|The Circle Reading Group||
2016 Reading List
My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor) - 8.8
This was an enjoyable memoir. We had much discussion on the differing objectives and perspectives of a memoir vs. an autobiography vs. a biography. In the end, we concluded that this was a success story aimed at inspiring young people.
The Cookbook Collector (Allegra Goodman) - 4.3
We all had a disappointing experience reading this book. It did not live up to expectations. The title was not appropriate in that the cookbook collector appeared not until halfway through the book and was a minor theme at best. The review promising "Jane Austen-like" was baffling as there was no similarity to that author that we could see. Predictable, predictable, predictable.
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio (Amara Lakhous) - 7.4
Split opinions over this book. For some, the characters hit home and for others the characters were just plain annoying. Probably lots of nuance was lost in the translation or simply understanding the Italian stereotypes referenced.
Spoon River Anthology (Edgar Lee Masters) - 4.7
It was hard for the group to connect with this classic book of poems. The originally serialized portrayal of small town midwesterners as bitter victims or shocking criminals was better suited for the time of publication. A book more suited to the classroom of today rather than a book club of today.
The Silver Star (Jeannette Walls) - 6.5
Enjoyable but predictable was the consensus on this book. There were some parallels to "To Kill a Mockingbird" which seemed a bit too obvious. A readable book.
The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown) - 8.5
Enjoyable life affirming story. Well written and researched. A shining example of true team camaraderie.
And The Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini) - 9.0
Highest rated book we've read in quite a while. Beautifully written if disjointed stories of how one family's members were broken apart and eventually come together again over a span of decades. Poignant, heart-breaking, courageous and brutally honest, the book makes us think what we would be capable of when faced with impossible choices or no choice at all.
Mindset (Carol Dweck) 5.3
Well we have now used our entire book rating scale - with one reader giving this book a 1. Most of the others were in the range of 5-7 but we only had five votes. It was a very lively discussion; some people really liked the message and thought the book was useful while others considered it simplistic and merely restating ideas that have been around a long time and presented better by others. The concensus (if there was one) was that it was not a very well written book and that many of the examples and suggested changes in language we use to praise kids was awkward. Might have been a better journal article than a book.
The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd) 8.9 (?)
The book was liked by everyone. The two alternating voices of Sara and Handful told complementary pieces of the story. Since the story was based on actual events, it made us more interested in learning more about this period of history.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce) 9.0
General enthusiasm for this book was driven by the eloquent yet simple writing style. The actual pilgrimage of Harold to see Queenie before she dies had the fundamental elements of a religious pilgrimage, but the real story was what happened in the past to Harold, his wife Maureen and their son; and the role Queenie played in their family story. The current events are sad yet uplifting, but it was the character portrayals that were considered the strength of the book, with minimal initial descriptions allowing the characters to emerge gradually over the course of the book. A few people felt that the story was slow in evolving, but that was seen as a strength of the writing style by others. The characters seemed very realistic, with the main characters becoming more likable over time, while some of the minor characters came to represent archetypes of common flaws in society. Even the flawed characters are sympathetic and motivations all felt realistic, even the fundamental story plot of a mild-mannered retired man heading out of his home to mail a letter and deciding to walk the length of England instead.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Michael Pollan) 8.0
An inspiring book about the art of cooking. Most of us were inspired to cook more or at least appreciate the effort that goes into the (good) food we buy. The author gives reasons why cooking from scratch is more nutritious, more rewarding, better in so many ways, without seeming preachy or judgmental. The food science was interesting as it was presented within a cultural context. Perhaps too many pages were devoted to barbeque. Those which had read Pollan's previous books found this one not quite as compelling, although still enjoyable.
Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee) 5.9 as a stand-alone book; 8.4 as a companion to To Kill a Mockingbird
There was general agreement that the book needed a good editing and really didn't stand alone outside of To Kill a Mockingbird. But as a sequel, it was very insightful and enjoyable. While TKAM might be for a young audience, Go Set a Watchman is a more mature and nuanced novel. The flashbacks to childhood were the most vivid and fluid scenes. The present day scenes were more stilted and less developed, perhaps mirroring Jean Louise's feelings of being unsure of who she was and how her surroundings had 'changed.' The theme of loving someone despite differences in philosophy is a rare and sensitive one which was refreshing to read. A good discussion!
Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki) 6.5
If a book is read by no one, is the book real? What part does the reader play in the life of the book? These strange questions and more were posed in A Tale for the Time Being. The story is a mix of coming of age with Japanese culture, Buddhism and quantum physics. Maybe the themes were too diverse, maybe they were all the same according to the grandmother. We all found some deficiencies with the plot and the characters: believability, the inclusion of different elements, etc. and we came up with better more satisfying plots and endings. In a different universe we may have enjoyed the book more.
The Martian (Andrew Weir) 9.2
We all enjoyed this realistic science fiction novel which was also recently released as an Oscar-nominated film. Some discussion involved which was better: the movie or the book; or which was better to have seen first. For some, seeing the movie helped them to better understand the math and science aspects of the story. We all agreed that the main character's sense of humor was key to making the book enjoyable and readable. Overall, a story of survival in the face of unimaginable obstacles. One of our highest rated books in the last few months.
