After the horrors of the World War Two
in Anthony Doerr’s stunning All The Light We Cannot See, the group asked for
something ‘fluffier’. I am not sure if these two titles fulfill that criterion,
but they are now available on the Nooks.
Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Everyone knows a couple like Jack and
Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You'd like to get
to know Grace better. But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace
are never apart. Some might call this true love.
Picture this: a dinner party at their
perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their
element while entertaining. And Grace's friends are eager to reciprocate with
lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her
friends call—so why doesn't Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook
such elaborate meals but remain so slim? And why are there bars on one of the
The perfect marriage? Or the perfect
Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from
what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken
for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's
childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the
surface lies the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's
life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her
marriage, her love for her two daughters.
lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he
works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure
goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so
she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the
Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of
Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by
the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and
mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister,
enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and
fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a
brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the
resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels
through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and
Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to
infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are
humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the
territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as
Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to
practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night,
leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating
the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an
unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.
Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life - steady
boyfriend, close family - who has never been farther afield than their tiny
village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe
Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived
a huge life - big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel - and now he’s pretty
sure he cannot live the way he is.
is acerbic, moody, bossy - but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and
soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that
Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still
* * *
Please Note: This review assumes that
you have read the whole book and therefore reveals the Will’s final decision.
was a little wary of this title even though it was very highly rated. Reading
the blurb made me dread a sickly sweet Romance that ends with the good love of
the Plucky Young Heroine convincing the poor, disabled Man Without Hope that
life is indeed worth living. Fortunately that is most definitely not what we got,
which is good because I was not looking forward to his electronic wheelchair
humming off into a cozy sunset.
first impression of Will Traynor is not very flattering. He is rude, arrogant
and totally self-absorbed. He is so important that he cannot wait and runs
across the road to grab a taxi: right into the path of a motorcycle. This was
an interesting choice by Ms Moyes, because it makes Will partially, if not
wholly, responsible for his own fate. He is not a victim, even at the moment
when his life is destroyed forever, and I was left wondering about the fate of
the poor person on the motorbike, who could quite easily have been killed or
terribly injured by the same accident.
Louisa is not the most inspiring of heroines. She floats through life trying to
avoid anything difficult or challenging. Her job is easy and boring, her
boyfriend is thoughtless and boring and her family life is cramped and
unsupportive. To say that she is in a rut is a massive insult to ruts. She is
stuck in a chasm of dull responsibility with no prospects of anything better
coming along before she dies. But, all good things must come to an end so she
is fired unexpectedly and her parents pressure her into applying for any job
available. Of course, her lack of qualifications or interesting life experience
make it difficult for her to get anything other than a soul-destroying job at
the local chicken processing plant. As she comes to terms with this situation as
her new future she gets an interview for a job as an assistant to a badly
disabled man. For once, her unique approach to fashion and life is an asset and
Mrs Traynor sees some possibility that Louisa will be able to reach Will and
make him enjoy life a little.
first glance, this seems massively improbable, especially as Lou has no
training or expertise working with very disabled people. However, we soon learn
that there is a trainee nurse to provide all the heavy lifting, medically
speaking, and that Will has already dismissed all the experienced care-givers
in the area. Whether Lou’s appointment is due to some perception by Will’s
mother or simply desperation, we never really know but it does seem to work and
gradually Will begins to tolerate and even like Lou.
soon sees evidence that suggests that Will has tried to commit suicide in the
past and we finally learn that he has made an agreement with his mother to wait
only another 6 months before going to an assisted suicide facility in Europe.
Unexpectedly, given her previous life, Lou meets this challenge head on and
begins filling Will’s life with excursions and stimulation. Some of her plans
are spectacularly disastrous, but simply living through them draws the pair
together and their relationship deepens. As one would expect, love blossom and
Lou finally gets rid of her dull, triathlon-obsessed boyfriend and devotes all
her energy to planning the perfect holiday as a last effort to change Will’s
mind about dying.
this is where the story becomes massively controversial. Despite all her best
efforts, Lou fails to make his life worth living and Will tells her that he
still plans to commit suicide. She is devastated by his announcement that she
is not a good enough reason for him to continue to live a life of endless
suffering and dependency. However, she finally realizes that she needs to be
there with him as he dies and makes peace with his decision to place his needs
people, such as Lou’s mother, will not accept Will’’s decision nor will they
forgive those who allow him to fulfill the wish to die. Others understand that
it is his decision to make and that nobody has the right to insist that he
continues to live in increasing pain until an infection finally carries him
off. The book makes it very clear that keeping Will alive is a constant battle against
infection and that his health is so fragile that he could die at almost any
the group discussed this issue for a very long time and whilst we could
understand that the natural tendency of some people is to protect life at all
costs, we unanimously agreed that it was Will’s decision, and his alone.
was a man who had lived a vital, physical life before his accident; a man who
could no longer do much more than sit in a chair and watch the world go by.
