Dickens.
Nine of us gathered at the local library for our discussion. A couple of us read the audiobook but most of read the print edition. The general consensus about the book was favorable (good research) but before reading Flower Moon, none of us had heard of the Osage murders, and we are within a couple of hundred miles of where they occurred. Even odder, as I noted during our discussion, that Tim White, the special agent in charge of the murder investigation, left the Bureau to become the warden of the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. Even more shocking, our resident skeptic (which really isn’t the right word but I can’t think of one that means ‘person who rarely likes the books we read as a group) stated she enjoyed reading Flower Moon.
With respect to the audiobook, I became distracted by Will Patton’s narration. Not because it was ‘bad’ but rather because it was so amazing. I felt sorry for the other two narrators because when compared side by side (or as book ends) to Will Patton’s performance, theirs was forgettable. And that is why I took a half star off of what would have been a four star rating. The content was informative, well researched and sparked very good group discussion. The audio production gets five stars for Will Patton and three stars for the other two.
This book club is still finalizing what we’re reading in 2020. The polls are out and as soon as I get the results, I’ll update our GoodReads group book shelves and post the slate here and at the library. We at least know what we’re reading for January and February. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait and find out!
My January is fully stocked with reading, book clubs and even a lecture (on a book of course). Tomorrow, I start listening to the audiobook of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles to discuss next Thursday, the 10th, at my local library here in Lansing. It’s going to be tight to get it finished before then since the unabridged edition is fourteen CDs long. That’s normally twelve daily commutes so I’m going to have to double-up on lunch listening and while on the elliptical.
To see what else we’re reading and discussing in 2019, please download our 2019 wall calendar here. You can also find the book covers in the right-hand pane of this blog under “Lansing Community Library Adult Book Group.”
Two other book clubs I nominally belong to are reading the following:
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friday by Matthew Dicks
Between the Lines ~ First Fridays at noon ~ Westport Branch of KCPL
Citizen Science by Caren Cooper
Strangr Than Fiction ~ 7 pm Tuesday the 15th ~ Plaza Branch of KCPL
At the end of September I reached that point in the year when I could shake off all my various book club obligatory reading and get down to the serious business of reading the books I bought for myself all year long. Not every year gives me a break where I can read what I want. I often have to squeeze in my ‘must read’ books between the two to three other books I read per month for various discussion groups and book clubs. Don’t get me wrong. I very much enjoy reading outside my comfort zone and would not give up the wonderful discussions and cherished friendships I’ve nurtured through a shared love of reading.
Most years, I read between 75 and 100 books; last year I read 88 and as of today I’ve read 99 thus far in 2017. And only about ten percent make it onto my ‘loved-it’ shelf (the equivalent of a five-star rating). This year had a few more than normal and will probably end with two to three more on the shelf before year’s end (because I’m now reading what I’ve had on hold for most of the year).
To this day, the low, thin wail of an infant can be heard in Keldale’s lush green valleys. Three hundred years ago, as legend goes, the frightened Yorkshire villagers smothered a crying babe in Keldale Abbey, where they’d hidden to escape the ravages of Cromwell’s raiders.
Now into Keldale’s pastoral web of old houses and older secrets comes Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, the eighth earl of Asherton. Along with the redoubtable Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, Lynley has been sent to solve a savage murder that has stunned the peaceful countryside. For fat, unlovely Roberta Teys has been found in her best dress, an axe in her lap, seated in the old stone barn beside her father’s headless corpse. Her first and last words were “I did it. And I’m not sorry.”
Yet as Lynley and Havers wind their way through Keldale’s dark labyrinth of secret scandals and appalling crimes, they uncover a shattering series of revelations that will reverberate through this tranquil English valley—and in their own lives as well.
And Then What?
The continuing mystery of any book group is always what to read next. And this time of year we start to see the ‘best of’ lists or, in the case of GoodReads, the annual Choice Awards (voting ongoing). We’re scheduled through May 2017, so we’ve got some time to fill up the rest of 2017.
