Really Cool Women\'s Book Club

Next books, dates and places October 28, 2011

Filed under: Books,dates and places — Susan @ 8:37 pm

December 14th-In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson at Danda’s house

January 25th-The Rector and the Rogue by W.A. Swanberg at Heidi’s house

March 7th-Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman at Lori’s house

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Time to Vote October 19, 2011

Filed under: Nominated Books — Susan @ 2:34 pm

Please vote for 2 books by October 31st. See reviews below and go to the link below to vote.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5SV6NQR

Fall on your knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

A family pays the wages of lust in this memorable first novel, for it is most often lust that leads to unsuitable if not unholy couplings in the Piper family of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, in the early part of this century. Eighteen-year-old piano tuner James Piper is so smitten with 12-year-old Materia Mahmoud that he entices her from her traditional Lebanese family to marry him. Before she’s 14 the untutored Materia gives birth to Kathleen, the beautiful and gifted child whom she is unable to love but whom James takes to his heart. There are more daughters: Mercedes, the good girl who becomes the little mother; Other Lily, who dies unbaptized when one day old; Frances, the bad girl who becomes a bawdy entertainer and worse; and Kathleen’s daughter, Lily, the saintly crippled girl who will learn the secrets and find resolution and redemption. Actress-playwright MacDonald is a talented storyteller with a crisp yet lilting prose style that captures equally well the atmospheres of World War I trenches and Harlem jazz clubs. Michele Leber

In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson

In the Garden of Beasts is a vivid portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign, brought to life through the stories of two people: William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime, and his scandalously carefree daughter, Martha. Ambassador Dodd, an unassuming and scholarly man, is an odd fit among the extravagance of the Nazi elite. His frugality annoys his fellow Americans in the State Department and Dodd’s growing misgivings about Hitler’s ambitions fall on deaf ears among his peers, who are content to “give Hitler everything he wants.” Martha, on the other hand, is mesmerized by the glamorous parties and the high-minded conversation of Berlin’s salon society—and flings herself headlong into numerous affairs with the city’s elite, most notably the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet spy. Both become players in the exhilarating (and terrifying) story of Hitler’s obsession for absolute power, which culminates in the events of one murderous night, later known as “the Night of Long Knives.” The rise of Nazi Germany is a well-chronicled time in history, which makes In the Garden of Beasts all the more remarkable. Erik Larson has crafted a gripping, deeply-intimate narrative with a climax that reads like the best political thriller, where we are stunned with each turn of the page, even though we already know the outcome.

It Chooses You by Miranda July

In the summer of 2009, Miranda July was struggling to finish writing the screenplay for her much-anticipated second film. During her increasingly long lunch breaks, she began to obsessively read the PennySaver, the iconic classifieds booklet that reached everywhere and seemed to come from nowhere. Who was the person selling the “Large leather Jacket, $10”? It seemed important to find out&#8212or at least it was a great distraction from the screenplay.

Accompanied by photographer Brigitte Sire, July crisscrossed Los Angeles to meet a random selection of PennySaver sellers, glimpsing thirteen surprisingly moving and profoundly specific realities, along the way shaping her film, and herself, in unexpected ways.

Elegantly blending narrative, interviews, and photographs with July’s off-kilter honesty and deadpan humor, this is a story of procrastination and inspiration, isolation and connection, and grabbing hold of the invisible world.

 King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

Hochschild is another historian with a gift of writing gripping narrative-based books filled with rich characterization and world-building detail. Here, he examines the atrocities committed from 1885 through the early 1900s by Leopold II, King of Belgium. Leopold ravaged the Congo, seizing property, enslaving and murdering the native population, and stripping the land of its wealth. Standing against Leopold, at first as a sole figure, and later joined by the persuasive voices of Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad, was Edmund Morel. Morel discovered Leopold’s crimes and began an international campaign to stop them. Hochschild’s engrossing history, while darker than much of McCullough’s work, should please readers who like their history big, meaty, and meaningful.

Land that Moves, Land that Stands Still by Kent Nelson

The bleak landscape of South Dakota comes alive in this absorbing novel, the affecting tale of three women at life’s crossroads. Mattie Remmel is the protagonist whose life is transformed by tragedy when her husband, Haney, dies in a farming accident. That shock is followed by another when Mattie goes through Haney’s letters and discovers his secret life as a gay man. Although she’s devastated, Mattie is strong and decides to try to keep the family’s alfalfa ranch running with her daughter, Shelley, who has returned home from college, and the help of a mechanically adept handywoman named Dawn whose chaotic past casts a long shadow over ensuing events. The emotional arc of the novel builds slowly, so that Mattie’s stoic character is well established by the time she discovers Haney’s true sexual orientation, and her stifled, anguished reaction rings true. There’s also credibility in Shelley’s sudden breakup with her boyfriend and a subsequent affair with her old English teacher, Bryce Adler. The novel gains a piquant edge with the arrival of a reticent teenaged Native American runaway named Elton, who becomes indispensable to other characters’ lives and whose loyalty nearly leads to tragedy. Nelson (Language in the Blood) gracefully weaves the plot threads with his earthy writing about farm life on the Western plains. His skill in delineating three different, complex female protagonists is remarkable, and many of his precise, dialogue-driven scenes are little gems. Yet this is not frothy woman’s fiction, but an authoritatively controlled tale with mounting suspense and violence that builds like a thunderstorm in the Black Hills. Combining quirky charm and matter of fact detail, the novel is a heartwarming portrait of an unusual kind of contemporary family.

