Block Book Club May meeting

Here are the titles we shared [synopsis from Goodreads.com] during our Block Book Club May Meeting:

1) Cutting For Stone
by Abraham Verghese (2009) [presented by R and L]
    A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel—an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.
An unforgettable journey into one man’s remarkable life, and an epic story about the power, intimacy, and curious beauty of the work of healing.
And here is the link to my own review.
2) Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf  (1925) [presented by P]
Heralded as Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel, this is a vivid portrait of a single day in a woman’s life. When we meet her, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party preparation while in her mind she is something much more than a perfect society hostess. As she readies her house, she is flooded with remembrances of faraway times. And, met with the realities of the present, Clarissa reexamines the choices that brought her there, hesitantly looking ahead to the unfamiliar work of growing old.
3) The Pearl
by John Steinbeck (1945) [presented by M]
A retelling of an old Mexican folk tale involving the discovery of a great pearl and the ensuing misfortune of the fisherman who found it..
4) The Lifeboat
by Charlotte Rogan (Jan 2012) [presented by P]
Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.
In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.
As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she’d found. Will she pay any price to keep it?
The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes
5) Heart of a Killer
by David Rosenfelt (Feb 2012) [presented by J]
Jamie Wagner is a young lawyer who is happy to be flying under the radar at a large firm. It’s not that he isn’t smart. He is. It’s just that hard work, not to mention the whole legal thing, isn’t exactly his passion. Underachiever? A little. Content? Right up until the firm puts him on a case that turns his whole world upside down.
Sheryl Harrison has served four years of a thirty-year murder sentence for killing her husband, who she claims was abusive. The case is settled—there shouldn’t be anything for Jamie to do—except Sheryl’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Karen, is sick. She has a congenital heart defect and will die without a transplant. Her blood type is rare, making their chances of finding a matching donor remote at best. Sheryl wants to be that donor for her daughter, and Jamie is in way over his head. Suicide, no matter the motive, is illegal. So with Sheryl on suicide watch, Jamie’s only shot at helping her and saving Karen is to reopen the murder case, prove Sheryl’s innocence, and get her freed so that she can pursue her plan on her own.
Heart of a Killer—a gripping story of an ordinary man faced with an impossible situation—is the most powerful and shocking thriller yet from David Rosenfelt, a true master of the genre.
6) Lone Wolf
by Jodi Picoult (Jan 2012) [presented by A]
Edward Warren, twenty-four, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call: His dad lies comatose, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara.
With her father’s chances for recovery dwindling, Cara wants to wait for a miracle. But Edward wants to terminate life support and donate his father’s organs. Is he motivated by altruism, or revenge? And to what lengths will his sister go to stop him from making an irrevocable decision?
Lone Wolf explores the notion of family, and the love, protection and strength it’s meant to offer. But what if the hope that should sustain it, is the very thing that pulls it apart? Another tour de force from Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf examines the wild and lonely terrain upon which love battles reason.
7) These Is My Words
by Nancy E. Turner  (1999) [presented by R]
In a compelling fiction debut, Nancy E. Turner’s unforgettable “These Is My Words” melds the sweeping adventures and dramatic landscapes of “Lonesome Dove” with the heartfelt emotional saga of “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”
Inspired by the author’s original family memoirs, this absorbing story introduces us to the questing, indomitable Sarah Prine, one of the most memorable women ever to survive and prevail in the Arizona Territory of the late 1800s. As a child, a fiery young woman, and finally a caring mother, Sarah forges a life as full and as fascinating as our deepest needs, our most secret hopes and our grandest dreams. She rides Indian-style and shoots with deadly aim, greedily devours a treasure trove of leatherbound books, downs fire, flood, Comanche raids and other mortal perils with the unique courage that forged the character of the American West.
Rich in authentic details of daily life and etched with striking character portraits of very different pioneer families, this action-packed novel is also the story of a powerful, enduring love between Sarah and the dashing cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot. Neither the vast distances traveled nor the harsh and killing terrains could quench the passion between them, and the loss and loneliness both suffer only strengthen their need for each other.
While their love grows, the heartbreak and wonder of the frontier experience unfold in scene after scene: a wagon-train Sunday spent roasting quail on spits as Indians close in to attack; Sarah’s silent encounter with an Indian brave, in which he shows her his way of respect; a dreadful discovery by a stream that changes Sarah forever; the hazards of a visit toPhoenix, a town as hot as the devil’s frying pan; Sarah’s joy in building a real home, sketching out rooms and wraparound porches.
Sarah’s incredible story leads us into a vanished world that comes vividly to life again, while her struggles with work and home, love and responsibility resonate with those every woman faces today. “These Is My Words” is a passionate celebration of a remarkable life, exhilarating and gripping from the first page to the last.
8) NurtureShock : New Thinking About Children
by Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman  (2009) [presented by R]
In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel?  Where is intelligence hidden in the brain, and why does that matter?  Why do cross-racial friendships decrease in schools that are more integrated?  If 98% of kids think lying is morally wrong, then why do 98% of kids lie?  What’s the single most important thing that helps infants learn language?
NurtureShock is a groundbreaking collaboration between award-winning science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  They argue that when it comes to children, we’ve mistaken good intentions for good ideas.  With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, they demonstrate that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring–because key twists in the science have been overlooked.
Nothing like a parenting manual, the authors’ work is an insightful exploration of themes and issues that transcend children’s (and adults’) lives.
9) Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever
by Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard   (2011) [presented by B]
A riveting historical narrative of the heart-stopping events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the first work of history from mega-bestselling author Bill O’Reilly
The anchor of The O’Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America’s Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.
In the midst of the patriotic celebrations in Washington D.C., John Wilkes Booth—charismatic ladies’ man and impenitent racist—murders Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. A furious manhunt ensues and Booth immediately becomes the country’s most wanted fugitive. Lafayette C. Baker, a smart but shifty New York detective and former Union spy, unravels the string of clues leading to Booth, while federal forces track his accomplices. The thrilling chase ends in a fiery shootout and a series of court-ordered executions—including that of the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government, Mary Surratt. Featuring some of history’s most remarkable figures, vivid detail, and page-turning action, Killing Lincoln is history that reads like a thriller
10) Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency
by Mark Updegrove   (March 2012) [presented by J)
Nearly fifty years after being sworn in as president of the United States in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Baines Johnson remains a largely misunderstood figure. His force of personal­ity, mastery of power and the political process, and boundless appetite for social reform made him one of the towering figures of his time. But he was one of the most protean and paradoxical of presidents as well. Because of his flawed nature and inherent contradic­tions, some claimed there were as many LBJs as there were people who knew him.
Intent on fulfilling the promise of America, Johnson launched a revolution in civil rights, federal aid to education, and health care for the elderly and indigent, and expanded immigration and environ­mental protection. A flurry of landmark laws—he would sign an unparalleled 207 during his five years in office, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Elementary and Second­ary Education Act, Head Start, and Medicare—are testaments to the triumph of his will. His War on Poverty alone brought the U.S. poverty rate down from 20 percent to 12 percent, the biggest one-time drop in American history. As president, he was known for getting things done.
At the same time, Johnson’s presidency—and the fulfillment of its own promise—was blighted by his escalation of an ill-fated war in Vietnam that tore at the fabric of America and saw the loss of 36,000 U.S. troops by the end of his term.
Presidential historian Mark K. Updegrove offers an intimate portrait of the endlessly fas­cinating LBJ, his extraordinarily eventful presi­dency, and the turbulent times in which he served. We see Johnson in his many guises and dimen­sions: the virtuoso deal-maker using every inch of his six-foot-three-inch frame to intimidate his subjects, the relentless reformer willing to lose southern Democrats from his party for a generation in his pursuit of civil rights for all Americans, and the embattled commander in chief agonizing over the fate of his “boys” in Vietnam—including his two sons-in-law—yet steadfast in his determination to thwart Communist aggression through war, or an honorable peace.
Through original interviews and personal accounts from White House aides and Cabinet members, political allies and foes, and friends and family—from Robert McNamara to Barry Goldwa­ter, Lady Bird Johnson to Jacqueline Kennedy—as well as through Johnson’s own candid reflections and historic White House telephone conversa­tions, Indomitable Will reveals LBJ as never before. “ For it is through firsthand narrative more than anything,” writes Updegrove, “that Lyndon John­son—who teemed with vitality in his sixty-four years and remains enigmatic nearly four decades after his passing—comes to life.”

11) The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton   ( 2008) [presented by me)
A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric and compulsively readable story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author Kate Morton.
Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra’s life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.
Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace – the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century – Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself.
Here is the link to my online review, where you will find links to Kate Morton’s beautiful website, with extra material on the book, and also the book trailer I showed you during our meeting.
As you may know by now if you follow this blog, our book club is unique, in its format and in its members, as men and women seem to go along very well with each other as we all share on recent books we enjoyed reading. Some men even read books recommended the month before by women members, and vice versa.
So after our sharing and trading of titles, R. had the good idea to ask the other men of the club what their impressions were. It seems that all of them came first with much hesitation, wondering if they could fit in a book club, which are usually more female oriented. BUT they discovered that they like it, they like the format, and definitely want to remain active members, as they are free to read any genre they like.
IS ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE MEMBER
OF A TRADING TITLES BOOK CLUB?
WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE?

Block Book Club #1

Last week, I had a fabulous experience:

In the course of several block parties and other events, I realized we had quite a few very active readers on our block – one of them read 165 books last year, including men as well.

So after some time of thinking, I finally invited my block to meet as a book club. But a special book club, a trading titles one, meaning: we do not need to all read the same book, but we share a book we just read and loved a lot.

It was so much fun, there was so much excitement, when others had read the same titles, and in the exchange after each presentation.

We were 11, 4 men and 7 women. Some couples could not make it this time.

Here are the titles we shared:

Meeting #1 on 01/13/2012

(synopsis taken from Goodreads.com)

1.Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah’s key (2007) [presented by P. and P. – read by 5 people]
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

2. Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005) [presented by M. – read by 3 people]
Set in Italy during the dramatic finale of World War II, this new novel is the first in seven years by the bestselling author of The Sparrow and Children of God.
It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.
Mary Doria Russell sets her first historical novel against this dramatic background, tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters. Through them, she tells the little-known but true story of the network of Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews during the war’s final phase. The result of five years of meticulous research, A Thread of Grace is an ambitious, engrossing novel of ideas, history, and marvelous characters that will please Russell’s many fans and earn her even more.

3. Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption (2010) [presented by J. – read by 3 people]
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

Link to my review [it includes a book trailer]: https://wordsandpeace.com/2010/12/14/unbroken/

4. Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing (2002) [presented by A.]
On Easter day, 1939, at Marian Anderson’s epochal concert on the Washington Mall, David Strom, a German Jewish émigré scientist, meets Delia Daley, a young Philadelphia Negro studying to be a singer. Their mutual love of music draws them together, and—against all odds and better judgment—they marry. They vow to raise their children beyond time, beyond identity, steeped only in song. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth grow up, however, during the Civil Rights era, coming of age in the violent 1960s, and living out adulthood in the racially retrenched late century. Jonah, the eldest, “whose voice could make heads of state repent,” follows a life in his parents’ beloved classical music. Ruth, the youngest, devotes herself to community activism and repudiates the white culture her brother represents. Joseph, the middle child and the narrator of this generation-bridging tale, struggles to find himself and remain connected to them both.

5. Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (2011) [presented by P. – read by 2 people]
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

Link to my review: wordsandpeace.com/2011/11/15/80-review-1q84/

6. Keith Richards, Life (2010) [presented by R.]
Rock ‘n’ roll’s great survivor looks back on an extraordinary life. From the Rolling Stones’ first success in the 1960s through increasing fame and addiction to the present day, Richards tells his story in his own inimitable way.

7. John Sanford, Shock Wave  (2011) (Virgil Flowers #5) [presented by B. – read by 2 people]
Talk about risky business.
The superstore chain PyeMart has its sights set on a Minnesota river town, but two very angry groups want to stop it: the local merchants fearing for their businesses, and the environmentalists predicting ecological disaster. The protests don’t seem to be slowing the project down, though, until someone decides to take matters into his own hands.
The first bomb goes off on the top floor of PyeMart’s headquarters. The second one explodes at the construction site itself. The blasts are meant to inflict maximum damage—and they do. Who’s behind the bombs and how far will they go? It’s Virgil Flowers’s job to find out . . . before more people get killed.

8. SJ Watson, Before I Go To Sleep (2011) [presented by me]
‘As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me …’ Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life

Link to my review: https://wordsandpeace.com/2011/11/21/83-before-i-go-to-sleep/

9.  Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose (1971) [presented by L.]
Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions – to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward’s investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.

10. Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle (2006) [presented by J.].
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

Other titles briefly mentioned:
– Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian
– Emma Donoghue, Room
– Books by Terry Goodkind [genre: fantasy]
– Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
– Patricia MacLachlan, Waiting For The Magic [children book]