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Posts tagged ‘book club’

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses: A Novel Out Stealing Horses: A Novel by Per Petterson

rating: 4 of 5 stars

 Out Stealing Horses is a  quiet tale about  Trond Sander, a 67-year old Norwegian man who after running into a former neighbor begins reminiscing about his life. In particular, his flashbacks focus on a summer from when he was a teenager during World War II and lived with his father in a remote area of Norway near the Swedish border.   During this time, their neighbors  experience a traumatic event that also effect Trond and his father. The prose is stark and bleak and seamlessly transitions between the flashbacks and the present day as Trond goes about his solitary days working around his cabin.

It is important not to be careless about supper when you are alone. It is easily done, boring as it is to cook for one person only. There must be potatoes, sauce, and green vegetables, a napkin and a clean glass and the candles lit on the table, and no sitting down in your working clothes. So while the potatoes are boiling I go into the bedroom and change my trousers, put on a clean white shirt and go back to the kitchen and lay a cloth on the table before putting butter into the frying pan to fry the fish I have caught in the lake by myself.

 Two of my book clubs selected Out Stealing Horses as their March book. The two different clubs were very aried on their opinions of the book–one book club didn’t like it very much at all and the other one did.  I personally found the book very readable and enjoyed it.  Everybody needs a little bleakness in their leisure reading now and again. 😉 Others found it “boring and depressing.” 

Out Stealing Horses was the winner of the IMPAC Dublin Award. It was also named on the The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year.

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The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

 I know that I have many books that fit into the “oh, I just have to read that!” category, and Monsters of Templeton was definitely one of those. So, I was super excited when it was selected for the monthly pick for one of my book clubs. It turned out to be a big hit with everyone in the book club.

The Monsters of Templeton was a very unique book that is kind of hard to describe. At its heart, it was the story of a young woman trying to uncover who her father is. Willie Upton is a 28 year old archeology PhD student who returns home to Templeton, NY after having an affair with one of her professors. 

 Templeton was to me like a less-important limb, something inherently mine, something I took for granted. My own tiny, lovely village with a great old mansions and a glorious lake, my own grand little hamlet where everyone know your name, but with elaborate little frills that made it unlike anywhere else: the baseball museum, the Opera, the hospital that had vast arms extending into the rest of upstate, an odd mix of Podunk and cosmopolitan. I came back when I had to, to feel safe, to recharge; I just hadn’t had to in so long.

 Shortly after Willie arrives home 2 things happen: 1)  a huge, dead lake monster floats to the surface of the lake in the center of town and 2) Willie’s mother, Vi, confesses that Willie’s father wasn’t a random free love hippie in San Francisco but was in fact someone from Templeton.  Vi refuses to tell Willie her father’s name but does tell her that her father is someone who is also connected to the town’s founder.  Willie starts researching her family tree and the town’s history to try to determine who her father could be.  As she conducts her research she uncovers scandals, ghosts and more.  The chapters alternate between present day told from Willie’s point of view and the past told from Willie’s various ancestors’ points of view.

I really enjoyed this book. It was quirky and filled with whimsy and subtle humor.  There were lots of interesting characters uncovered during Willie’s research. It was a combination of historical fiction, mystery, and contemporary fiction.  Overall the book was a very engaging read that I found extremely difficult to put down.

Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last Night at the Lobster is Stewart O’Nan’s eleventh novel, but the first of his that I’ve read. We recently selected it as a book club read since it takes place in New England in the winter…and we just happen to be living in New England and it’s the middle of winter. Last Night at the Lobster is a simple, charming story about the final night of business for a New Britain, Connecticut Red Lobster.  This particular Red Lobster is located in the parking lot of a mall just off the interstate. Lobster big-wigs have decided that this particular Lobster is not meeting expectations and should be closed. The restaurant’s manager Manny DeLeon and his bare-bones crew show up for the final day of work at the Red Lobster.  It is a few days before Christmas, a day that is usually busy due to all of the shoppers at the mall. However, on this particular December day, a huge snow storm blows through town.

