Book Club

The Alice Network

The Alice Network is historical fiction beautifully told between alternating chapters that focus on Charlie St. Clair, an unwed pregnant woman in 1947 New York who is looking for her lost cousin Rose who has disappeared while living in Nazi-occupied France; and Eve Gardiner, who in 1915 was living in France while fighting the Germans as one of very few female spies in the Alice Network.

In 1947, Eve is drunk and bitter, and she’s Charlie’s best help in finding Rose. But can Charlie convince Eve drop drop her hibernation act and put down the booze?

Great storytelling. Super compelling. I really couldn’t put it down. Plus there’s handsome Finn. Better than a lot of historical World War I/World War II fiction out there. Oh, and the audio version c’est magnifique!

4/5 Stars

Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan

Green-IslandIn the opening pages of Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island, we are transported to 1947 Taiwan, a county overtaken by violence and fear as it succumbs to Martial Law. Here we meet Dr. Tsai and his wife, confined to their home as she’s laboring with their fourth child. Shortly after their daughter’s birth, Dr. Tsai is heard speaking out against the Chinese Nationalists. This public dissent results in his arrest and imprisonment on Green Island for more than a decade. He returns a shell of the man he once was, to a family that is struggling to embrace him.

Green Island, narrated by Dr. Tsai’s youngest, and unnamed, child, is an epic journey of historical fiction and political unrest spanning 60 years and two continents. I was hooked immediately and found myself angry, saddened, and frustrated by the horrific events at the hands of power-hungry, fear-mongering people. Ryan has crafted a truly engaging story of family bonds and betrayals that will keep you turning the pages and thinking long after the last page is read.

4 Stars

Fate and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is one of the most talked about books from 2015. After Snotty Literati read it, we couldn’t stop talking about it.

Check out our conversation about Fates and Furies and chime in with your own thoughts in the comments!

Fates and Furies Cover Image

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Signs Preceding the End of the WorldEvery year, I try to read a handful of books I might not normally read. These aren’t books that are “out of my comfort zone” like zombie apocalypse, vampire YA stuff… but books that can expand my reach and reading experience. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera is the perfect kind of book to do this.

Signs, written in Herrera’s native Spanish and translated by Lisa Dillman, tells the story of Makina, a young Mexican woman making the dangerous trek across the U.S./Mexican Border to deliver an unmarked package and find her brother. Marina’s brother crossed over a year ago, with the sketchy promise of land acquisition.

In just 107 pages, Herrara give us a glimpse into a world many of us don’t know, but may talk–or even argue–a lot about. It’s a world of many unknowns and uncertainties; and one that delivers a solemn punch about the realities of how humans choose to treat one another.

4 Stars

Sunday Sentence: February 23, 2014

The Sunday Sentence is “simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.” author David Abrams.

Snap 2014-02-23 at 09.38.58

“What his son, Marty, never fully understood was that deep down there was an Ethel-shaped hole in Henry’s life, and without her, all he felt was the draft of loneliness, cold and sharp, the years slipping away like blood from a wound that never heals.”

From The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlI can’t stop hearing about Gone Girl. It’s everywhere. Every best book list for last year. Every bookstore has tables and tables of it. Every airport has it. Everywhere! People are telling me I HAVE TO READ IT. I mean, I see or hear about it as much as I hear that Call Me Maybe song.

Confession time: Hey, I just met you and this is crazy… but I love that Call Me Maybe song. Seriously… way too much. It’s on my iPod. I listen to it every time I workout. I listen to it when I don’t work out. It’s a total guilty pleasure just the way good pop songs are supposed to be. Despite all this, I am kinda convinced all the air time, over-exposure and gazillion parody videos that came from Call Me Maybe will probably resign Carly Rae Jepsen to one-hit wonder status, because how can she ever do anything bigger than that? It might be impossible. And if you are wondering what on earth this has to do with Gone Girl, I am getting there.

I first read Gillian Flynn when the Book Babes selected Sharp Objects for book club a few years back. We all read it, were super creeped out and loved it. Ms. Flynn was already starting to get quite a following with this book and her next one Dark Objects. But not a Carly Rae Jepsen-level following. You want to be good but not YouTube crazy parody good, which I am not quite sure how you even do with a book… but I think you catch my drift.

Fast-forward several years and everyone has read this Gone Girl book and is stark-crazy raving about it and Gillian Flynn is the new “Mistress of Mystery”. (I am making up that moniker, but someone has probably penned that nickname and if not, okay, I’ll take credit for it). And thank goodness this is her third book so she really can be the Mistress of Mystery and not the “Carly Rae Jepsen of Mystery”. Now if that Jepsen girl has another bona-fide hit, my iPod and I will be thrilled, but my analogy here will be screwed. And what’s that analogy again? Be popular, but not Carly Rae popular.