Noon by Aatish Taseer

Rehan Tabassum has grown up in a world of privilege in Delhi. His mother and her new husband embody the dazzling emergent India everyone is talking about. His real father, however, is a virtual stranger to him: a Pakistani Muslim who lives across the border and owns a vast telecommunications empire called Qasimic Call.

As Rehan contemplates his future, he finds himself becoming unmoored. Leaving the familiarity of home for Pakistan in an attempt to get closer to his father, he is drawn into events he barely understands. His half brother, Isffy, is being blackmailed; his powerful father’s entourage is tearing itself apart; and the city of Port Bin Qasim, where he finds himself, is filled with rioting protestors. Moral danger lurks in every corner of this dark, shifting, and unfamiliar world.

Set against the background of a turbulent Pakistan and a rapidly changing India, Noon is a startling and powerfully charged novel from a brilliant young writer. Aatish Taseer bears witness to some of the most urgent questions of our times, questions about nationhood and violence, family and identity.

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden

In the summer of 1916, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, close friends from childhood and graduates of Smith College, left home in Auburn, New York, for the wilds of northwestern Colorado. Bored by their society luncheons, charity work, and the effete young men who courted them, they learned that two teaching jobs were available in a remote mountaintop schoolhouse and applied—shocking their families and friends. “No young lady in our town,” Dorothy later commented, “had ever been hired by anybody.”

They took the new railroad over the Continental Divide and made their way by spring wagon to the tiny settlement of Elkhead, where they lived with a family of homesteaders. They rode several miles to school each day on horseback, sometimes in blinding blizzards. Their students walked or skied on barrel staves, in tattered clothes and shoes tied together with string. The man who had lured them out west was Ferry Carpenter, a witty, idealistic, and occasionally outrageous young lawyer and cattle rancher. He had promised them the adventure of a lifetime and the most modern schoolhouse in Routt County; he hadn’t let on that the teachers would be considered dazzling prospective brides for the locals.

That year transformed the children, their families, and the undaunted teachers themselves. Dorothy and Rosamond learned how to handle unruly children who had never heard the Pledge of Allegiance and thought Ferry Carpenter was the president of the United States; they adeptly deflected the amorous advances of hopeful cowboys; and they saw one of their closest friends violently kidnapped by two coal miners. Carpenter’s marital scheme turned out to be more successful than even he had hoped and had a surprising twist some forty years later.

In their buoyant letters home, the two women captured the voices and stories of the pioneer women, the children, and the other memorable people they got to know. Nearly a hundred years later, New Yorker executive editor Dorothy Wickenden—the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff—found the letters and began to reconstruct the women’s journey. Enhancing the story with interviews with descendants, research about these vanished communities, and trips to the region, Wickenden creates an exhilarating saga about two intrepid young women and the “settling up” of the West.

 

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Relying on the kindness of strangers during her year’s stint at the minimum security correctional facility in Danbury, Conn., Kerman, now a nonprofit communications executive, found that federal prison wasn’t all that bad. In fact, she made good friends doing her time among the other women, many street-hardened drug users with little education and facing much longer sentences than Kerman’s original 15 months. Convicted of drug smuggling and money laundering in 2003 for a scheme she got tangled up in 10 years earlier when she had just graduated from Smith College, Kerman, at 34, was a self-surrender at the prison: quickly she had to learn the endless rules, like frequent humiliating strip searches and head counts; navigate relationships with the other campers and unnerving guards; and concoct ways to fill the endless days by working as an electrician and running on the track. She was not a typical prisoner, as she was white, blue-eyed, and blonde (nicknamed the All-American Girl), well educated, and the lucky recipient of literature daily from her fiancé, Larry, and family and friends. Kerman’s account radiates warmly from her skillful depiction of the personalities she befriended in prison, such as the Russian gangster’s wife who ruled the kitchen; Pop, the Spanish mami; lovelorn lesbians like Crazy Eyes; and the aged pacifist, Sister Platte. Kerman’s ordeal indeed proved life altering.

Our Time: Breaking The Silence Of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by Josh Seefried

Here, Bullet, by Brian Turner reflects his war-time experiences in graceful and unflinching poetry. Turner tells Steve Inskeep about the military tradition in his family and why he joined the Army when he was almost 30. He reads selected poems from his collection and reflects on what inspired them. One poem, Eulogy, was written to memorialize a soldier in his platoon who took his own life.