The novel is a minute by minute account of the last day and night at the Red Lobster. It gives a realistic glimpse into a day in the life of hard-working folks in middle America.  I have only eaten at a Red Lobster once (there really aren’t any in the greater Boston area…we have plenty of seafood restaurants without them!) and have never worked at a restaurant but have always been curious about behind the scenes “dirt”. The interactions of the staff at the Lobster is similar to the dynamics between co-workers at any job that I’ve worked at. There are tensions between some and more developed relationships between others. Manny’s ex-girlfriend Jaqui works at the Lobster and Manny still moons over her even though they’ve both moved on to new relationships.

At just over 140 pages Last Night at the Lobster is a short yet worthwhile read.  At its heart, the book is about the trying to get by in America and striving to make yourselves a better future even while you have one foot stuck in the past.  Manny finds himself asking questions such as: why are they closing my Red Lobster? What went wrong? Where did my relationship with Jaqui go wrong? What will my crew do for work now that the Lobster will be closed?  O’Nan treats his characters with respect, he doesn’t make the reader look down on them.

In my opinion, Last Night at the Lobster is the perfect book to curl up with while you are stranded inside during a winter storm. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or wondered what it is like to work in one, this book is a great way to get a peek inside the day in the life of a restaurant crew.

Looking for something to munch on while you read or discuss Last Night at the Lobster. How about some Cheddar Bay Biscuits, find the copycat recipe for the “famous” Red Lobster biscuits in my post here.

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Rasputin’s Daughter

Rasputin's Daughter Rasputin’s Daughter by Robert Alexander

rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I like to throw the occasional work of historical fiction into the mix of my reading list. Rasputin’s Daughter is set during the eve of the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century in St. Petersburg.  It tells of the final days of Rasputin’s life & the eve of the Russian Revolution told through the eyes of his 18-year old daughter, Maria.  Maria waffles between being in awe of her father’s abilities as a mystic and spiritual leader and of doubting if he is truly a great man.

Never before tonight had I questioned by father. Never before this evening had I doubted him. But staring at this man with the beastly hair on his head and that thicket on his cheeks, this crude man with bits of food hanging from his mouth and from his filthy, greasy fingers, how could I not?

The novel was a quick & easy read, but in my opinion it bordered a bit on being cheesy and contrived.  I didn’t find Maria’s “relationship” with a young man named Sasha at all believable.  She meets him on a boat and develops a crush on him almost immediately. And despite all signs that point to him not being quite what he seems, she continues to be infatuated by him. At the same time, Maria hears rumors of people plotting to kill her father and tries to protect him and find out more about the plot against him.  I would have like the novel to delve a bit more into the intrigue that was occurring in Russia at that time in history. I felt there was too much focus on Maria fretting about her Sasha-crush and her confusion and concern for her father.

My book club chose to read Rasputin’s Daughter since it was included on Indiebound’s List of Reading Group Picks.  I can’t wait to hear what everyone else thought of the book. If your book club reads Rasputin’s Daughter, you can use the Reading Group Guide to give you discussion topics.

Looking for something to munch on while you read Rasputin’s Daughter?  You can eat lot of white fish like Rasputin or how about some sauerkraut cakes

Reads: A Three Dog Life

A Three Dog Life A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
rating: 4 of 5 stars

I currently don’t have any pets, but I can understand the comfort that they bring to people. Growing up we always had at least two cats and no matter how down or ugly or horrible you were feeling they still wanted to spend time with you…sitting on your lap, sleeping on your pillow by your head, or (obnoxiously) sitting on your text book while you were trying to do your Algebra homework.

In A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas describes her life after her husband’s traumatic brain injury and how her dogs brought some comfort into her life. This is Thomas’s second memoir (I haven’t read her first one Safekeeping)  and she has published works of fiction as well.

One day, Abigail’s husband, Rich,  is struck by a car as he chases after their dog, who has gotten off the leash. Immediately after the accident, doctors pronounce that Rich’s chances of survival are slim.  He does survive, but now has a traumatic brain injury which leaves him with short term memory issues and unable to live without 24 hour supervision. Abigail suffers from survivor’s guilt and wonders if she is a bad wife for not taking care of her husband herself at home. Abigail establishes her new life based on the new facts of  Richard and her life. She finds comfort from her three dogs, her friends, her hobbies, and a newly found obsession with Outsider Art. 

The accident was more than two years ago, and I still can’t get my mind around it. He is there and not there, he is my husband and not my husband. His thoughts seem to break apart and collide with each other, and I try not to think at all. On good days we sit outside. We don’t talk, we just sit very close together and hold hands. It feels like the old days, it feels like being married again. When I get home at night my dogs greet me, Rosie bounding as if on springs, Harry wiggling at my feet. Sometimes, I sit right down on the floor before taking off my coat.

A Three Dog Life is a memoir with a sad topic since it dealt with a man with a brain injury, but Thomas managed to write an uplifting book, about rebuilding her life and discovering  an inner peace. The book was not overly sentimental and it is written in a straightforward, conversational style.  I was expecting the book to be more focused on Rich’s brain injury and his resultant issues, but it was definitely more about how Abigail rebuilt her life after the tragedy.  The book was more a collection of essays than a standard linear narrative.  Thomas jumps backwards and forwards through time and hops from subject to subject. 

One of my book clubs selected A Three Dog Life for our November discussion book based on it being included on the list of Indiebound Recommended Book Club Picks. Plus,  one woman in our group works at a school for kids who’ve suffered from traumatic brain injuries so we thought she might be able to offer some insights for our discussion.

Several months ago I read another memoir by a woman who’s husband suffered a traumatic brain injury in a boating accident. I enjoyed that book, Where is the Mango Princess? as well.  It told more of the behavioural and lifestyle changes that the author’s husband experienced after his injury.

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Reads: Don’t Get Too Comfortable

The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In these hard economic times, many people are cutting back on their spending and making sacrifices. What better time to read an essay collection about the extravagance of American life?

In “Don’t Get Too Comfortable”, Rakoff takes a satirical look at consumerism in America.  These essays are his observations of the excesses of American society.  It’s a humorous look at the way we live and not an intellectual dissection on the topic. I found some of the essays to be stronger than others. The essays were laced with snarkiness, and I like snark. There were moments where I laughed but some of the content seemed like things I’ve read before.

The foodie in me enjoyed the essay where Rakoff describes his experiences dinner at Chez Panisse. His skewering of foodies is funny because it’s true. He pokes fun at folks more excited about the restaurant they are eating in than the food they are eating.

I also enjoyed the first essay in the book: Love it or Leave It, which was about Rakoff’s experiences becoming an American citizen. He’s originally from Canada and had lived for years as a permanent US resident without any real desire to become a US citizen…until 9/11 and its aftermath, when as he says ” George W. Bush made me want to be an American.” He didn’t want to be an American because he liked Bush’s leadership…rather because he was afraid of what the Patriot Act might lead to in his life if he was NOT an American citizen.

Overall the book was a quick read with lots of sarcasm and snarkiness about the excesses of upper class American life. If you enjoy books by David Sedaris or Dan Savage, you may like this essay collection as well. I didn’t laugh quite as much as I did when I read books by Sedaris or Savage but I’m glad that I read “Don’t Get Too Comfortable.”

Reads: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

rating: 4 out of 5

One of the best short story collections that I read last year was Drown by Junot Diaz.  Diaz has a great voice and really brings his characters alive. Drown is a collection of gritty short stories about young Dominican men’s experiences coming of age in both the Dominican Republic, New Jersey and New York. The tales’ immigrant experiences include absent fathers, drug-use, interracial dating, and shoplifting. Since reading Drown, I have been eager to read Diaz’s first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One of my books selected Oscar Wao  as its November pick, so I at last had a reason to squeeze it into my reading schedule.

In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz’s central character, Oscar, is a young Dominican man growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. Oscar is overweight and a huge fan of all things dorky: sci-fi, Dungeons & Dragons, and comic books. He yearns for true love and a girlfriend.   The passion and energy that I loved in Drown is very much present in Oscar Wao.  There are a lot of common themes between Drown & Oscar Wao.  The story moves back and forth between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic and back and forth in time through several generations of the deLeon family and the “fuku” curse that they have.. The novel weaves in a good deal of 20th century Dominican history, telling of the reign of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the small nation for around 30 years, and the affect that his rule had on the residents of the Dominican Republic.  We learn of how the fuku has affected several generations of the deLeon family giving them misfortune after misfortune, culminating in the lonely, love-starved life of Oscar. Despite his name being featured in the title of the novel, Oscar’s story almost takes a back seat to the story of his mother and his grandparents.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys immigrant experience stories or multi-generational family epics. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008. It will count towards the Book Awards II Challenge  that I am participating in.