Last month, my local library, the Lansing Community Library, sponsored a new adult book club. About half a dozen people met initially to get to know each other, make book recommendations, decide on when to meet and what book to read first. Since “Banned Book Week” occurs annually at the end of September, at our request, Director, Teri Wojtalewicz, recited a list published by the ALA of the top 100 banned books. We determined that Sophie’s Choice by William Styron was a book that most of us had not read yet and thus became our first “Book of the Month” read.
On the second Thursday of October, we met again and gathered in a few new readers. We had a lively discussion, as can be expected from a book that is challenged frequently for some of its content. Those who had read it in their 20s and re-read it for the group felt like they were reading a different book from what they remembered. I’ve had that same experience many times when returning to books I read from much earlier in my life.
Other readers mentioned and appreciated the use of music for the emotional apexes and nadirs Sophie experienced. Another recurring comment involved the writing style of the author (or Stingo, whose life seemed to somewhat mirror the author’s protagonist), which involved the use of large unfamiliar words and incredibly long sentences. Since I was/am reading the ebook edition, I took occasional advantage of the built-in dictionary available at the touch of a finger.
Thank you to everyone who voted in my poll to help me decide what novel to recommend as a Member’s Choice selection next month at the GoodReads SciFi & Fantasy Book Club. Despite a tie in the poll, several members of the aforementioned group expressed their opinions in a discussion thread I started last week, which sealed my decision.
So, without further ado, my Member’s Choice selection for a group read in July 2012 is . . .
I took the initiative and contacted the author, Barbara Hambly, who graciously agreed to participate in a question and answer thread, much to my surprise and delight.
I will lead, or rather guide, the discussions online at GoodReads (follow this link to join in early). Or wait the ten days until July and hit the ground running with me and several hundreds (perhaps thousands) of your new fantasy friends as we read The Silent Tower together. All are welcome and I’m looking forward to meeting you and introducing you to a fantastic author.
I received the honor of selecting the Member’s Choice reading selection for July 2012 at the GoodReadsScience Fiction & Fantasy Book Club. I reviewed the bookshelf of read books for the club (over a hundred since January 2008) and then reviewed my five star rated books. I narrowed the selection down to just three, two of which I’ve read (multiple times) and one I have wanted to read for many months.
The group has only read one other book written by Barbara Hambly, but she is a prolific fantasy author that deserves more attention.
I honed in on The Silent Tower because it remains one of my favorite Hambly novels. Here’s a brief synopsis to tease you:
In a world where wizards are relegated to ghettos, it is no surprise to see one murdered in the street. But for Stonne Caris, a young warrior monk who sees the killing and gives chase to the culprit, there is nothing ordinary about seeing a murderer disappear into a black, inky portal. The Archmage sends him in search of Antryg Windrose—a half-mad mage who understands the nature of these passages between dimensions.
On the other side of the Void is Joanna, a programmer as mild as Caris is deadly. She has spent her life in cubicles, staring into computer terminals, as far from heroism as she can get. But when the power that is crossing between dimensions draws her through the Void, she finds herself battling to save a world she never even knew existed.
Average GoodReads Rating: 3.92 stars (on a five star scale) based on 819 ratings
Availability: Only the ebook edition is currently in production (I found the best price at Kobo for $7.69; not DRM-free).
It shocked me to learn that the SF&F book club had not read any of David Eddings‘ works; not even from his hugely popular Belgariad series. He also happens to be one of the two fantasy authors I can get my husband to read and I give full credit to the voice of Sparhawk.
Sparhawk, Pandion Knight and Queen’s Champion, returned to Elenia after ten years of exile, only to find his young Queen Ehlana trapped in a block of ensorcelled crystal. Only the great sorcery of Sephrenia, ageless instructor of magic, kept her alive — but the spell would only last a year, and it’s cost was tragically high.
Now a Prince Regent ruled Elenia, the puppet of Annias, ambitious Primate of the Church who planned to seize power over all the land.
As Sparhawk and Sephrenia set out to find a cure for Ehlana, Sephrenia revealed that there was only one person in the west who could defeat the evil plots against Ehlana. That person was Sparhawk.