So, back in December, one of the Book Babes selected Gone Girl for our February read and we were all pretty excited. Here’s the non-spoiler overview:

Nick and Amy Dunn have been married for five years when the recession forces them out of their cushy writing jobs in Manhattan and back to Nick’s Missouri river hometown to care for his declining mother. Amy misses the life left behind—one of privilege and minor celebrity status as the namesake of her parent’s wildly successful children’s book series—Amazing Amy! Life in Missouri is hard hit by the recession, houses in the Dunn’s neighborhood are foreclosing and Amy is declining. Nick is trying to make the move back home work. Going in on a bar with his twin sister Margo, he’s the only one with a job. Long hours take time from the marriage. They take away the spark as well. The day of their five-year anniversary, Nick gets a call he never expected. Racing home, he finds an open front door, a ransacked living room, lots of blood and no Amy.

Enter the police. Nick can’t stop lying to them, which doesn’t help matters. His disposable cell phone keeps ringing at the most inopportune times and he quickly finds himself in the role of leading suspect.

But let me tell you a little secret. Everything I told you is laid out for you in the first 30 pages. Flynn is known for writing super topsy-turvy, twisty-turny thrillers and Gone Girl taps out at 419 pages. So guess what? All is not as it seems.

Told in alternating chapters with Nick narrating his story in the present day and Amy’s story from a few years back, the reader is sent down a pretty twisted (read: crazy) rabbit hole to figure out who killed Amazing Amy.

I really can’t tell you anymore, except to read it. Gone Girl is a trip. A road trip into creepy crazy town. Flynn sets the stage well, keeping you guessing as you drive the car slowly up the hill and just as you make it over the top, the car starts careening out of control and you realize there aren’t any brakes. It’s a totally wild ride that ends in utter shock. Some of the Book Babes didn’t buy the ending. Some of us felt it couldn’t have ended any other way. Not one of us could stop turning the pages.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 319
Genre: Mystery

 

A is for The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Let me start by saying I love, love, LOVE Zafón‘s The Shadow of the Wind. It’s an all-time favorite and a must-read for book lovers. So with all that book baggage, picture me cracking open The Angel’s Game with mucho expectations. Now picture me disappointed when it fell mucho short.

Problemo Uno: Zafon used a key player from Shadow of the Wind and his role just didn’t make sense here.

Problemo Dos: Creepy kinda super-fantastical stuff which really isn’t my deal.

Problemo Tres: I just didn’t enjoy it.

So beware. But if you like creepy kinda super-fantastical stuff and you haven’t read and fallen in love with The Shadow of the Wind, then The Angel’s Game may be your cup of tea.

Rating: 2 stars
Pages: 544
Genre: Fiction

L is for Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I have had this book for years. So many people wanted me to read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan that I found myself with two copies, one I purchased and one that was given to me. But with oodles and oodles of books lying around, it was one of many I needed to get to. Flash forward and back up to this past November, and LOVING FRANK was selected by my Book Club for our January read. And then I did something crazy (big surprise). I bought a version for my Kindle and gave away my two copies. It was on a lark I did this, and only after having read through the first few chapters. I was instantly smitten with Horan’s wordly–no, that’s not a typo for worldly–ways and confident the recipients would love it as much as I was. Having finished it just in time for tomorrow’s discussion, and to be on track for this year’s project, all I can say is… I am loving Frank. The book, rather, not so much the man.

Let me also say that prior to cracking this book open, I knew very little about Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). Sure, in the peripheral pockets of knowledge I keep, I know he’s a major contributor to American architecture. He has two famous homes (probably more) Taliesen in Wisconsin and Taliesen West in Scottsdale (the latter I have actually visited). I also grew up in the southwest near a church inspired by his work full of clean lines, glass and nature. But his personal life, his drive and arrogance, his marriages and a rather scandalous affair in the early 1900s, I knew absolutely nothing about. My ignorance of FLW and his lover Mamah was absolute bliss when reading this captivating work of historical fiction.

In the early 1900s, Mamah (pron. May-muh) Borthwick Cheney was married and had just commissioned FLW to build a house in Oak Harbor. A masters-level educated woman who actively promoted women’s rights, Mamah was a leader and much ahead of her time. Her forward thinking ideas drew me to her and I liked her fire very much. Yet upon meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, her heart took over and the two of them found themselves quickly in a complicated, romantic entanglement; both FLW and Mamah were married to other people and both had children. They believed their shared love to be the truest relationship they had found and they would do anything to be together. Even if it meant Mamah leaving her very young children in the hands of her cuckolded husband and her sister to travel the world and follow Frank’s dreams. My love for Mamah was instantly lost; but I couldn’t stop reading. Horan’s blend of known facts and her own imagined dialogue between these two lovers was completely compelling.

There was a bit of detail overload at times on the architecture and landscape talk. But I had to know what would come of these two people and the families they left behind. I needed answers and outcomes, impacts and consequences. I could not understand a woman being able to abandon her children. As I turned the pages, I repeatedly wondered how could she do this (how any woman could ever do it)? Could she really be that selfish? Doesn’t she understand the gravity of her choices? How on earth would this turn out?