Eulogy

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,

as tower guards eat sandwiches

and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.

Prisoners tilt their heads to the west

though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.

The sound reverberates down concertina coils

the way piano wire thrums when given slack.

And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,

when Private Miller pulls the trigger

to take brass and fire into his mouth:

the sound lifts the birds up off the water,

a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,

and nothing can stop it now, no matter what

blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices

crackle over the radio in static confusion,

because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,

and Private Miller has found what low hush there is

down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. Miller

(1980-March 22, 2004)

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918 by Adam Hochschild

World War II still gets the lion’s share of the attention, but World War I is gaining ground. For an overview, one probably couldn’t do much better than this account by Hochschild, a multiaward winner (e.g., the Duff Cooper, Los Angeles Times, and Mark Lynton History prizes) and frequent resident of LJ’s Best Books list. He adds a personal touch, showing how the war affected his family and ultimately everyone—soldier or not (including some prestigious objectors)—who lived through it.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy:

With sensuous prose, a dreamlike style infused with breathtakingly beautiful images and keen insight into human nature, Roy’s debut novel charts fresh territory in the genre of magical, prismatic literature. Set in Kerala, India, during the late 1960s when Communism rattled the age-old caste system, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol, the cousin of the novel’s protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. In a circuitous and suspenseful narrative, Roy reveals the family tensions that led to the twins’ behavior on the fateful night that Sophie drowned. Beneath the drama of a family tragedy lies a background of local politics, social taboos and the tide of history?all of which come together in a slip of fate, after which a family is irreparably shattered. Roy captures the children’s candid observations but clouded understanding of adults’ complex emotional lives. Rahel notices that “at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. The Big Things lurk unsaid inside.” Plangent with a sad wisdom, the children’s view is never oversimplified, and the adult characters reveal their frailties?and in one case, a repulsively evil power?in subtle and complex ways. While Roy’s powers of description are formidable, she sometimes succumbs to overwriting, forcing every minute detail to symbolize something bigger, and the pace of the story slows. But these lapses are few, and her powers coalesce magnificently in the book’s second half. Roy’s clarity of vision is remarkable, her voice original, her story beautifully constructed and masterfully told.

The Rector and the Rogue by W. A. Swanberg

It began quietly enough one morning in February 1880, with a mutton-chopped Acme Safe Company salesman knocking on the door of Reverend Morgan Dix, the starchiest clergyman in Manhattan’s most respectable church. The salesman was surely misdirected, Reverend Dix explained—he had no need for a safe, and he had not made an appointment. But soon after, used-clothes dealers arrived, followed by heavy-machinery salesmen, and soon the street filled riotously with wave after wave of solicitor-tormentors—hundreds of funeral directors, horse traders, wigmakers, fellow clergymen, doctors—all insisting they’d been summoned by the bewildered Reverend Dix. And for weeks, it continued in this manner. Reporters from every newspaper in New York camped out to watch the fun, and as the story gained national attention, police and postal officers raced to capture the gleeful prankster-cum-performance artist who was making a mockery of the esteemed Trinity Church. A fascinating tale of detection and revenge, The Rector and the Rogue uncovers for the first time the trail of celebrated Victorian trickster “Gentleman Joe”—the mysterious con-man whose innumerable identities, wild fabrications, baffling motives, and international trail of chaos would lead to one of the most bizarre criminal cases of the 19th century.

Waiting: The True Confession of a Waitress by Debra Ginsberg

Ginsberg has spent nearly 20 years, more on than off, as a waitress, developing a love/hate relationship with a career most of her college-educated peers see either as a way station or a pink-collar province. Though neither a fully ripe memoir nor a truly spicy dish on the food biz (for that, see Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential; Forecasts, April 24), her collection of anecdotes, covering subjects from her father’s luncheonette to fancy restaurants, conveys the unpredictability and humanity of this humble but essential work. Ginsberg sketches co-workers, both lively and burnt out, and her inspired and irresponsible bosses. A good view of the “parallel mating dances of staff and patrons” is one perk of her perch; she posits that the risk-taking, gregarious types who work for tips foster mutual attractions. In the “feudal pyramid” of the waitstaff, busboys are at the bottom and managers at the top, but waitresses must keep both happy to make sure things run smoothly and that tips ensue. Some scenes are wild: as a cocktail waitress during manic “Buck Night,” she saw patrons drink the potent (and free) “Bar Mat,” made up of bar spillage. Readers might pick up some pointers: bad-tipping regulars will suffer subtle server sabotage; customers who harangue staff for decaf might end up with regular. Ginsberg’s more personal segments, which can be aimless, portray an intelligent single mom, fiercely committed to her son, with worries about her potential as a writer and her future. She quits waitressing only to return a year later, concluding that “the act of waiting itself is an active one” and that there is beauty and simplicity in the small acts of her work.