Average GoodReads Rating: 3.83 stars (on a five star scale) based on 8,983 ratings
Availability: A mass market paperback edition is still in production. No ebook edition is available.
And last, but definitely not least, I settled upon a novel I have wanted to read for months, but can never seem to squeeze into my reading queue: Guy Gavriel Kay‘s The Last Light of the Sun.
I’m not sure of the protocol with respect to recommending and leading the discussion of a book that I haven’t actually read yet, but Kay has never disappointed me. In fact, he always inspires me and leaves me awestruck.
From his very first books, the trilogy known as the Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay was recognized as one of the world’s finest and most innovative writers working with the fantasy tradition. In later works he has taken on, with striking success, an alternative history of Europe, which reached a pinnacle with 2004’s The Last Light of the Sun. Set at the hinge moment of Britain’s Alfred the Great’s enlightened reign (he’s known as Aeldred in Kay’s parallel Europe), Last Light is a drama of cultural clash and change in a world shadowed by the presence of faerie but deeply engaged with human questions of ethics and honour.
Average GoodReads Rating: 3.79 stars (on a five star scale) based on 2,291 ratings
Availability: Several versions are in print, including mass market paperback and trade paperback editions. An ebook edition is also available, but quite pricey at $12.99.
My dilemma remains. I cannot decide which of the above novels to put forth to the group for next month’s Member’s Choice selection. I selfishly lean towards the Kay novel, because I really would rather read something new. But I equally yearn to introduce more readers to either Hambly or Eddings (at least his less well known Elenium series). I have a few days (less than a week) to make up my mind, so I’m soliciting your opinion through this blog post and the poll below. Votes and comments welcome.
I started reading this the evening of February 13th, with snowfall predicted to commence after midnight. I sat shivering at the kitchen table while I read the first few chapters, even though the furnace kept my house a toasty 78 degrees Fahrenheit. I even dug out a blanket to put on the bed before I went to sleep (still shivering). Brrrr….. Great writing by Dan Simmons, atmospherically speaking.
And I restrained my insatiable desire to research the quest for the Northwest Passage and specifically the final voyage of the HMS Terror until after I finished reading the novel. Simmons kept me riveted until the last few chapters, when he decided to take an extreme detour into arctic supernatural spirituality that left me, well, cold.
Still, a great read by an outstanding author. I recommend lots of warm tea or hot cocoa and abstinence from long pork.
The protagonist, Rachel, grabbed me immediately. Not only was she a superb vocalist, she reminded me in so many ways of my own daughter, also named Rachelle, and who is also a superb vocalist (mezzo soprano, though, instead of Rachel’s coloratura soprano). As soon as I finished the book, I sent a recommendation off to my Rachelle, hoping she’d read it and enjoy it as much as I did.
The religious references intrigued me (and sometimes made me laugh – did anyone else think that the name of Semorrah was a mashed-up condensation of Sodom and Gemorrah?) and the musical elements fascinated me. I play piano, attempt to sing (not as well trained as my daughter, so I gave it up as a lost cause at this point in my life) and I know basic music theory. My husband has years of training (jazz trumpet and guitar), composes music and has perfect relative pitch; all of which he passed on to our daughter.
On the question of whether this novel is science fiction or fantasy, I leaned towards the former early on. Once introduced to the oracle Josiah in Archangel, I began to believe I was reading a science fiction story (perhaps along the lines of Pern?). But the rest of the novel revealed little beyond that scene with the Oracle. Another clue could also be derived from the ‘smallness’ of their ‘planet’ in area and scope.
I interpreted the singing as magical. The story is mostly a romance, which I normally avoid like the plague, but in this case it worked well.
I have not decided yet if I will continue this series. I’ll have to research my friends’ reviews of it and see if it gets better or if this installment is as good as it gets.
All in all, I really enjoyed Archangel, even if it seemed to be a romance masquerading as a fantasy with hints of science fiction sprinkled throughout.