9 titles for our October Book Club

Recap of our Block Book Club October meeting


Recap of the titles we shared [synopsis from Goodreads.com].

1) Wanderlust: A History of Walking

by Rebecca Solnit (2000) – presented by J.

A pastoral and poetic investigation of the politics, philosophy, and history of walking. The book includes profiles of some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction, from Wordsworth to Andre Breton’s Nadja.


2) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

by Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn (2008) – presented by A.

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.
They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.
Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.
Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.


3) The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (1844)  – presented by F.

‘On what slender threads do life and fortune hang’.
Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas’ epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialized in the 1840s.
Robin Buss’ lively translation is complete and unabridged, and remains faithful to the style of Dumas’ original. This edition includes an introduction, explanatory notes and suggestions for further reading.

4) Siddhartha

by Hermann Hesse, Hilda Rosner (1922)  – presented by B.

In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.


5) Hostage

by Elie Wiesel, Catherine Temerson (August 2012) – presented by M.

From Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of Night, a charged, deeply moving novel about the legacy of the Holocaust in today’s troubled world and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s 1975, and Shaltiel Feigenberg—professional storyteller, writer and beloved husband—has been taken hostage: abducted from his home in Brooklyn, blindfolded and tied to a chair in a dark basement. His captors, an Arab and an Italian, don’t explain why the innocent Shaltiel has been chosen, just that his life will be bartered for the freedom of three Palestinian prisoners. As his days of waiting commence, Shaltiel resorts to what he does best, telling stories—to himself and to the men who hold his fate in their hands.
With beauty and sensitivity, Wiesel builds the world of Shaltiel’s memories, haunted by the Holocaust and a Europe in the midst of radical change. A Communist brother, a childhood spent hiding from the Nazis in a cellar, the kindness of liberating Russian soldiers, the unrest of the 1960s—these are the stories that unfold in Shaltiel’s captivity, as the outside world breathlessly follows his disappearance and the police move toward a final confrontation with his captors.
Impassioned, provocative and insistently humane, Hostage is both a masterly thriller and a profoundly wise meditation on the power of memory to connect us to the past and our shared need for resolution.


6) Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

by Suzanne Collins (2009) – presented by P.

Sparks are igniting, flames are spreading and the Capitol wants revenge.

Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

In Catching Fire, the second novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins continues the story of Katniss Everdeen, testing her more than ever before…and surprising readers at every turn.



7) The Double Game

by Dan Fesperman (August 2012) – presented by P.

A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, spook-turned-novelist Edwin Lemaster revealed to up-and-coming journalist Bill Cage that he’d once considered spying for the enemy. For Cage, a Foreign Service brat who grew up in the very cities where Lemaster’s books were set, the news story created a brief but embarrassing sensation and heralded the beginning of the end of his career in journalism.

More than two decades later, Cage, now a lonely, disillusioned PR man, receives an anonymous note hinting that he should have dug deeper into Lemaster’s pronouncement. Spiked with cryptic references to some of Cage’s favorite spy novels, the note is the first of many literary bread crumbs that lead him back to Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, each instruction drawing him closer to the complex truth, each giving rise to more questions: Why is beautiful Litzi Strauss back in his life after thirty years? How much of his father’s job involved the CIA? As the events of Lemaster’s past eerily—and dangerously—begin intersecting with those of Cage’s own, a “long stalemate of secrecy” may finally be coming to an end.

A story about spies and their secrets, fathers and sons, lovers and fate, duplicity and loyalty, The Double Game ingeniously taps the espionage classics of the Cold War to build a spellbinding maze of intrigue. It is Dan Fesperman’s most audacious, suspenseful, and satisfying novel yet.



Aleppo Codex

by Matti Friedman (May 2012) – presented by Emma

In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.

The codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and legend in the creation of a nation. [from the publisher].

And here is my personal review of the audiobook.


9) The House of Thunder

by Dean Koontz, Leigh Nichols (Pseudonym) (1982) – presented by J.

Oh wow, did you know that Leigh Nichols was actually Dean Koontz?!

Susan Thorton awakens in a hospital, after a near-fatal car crash, to see four men lurking outside her door–men who exactly resemble those who killed her boyfriend years before. Can these be the same men? As she tries to uncover the identities of those stalking her, Susan enters a terrifying nightmare–one from which she may never escape.

Previously published by Pocket under the pseudonym Leigh Nichols.




(2012) #50 review: The Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex:

The True Story of Obsession, Faith,
and the International Pursuit of an Ancient Bible



Narrated by Simon VANCE

Published by HighBridge Audio in 2012

7.5  hours

Received from HighBridge Audio through Audiobook Jukebox





Rating system

Do you like a good mystery? Do you like “serious” books about things that actually happened? Do you have lots of commuting time? Well, these are three reasons you have to listen to this book!

I decided to teach myself Biblical Hebrew a few decades ago, with the desire to see what the text did actually say, cleansed from all adaptations to Western tastes. This, plus my fascination for anything bookish, made this book really intriguing to me. I had no idea I was actually plunging into a real mystery, still not completely resolved, and going for a really fascinating ride.

The author was just as unsuspecting when he started researching on the topic. He translates very well how things evolved, how one thing led him to another, deeper at each step into nothing less than an international nest of vipers.

If you read about the Aleppo Codex (commonly known as The Crown of Aleppo, or simply The Crown) a few decades ago, you probably learned it had been mostly burnt and lost. Well, the reality is quite different.

The end of the book is a bit sad, as the author reflects on the human condition and what its ugly characteristics made a people do to its own sacred book. But this good be a good invitation to reflect on our own behavior, at the social and personal level.

As I write this review, we know about terrible things happening in Aleppo. It is very sad to know that some famous very old neighborhoods of this ancient pearl of the Middle East have just burnt down. Another sad example of what we humans can do to our history and people.


What can I add to the magical name of Simon Vance? This narrator can do about anything, he is brilliant here for this non-fiction mystery. His tone is both very engaged, rendering the aspects of mystery of this incredible odyssey of a manuscript, and detached, as is more fitting for non-fiction. Only fabulous and very experienced narrators can attain this balance.  Besides, Vance embraces this narration with so much passion that I often had to remind myself that it was not Friedman’s voice I was listening to, but Vance’s.
I’m sure reading the book on paper is a very pleasant experience, but Vance’s narration adds spice to it, and makes it harder to stop listening until you reach the end of the book, though it is not the end of the story!


A true-life thriller about the journey of one of the world’s most precious manuscripts—the 10th century annotated Hebrew Bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in an ancient Syrian synagogue to the newly-founded Israel. Using his research, including documents which have been secret for 50 years and interviews with key players, AP correspondent Friedman tells a story of political upheaval, international intrigue, charged courtroom battles, obsession, and subterfuge. [HighBridge Audio]


Matti Friedman

MATTI FRIEDMAN is an Associated Press writer. He lives in Israel. Here are many articles by him.

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