Recap of our Block Book Club August meeting
Recap of the titles we shared [synopsis from Goodreads.com].
1) Beautiful Ruins
by Jess Walter (June 2012) [presented by R]
The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot – searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion – along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.
2) Shadows Walking
by Douglas R. Skopp (2012) [presented by J]
Johann Brenner, an idealistic physician and ardent German nationalist, has joined the Nazi Party and willingly participated in its “crimes against humanity.” His Jewish childhood friend, Philipp Stein, has also become a doctor. Their lives inevitably intersect until their last, fateful meeting. After the war, Brenner, with stolen papers and a new name, has become a janitor in the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials are being held. Hoping to “heal himself” and begin a new life with his estranged wife, he decides that he must write her a letter telling what he has done–and why.
3) Metropolis: A Novel
by Elizabeth Gaffney [presented by P]
On a freezing night in the middle of a New York winter, a young immigrant is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum’s stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation. Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage to America, he will change his identity many times, find himself mixed up with one of the city’s toughest and most enterprising gangs, and fall in love with a smart, headstrong, and beautiful woman. Buffeted by the forces of fate, hate, luck, and passion, our hero struggles to build a life–and just to stay alive–on an epic journey that is at once unique and poignantly emblematic of the American experience.
4) The Time of Our Lives: A conversation about America; Who we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American dream
by Tom Brokaw (2011) [presented by P]
Tom Brokaw, known and beloved for his landmark work in American journalism and for the New York Times bestsellers The Greatest Generation and Boom!, now turns his attention to the challenges that face America in the new millennium, to offer reflections on how we can restore America’s greatness.
“What happened to the America I thought I knew?” Brokaw writes. “Have we simply wandered off course, but only temporarily? Or have we allowed ourselves to be so divided that we’re easy prey for hijackers who could steer us onto a path to a crash landing? . . . I do have some thoughts, original and inspired by others, for our journey into the heart of a new century.”
Rooted in the values, lessons, and verities of generations past and of his South Dakota upbringing, Brokaw weaves together inspiring stories of Americans who are making a difference and personal stories from his own family history, to engage us in a conversation about our country and to offer ideas for how we can revitalize the promise of the American Dream.
Inviting us to foster a rebirth of family, community, and civic engagement as profound as the one that won World War II, built our postwar prosperity, and ushered in the Civil Rights era, Brokaw traces the exciting, unnerving changes in modern life—in values, education, public service, housing, the Internet, and more—that have transformed our society in the decades since the age of thrift in which he was raised. Offering ideas from Americans who are change agents in their communities, in The Time of Our Lives, Brokaw gives us, a wise, honest, and wide-ranging book, a nourishing vision of hopefulness in an age of diminished expectations.
5) A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)
by Deborah Harkness (2011) [presented by P]
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court
by Michelle Moran (Aug 2012) [presented by Emma]
National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir.
After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.
Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.
As Pauline’s insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline’s jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire’s peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.
Based on primary resources from the time, The Second Empress takes readers back to Napoleon’s empire, where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.
Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France
by Vivian Swift (April 2012) [also presented by Emma]
Road trip: those are still the two most inspiring words to vagabonds and couch potatoes alike; after all, the great American spirit was forged by road trippers from the Pilgrims to Lewis and Clark to the Dharma Bums. Le Road Trip combines the appeal of the iconic American quest with France’s irresistible allure, offering readers a totally new perspective of life on the road.
Le Road Trip tells the story of one idyllic French honeymoon trip, but it is also a witty handbook of tips and advice on how to thrive as a traveler, a captivating visual record with hundreds of watercolor illustrations, and a chronicle depicting the incomparable charms of being footloose in France. Armchair travelers, die-hard vagabonds, art journalists, and red wine drinkers will all find something to savor in this story.
HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THOSE?
WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE?