Category Archives: Book Club Pick

63. Leaving Time (Jodi Picoult)

leaving-time-400-929It was difficult to delay reading Leaving Time after attending the Jodi Picoult reading and discussion in  October.  I postponed reading it for my book club discussion next week and I did not want to read it too early.  The ending was not what I expected but I really enjoyed the storyline and learned a lot about elephants as I read the book.

Jenna is a young girl looking for her mother, Alice, who had disappeared when she was a toddler.  She enlists the help of a pink haired psychic and a retired, run down police officer.  Alice was a researcher who ran an elephant sanctuary when Jenna was young.  They lived on the grounds with a small group of dedicated workers who formed a little family.  An accident happened, a trainer was trampled by an elephant, Alice was injured and then she disappeared from the hospital.

Years later, Jenna, an energetic teenager, is trying to figure out what happened to her missing mother.  The unlikely trio search for clues, reflect on the past and try to provide closure relating to this traumatic event.  Jenna deals with her grief and confusion, the psychic deals with the loss of her ‘powers’ and the ex-cop deals with his guilt for missing details in the investigation of the trampling years earlier.  They are all looking for closure for past events that have been haunting them.

The novel shares detailed research and rich stories about elephants. Picoult included many true stories of the massive animals which were true but with changed identities.  It was very interesting to learn about the matriarchal families, how the mother and daughter stay together for life while the sons leave the heard as young teenagers.  The stories that were shared show how intelligent and empathetic elephants can be and makes the reader consider the horrible impact of poachers who kill these magnificent creates for their ivory tusks.

“As a female elephant gets older, her memory improves.  After all, her family relies on her for information – she is the walking archive that makes the decisions for the herd.”

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52. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)

UnknownThis biblical story highlights the strength and reliance of women as they experience friendship, love, hope, birth, misfortune, abuse and death through generations. The epic tale is told by Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob (sister of Joseph), and spans her lifetime. As the sole daughter in a large family, Dinah is allowed to share time with her mothers and aunts within the red tent where the women pass their time of menstruation together, sharing fellowship, gossip, secrets and passing down the stories of their family history. She learns the art of midwifery and her skill becomes well known and sought out by others in a time where childbirth often resulted in death.

Although Dinah grows up loved by her mother and aunts, as she becomes a woman, her life enters turmoil due to the greed and hateful attitudes of her older brothers. She falls in love and the consummation of this relationship sparks dramatic violence, murder and deceit. From this passion, she births a son who she must share with his more powerful grandmother.

As she ages, she finds support and strength through another woman, in her friendship with a fellow midwife named Meryt. With encouragement from her friend she marries again, finding mature love with Benia. Through coincidence, her son requests her presence at the birth of his employer’s son.   While attending this birth, she discovers that the father is her long-lost brother, Joseph connecting her with the past as she learns what has happened to her birth family during her absence.

At first, I had to keep referring to the family tree page to understand the relationships of this family since Jacob had numerous wives and children. As the story unfolded, it was difficult to put down. It makes the reader consider the importance of taking time to share family history and to reflect on the quiet strength of the women, in a time where woman had little choice.  It celebrates the power of being a woman and engages the reader in a way that this book should spark interesting discussion at my next book club meeting.

(321 pages)

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46. The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

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This lengthy tale follows the challenging life of a young boy who survived a deadly art museum explosion and the famous Goldfinch painting, which disappeared in the aftermath of the tragedy. In the confusion of the explosion, the boy meets Welty, an elderly man, who gives him a signet ring which leads him to his friend, Hobie, at their antique shop. Meeting Hobie, changes Theo’s life as he learns to appreciate antiques much like he learned a love of art from his mother.

The boy, grieving for his mother, lives with his friend’s affluent family until his wayward father arrives to plunder his mother’s belongings and whisk him off to Vegas. In Vegas, he struggles with his bereavement and is neglected by his gambling father who is in over his head in debt. He eventually ends up back in New York living and working with Hobie while he struggles to live with his loss and guilt, in a self-destructive haze of drugs and drinking.

The book focuses on the love and admiration of objects that last.  It describes the precise repair of antiques and references a number of artists and paintings.  The Goldfinch was a symbol of this objectification and this painting has been enjoyed and discussed since 1654.

Theo becomes involved in a world of lies and deceit leading him to Amsterdam.  He spends time, alone in his hotel room as he reflects on his life.  Once the painting is dramatically discovered, he begins to make amends for his mistakes.  Despite several recommendations, I may not have picked up this book if it were not a book club choice but I really enjoyed it.  I liked that it followed the boy through his life and liked how it all wrapped up in the end. (1683 e pages)

“But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time”

#10 on the NYT Hardcover Fiction List – October7, 2014

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43. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)

Unknown-8As the summer holidays come to an end and in time for the start of school, our book club chose a book that could be assigned in high school English. The books is a coming of age story, sharing the trials and hope of young Francie, who is growing up poor in Brooklyn. The story tells the tales of three generations of family who have come to America.

Set in the early 1900’s, Francie is growing up with her alcoholic father and practical mother who supports the family through hard work. Her dad is pleasant, handsome and sings but can’t keep a job.  Like the rest of his brothers, he dies young as a result of alcoholism. Her mother, Katie, comes from a strong line of women and understands that the key to getting out of poverty is to ensure that her children gain and education.

 “The secret lies in the reading and writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret.”

Francie loved to read and write and when she was lonely, books would keep her company and help her to see things beyond her neighbourhood. She loved school and worked balancing school and a job. Her family was poor and faced struggles but they were rich in support for each other and hope for a better life – the American dream. This was an easy and enjoyable read as an adult but I am not sure that teens would relate to the struggle to survive.

“Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”

(992 pages)

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27. The Matchmaker (Elin Hilderbrand)

matchhome-1Grab yourself a box of tissues if this is your next read!  Hildebrand tells the tale of Dabney, a matchmaker who sees a pink aura around perfect couples yet struggles with her own love story.    She is married to a steady, kind but distant man yet her heart belongs to a man that she fell in love with, as a teenager, Clendenin.

Dabney’s story is told as Clen returns to the island with baggage of his own.  In between her tale a number of her “matches” describe their experience with her matchmaking and share their history.

This is a quick summer read for a day at the beach!

(491 e-pages)

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21. Up in Smoke (Ross Pennie)

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This week’s review is a little different as it includes a big thank you to Ross Pennie, the author of Up in Smoke.  After hearing this book mentioned on CBC radio, our book club chose this novel for our June read and invited Ross to join us.  To our delight, he accepted and we enjoyed a terrific evening discussing the characters, learning about the cigarettes from Six Nations (even handling a bag of Rollies that he brought), hearing a bit about his memoir and understanding his writing process.

The novel told the tale of Zol Szabo, an acting Medical Officer of Health dealing with a crisis of high school students and first responders dying of liver failure.  Zol and his interesting team of colleagues rushed to solve the cause, putting themselves at risk investigating the illegal cigarette trade on the Native Reservation in an effort to ensure no further deaths.

The characters were intriguing and the consensus of the book club was that although the book can be read on its own, we want to read the first two books, Tainted and Tampered, to understand the characters more fully. Ross shared that he starts writing his novels once he has fully developed a character and it was great to ask questions and hear more about Zol and his team.

It was refreshing to read a novel with a local setting.  We recognized the street names, cities and local landmarks.  The setting was a mix of accurate locations along with fictional place such as the Grand River Basin and Caledonian University.  This made it easy for local readers to actually picture the environment as the novel unfolded.

If you are looking for summer reading, my recommendation would be to start with his first novel, Tainted followed by Tampered and then Up In Smoke.  His memoir, describing two years practicing as a new doctor in Papua New Guinea will be one of my next reads.  The books are available at the Brant Community Health Care System (Brantford General Hospital) gift shop with proceeds donated to the hospital foundation (for those of you who do not live locally, you can buy them at regular book stores as well).

Thank you again, Ross Pennie.  We look forward to the next adventure of Zol Szabo!!

(335 pages)

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10. An Astronaut’s Guide to the Universe (Chris Hadfield)

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“I wasn’t destined to become an astronaut.  I had to turn myself into one.”

 Chris Hadfield’s book:  An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth was inspiring and his leadership lessons are blended into the stories Hadfield shares about following his dream to become an astronaut.  The lessons are skillfully woven into the text and are valuable to all leaders whether you are a parent, a volunteer, a teacher, a health professional or a chief executive officer.  The lessons are applicable in all settings – in your home, at a swimming pool, the hockey arena, in the boardroom and, of course, even in space, a place that most of us will never visit but will admire from Earth.

The value of hard work, dedication and planning are described as essential skills to meeting goals.  He had a dream and worked towards that dream knowing that it may not be a possibility.  He joined the military, became a test pilot, earned a Masters of Business Administration and prepared for being an astronaut while knowing the chances of becoming an astronaut were slim.  He enjoyed himself along the way and valued his accomplishment and the success that he had.

It is hard to imagine applying for a job with over 5000 other applicants.  Through preparation, education and hard work his dream became a reality.  He described himself as “square astronaut, round hole.  It’s the story of my life, really:  trying to figure out how to get where I want to go when just getting out the door seems impossible.”

“There’s really just one thing I can control:  my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction”.

A key theme throughout the book was the support of others.  His wife Helene, stood beside him, encouraged him and supported him to be live his dream by picking up the household tasks, caring for their three children and experiencing life in other parts of the world.  He balanced both his dreams and day-to day life and he commented: “while achieving both things may not take a village, it sure does take a team.”

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts.  It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter.  It is about laying the groundwork for other’s success, and then standing back and letting them shine”

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6. The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd)

Unknown-1After enjoying the Secret Life of Bees, I was excited to read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  While it was not quite as engaging as the Secret Life of Bees, it was an enjoyable book club pick.  It told the life of a Southern Girl (Sarah Grimke) and a young slave (Handful) that was given to Sarah as a “gift” for her eleventh birthday.  While Sarah eventually “gives” her back, she realizes that she truly does not have the power to free Handful from her circumstances any more than she has the power to be independent and become a lawyer, like her brother, due to her status as a woman.  The story was based on a real life Sarah Grimke who was an abolitionist who lived in South Carolina.  This novel intertwines the stories of Sarah and Handful describing the harsh treatment of slaves in South Carolina.

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5. The Orenda (Joseph Boyden)

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After enjoying Three Day Road, I thought that I would read Joseph Boyden’s, The Orenda.  This novel became the winner of the 2014 Canada Reads contest on CBC radio.  This novel did not disappoint.  It told the stories of Bird (Huron warrior), Snow Falls (an Iroquois girl captured and treated as Bird’s daughter) and Christophe (a Jesuit priest) sent to share his God with the Native people.  The story shares the brutal violence and torture between the Iroquois and Huron, the decimation by the plague and the challenges of living during this time period of fighting between the French and the English.  The Chapters website describes it as “a story of blood and hope, suspicion and trust, hatred and love. A saga nearly four hundred years old, it is at its roots timeless and eternal.”  This is another story that all Canadian’s should read!

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