I won’t answer those questions for you; read it for yourself to find out.

Suffice it to say, if you know nothing or very little of the actual events, the story will take you in completely and when you least expect it, it will throw you. It will utterly throw you, jerking you up out of your comfortable reading posture forcing you to reread the pages you just read in utter disbelief. There are answers, there are outcomes–devastating ones, at that. And we are left with a fascinating account of what might have happened in the years that Frank and Mamah eschewed the world and everything in it for each other and, of course, Frank’s work.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction

Week 31: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen

MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS: You had me at the cover of your delightful looking little book. Yes, it was your cover that had my interest on high alert and my mouse ready to click “Add to Cart”. Then I looked closer and saw that you were a memoir. And you were endorsed by Elizabeth Gilbert of EAT, PRAY, LOVE fame. Well, I just had to add you to my shelf of all of my other impulsive book purchases that I have made but can’t actually make good on reading until some later date because that’s just how I roll.

Fast forward two months and my book club selected it for our August read. Picture me thrilled! Fast forward just a teensy bit more and see me glad to have read it but with a luster that’s faded ever so slightly.


MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS (MENNO) is writer and professor Rhoda Janzen’s memoir of returning to her roots after a devastating car accident that left her physically scarred and the dissolution of her 15-year marriage that emotionally wrecked her. Home for Janzen is her Mennonite community on the west coast, thousands of miles from the midwest and her life of academia. Despite eschewing much about the faith, the food and the conservative upbringing her parents provided, Janzen finds that home is where the healing is.


In a dozen or so chapters, Janzen shares her history, both as a Mennonite daughter and then a codependent wife married to a charismatic yet bipolar, emotionally abusive and ultimately bisexual man who leaves her for another man. Her gift is in her sense of humor and ability to embrace a community that she once left behind. Janzen does this with a very conversational tone, a must for me in a good memoir. She seems very real and someone who would be great to sit next to at a dinner party.


My only real complaint was the number of stories and anecdotes she shared to give the reader a glimpse of her personal history. She crams so many of them into MENNO that I felt that she often interrupted herself to get another story in. And yet there were moments of realization, of reflection and remembrance captured so very eloquently that her talents as a writer can’t be denied. And, it’s this contradiction that has me struggling. I think MENNO is definitely worth a recommendation, but I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone. Oh, how I wanted to remain as totally smitten with this book as when I first laid eyes upon the cover! But I am a little more informed and a little better off for having read it. And I am sure, just like finding the perfect little black dress, this book will be the perfect fit for that special someone.


Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 272
Genre: Memoir

Week 4: The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse – Louise Erdrich

This week’s entry was picked for me as my February Book Club’s selection. Admittedly, it actually took me two weeks to read it, but finishing it up this week, I am counting it now. For those that know me well, I considered heavily (probably too much) if I should count this or not since I didn’t read this in an actual week and then I was quickly reminded that I had many more mundane things I could be fretting over and moved on.

So this is my third Erdrich undertaking, the first being The Master Butchers Singing Club (a literary marvel and masterpiece and all that good stuff that comes when you read something remarkable). Second, I tackled her first novel, Love Medicine, and fumbled big-time. I couldn’t get through it. The third and most current is THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE, which falls somewhere between the two. And, just so you know, here on out I will refer to it as LITTLE NO HORSE because the title, while wonderful is just too much to type and I have too many acronyms I have to deal with in my 8-5 job, so TLROTMALNH was a headache-inducing proposition and so quickly off the blog posting page it falls.

All of my Erdrich readings have been due to my book club and I am not sure I would have picked her up otherwise. I love, love, LOVED The Master Butchers Singing Club and went into LITTLE NO HORSE with much anticipation, it being a National Book Award finalist and all. But unfortunately, the love affair faded rather quickly.

There is no doubt that Erdrich has crafted a truly unique story with LITTLE NO HORSE. She’s an extremely talented writer. To create a full community of feuding Ojibwe Indian families, their difficult life on desolate land and their desire for counsel and guidance from a dedicated priest (Father Modeste) is an achievement. She crafts a story of major transgressions, dark violence and closely held secrets. One where thought I would be quick to turn the page and slow to put down, but that wasn’t the case. Certainly, there were moments that were pretty spectacular and then there were more times than I expected that I found the book to drag on and, dare I say it?, where I was a little bit bored.

This is not a book to consume quickly. It takes a bit of time, focus and quiet. The sentence structure is long, the list of characters complex and, at times, it’s hard to follow. At least, that was my experience. And I don’t officially award books with prestigious honors or even seals; so who am I to say? I just read some of them and write about them on this little blog that a small contention of folks follow. So at the end of the day read it at your own risk and decide for yourself. And if you do that, let me know what you think.

Rating: 2 stars
Pages: 361
Genre: Fiction

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