The Door (Magda Szabó) 5.5
Why would anyone allow a housekeeper to control their lives and beat their dog? Why does anyone stay in a dysfunctional relationship? The relationship between Emerence and Magda is dysfunctional on so many levels. Emerence – the anti-intellectual with a keen intellect, controlling, fiercely independent, irrationally needy, emotionally unstable and more than just a bit mad. Magda – the lady writer and intellectual, superficial, acquiescing, insensitive and more than just a bit self-centered. Is it love they share, or only an emotional intensity that each defines as love? How do the experiences of war and the upending of politics affect individuals, relationships, countries? Who is the “better” person – the Sunday sweeper or the Sunday worshiper? And what, in the end, is the significance of The Door?
With more questions than answers swirling throughout, this is a dark and fascinating exploration of two tragically-intertwined lives and the times in which they live – or not. The group was split in its appreciation of the subtleties and complexities of the book, with six members voting it a 5 or 5.5 and four voting it an 8 or higher.
“The doors we open and close each day determine the lives we lead.” Flora Whittemore
All The Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) 7.8
The group was a bit divided on the merits of this book. Although the vivid, unique descriptions were appreciated, some found the book was somewhat convoluted in its message, number of characters and focus. Knowing that the author got his start writing short stories shed some light into the number of vignettes used in the book. We generally liked the characters even though they did not always fit into definitive roles within the story. We agreed that the myth surrounding the gem was probably unnecessary to the story as was the rape scene. Some thought the setting of World War II was secondary to the inner narratives, while some were tired of WWII stories in general. Note to those not in attendance: Pat will not vote for a book set in WWII again!
The Truth According to Us (Annie Barrows) 6.9
This story of an archetypical southern dysfunctional family and the quirky characters in their small town received mixed reviews by our group. Opinions differed as to the likeability or believability of the characters and plot. The use of different narrative points of view was, to some, disjointed and confusing. The author's illustration of her title theme: how truths differ according to each person, was well accomplished. More than half the group rated it less than 7.
Falling Leaves (Adeline Yen Mah) 4.83
A memoir of a Chinese-American woman from an extremely dysfunctional family. All were in agreement that it was not well written although the history of the time period was interesting. Two of us read the alternate version: A Chinese Cinderella which was the story of her childhood only told from a child's perspective.
The Secret Keeper, A Novel (Kate Morton) 8.2
We enjoyed this well-crafted page turning story with a fabulous twist. The author did a great job of making every detail credible and logical while keeping the mystery aspect going. Part of the story may have lagged but picked up in the end. We would be interested in reading more by this author.
Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng) 10.0
A perfect 10! This is the second highest rated book of all time for this book club. All five members in attendance could not find any fault with the book at all. We thought it was masterfully written and well-crafted; a layered story with very believable characters and plot. One review we read called it "quiet yet intense" and we all agreed it was apt. This story was easy to read yet had a lasting impression.
The Plague of Doves (Louise Erdich) 7.6
Overall we appreciated the quality of writing in this book but many thought it was too disjointed. By telling the various stories from individual viewpoints, a very realistic, organic feeling is conveyed that can be somewhat chaotic. Fascinating weaving of the stories of rural mixed race community told with rich themes.
They May Not Mean To, But Do (Cathleen Schine) 7.0
Realistic story of the dynamics in a family with aging parents. Many of us could relate very strongly to the negative aspects of the story. However, we wished for more depth of substance and character development.
Circling the Sun (Paula McLain) 7.6
A small group convened on Pi Day to eat pie and discuss this (aptly named) book. It was hard for any of us to judge how much reality and how much fiction was put into this story based on actual people. The British colonials of this time period must have had extraordinary experiences and perhaps fact was stranger than fiction. We discussed how the independent nature of Beryl would be judged during different decades. We thought her cavalier behavior seemed more masculine than feminine even according to today's standards. Overall the variety of interesting characters, situations and locations made the book enjoyable enough to read.
Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race (Debby Irving) 7.4
This book sparked lots of good conversation. We were all glad to have read it. Although the author's story starts out as almost unbelievably naive and somewhat whiney, eventually some good information was conveyed. We all liked her metaphors of headwinds and tailwinds; equity and equality, among others.
Passion (Jude Morgan) 3.0
This book was well researched and densely written: filled with carefully selected words and phrases from the time period and the works of the poets portrayed. What was missing was a coherent STORY. Instead, what we have are several random sketches and scenes cobbled together. Many characters and scenes are wholly unnecessary, as they have no bearing on any plot point down the line. Not surprisingly, the book tied for the lowest rated book EVER...On to the next read!
Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) 10.0
Overwhelmingly loved by all of us! We loved the story of the author's childhood and how she came to know she wanted to be a writer. Told from a child's perspective without any judgment gave an interesting perspective of an interesting time in history. The use of free verse poetry was supremely done with sparse yet evocative language that made us savor every story. We were all in awe of the author's skill and want to read more by her.
The Rosie Project (Graeme Samson) 9.2
If you love Sheldon Cooper, you'll love Don Tillman! This well-written book had laugh out loud funny moments but was more than just a fun read. We loved the situations where Asperger-affected Don excels and fits in socially. The characters had consistent voices and were very likable. We look forward to reading the sequel and seeing the movie.
Dispatches from Pluto (Richard Grant) 7.9
Interesting and educational look into an unfamiliar area of the country. As an outsider and Englishman, the author was an excellent nonjudgmental observer and reporter. Shows us the race relations of the Mississippi Delta full of contradictions & complexities. Easy to read.
The Prisoner of Heaven (Zafon) 8.0
A tiny group of three met to discuss this sequel to The Shadow of the Wind which the group read in March 2013. We all agreed it was a good book on its own even if you had never read the first book. However, some details, names and places would have been clearer if we'd read it closer in time to the first book. We are interested in reading the fourth book in the series: The Labyrinth of the Spirits which will be translated to English in 2018.