Some people can adjust to that way of life, but others cannot. We appreciated
that Lou sought out message boards for paraplegics and their care-givers, so
that we saw that not all of them succumbed to the initial shock and grief. Many
of them were living relatively happy lives, but understood Will’s frustrations.
We were also happy that there was no miraculous recovery or wonder medicine
that arrived to save the day, although Will could certainly afford any
treatment that money could buy. In fact, we liked Ms Moyes decision to make
Will wealthy enough that financial considerations were not a problem for him or
his family. Even in Britain, where medical costs are mostly free at the point
of delivery, he would not have easy access to some of the things that make his
life more pleasant.
have criticized this book as a manifesto for killing disabled people. This is
not how we viewed it. We saw it more as a very sad story about 2 people who
met, fell in love and improved each other’s lives for a short time. However,
that could not overcome the pain and suffering that one of them had to endure
without possibility of respite.
our choices come from foreign shores this month. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick
Backman was originally published in Swedish and has proven to be exceptionally
popular. Fortunately, the Nooks allow us to bypass the giant hold list. Louise
Penny is a Canadian author and a resident of our Popular Fiction room. We will
be reading her debut novel, Still Life.
Both books are now on the Nooks.
A Man Called Ove by
Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if
they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch
principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter
neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around
with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November
morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door
and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and
heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art
of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local
residents' association to their very foundations.
Still Life by Louise
the early morning mist clears on Thanksgiving Sunday, the homes of Three Pines
come to life - all except one…
locals, the village is a safe haven. So they are bewildered when a well-loved
member of the community is found lying dead in the maple woods. Surely it was
an accident - a hunter's arrow gone astray. Who could want Jane Neal dead?
a long and distinguished career with the Sûreté du Quebec, Chief Inspector
Armand Gamache has learned to look for snakes in Eden. Gamache knows something
dark is lurking behind the white picket fences, and if he watches closely
enough, Three Pines will begin to give up its secrets…
am pleased to report that our numbers have swelled recently – so much so that I
may need to request a bigger room!
February, we chose Cold Storage, Alaska by John Straley and Necessary Lies by
Diane Chamberlain, both of which are now on the Nooks.
Cold Storage, Alaska
by John Straley
Cold Storage, Alaska, is a remote fishing
outpost where salmonberries sparkle in the morning frost and where you just
might catch a King Salmon if you’re zen enough to wait for it. Settled in 1935
by Norse fishermen who liked to skinny dip in its natural hot springs, the town
enjoyed prosperity at the height of the frozen fish boom. But now the cold
storage plant is all but abandoned and the town is withering.
Clive “The Milkman” McCahon returns to his tiny
Alaska hometown after a seven-year jail stint for dealing coke. He has a lot to
make up to his younger brother, Miles, who has dutifully been taking care of
their ailing mother. But Clive doesn’t realize the trouble he’s bringing home.
His vengeful old business partner is hot on his heels, a stick-in-the-mud State
Trooper is dying to bust Clive for narcotics, and, to complicate everything,
Clive might be going insane—lately, he’s been hearing animals talking to him.
Necessary Lies by
After losing her parents, fifteen-year-old Ivy
Hart is left to care for her grandmother, older sister and nephew as tenants on
a small tobacco farm. As she struggles
with her grandmother’s aging, her sister’s mental illness and her own epilepsy,
she realizes they might need more than she can give.
When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace
County’s newest social worker, she doesn’t realize just how much her help is
needed. She quickly becomes emotionally
invested in her clients' lives, causing tension with her boss and her new
husband. But as Jane is drawn in by the
Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm—secrets much
darker than she would have guessed.
Soon, she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or
risk losing the battle against everything she believes is wrong.
is a wonderful resource for anyone who loves books and reading. It is an
excellent way of researching titles or authors and lets you keep track of what
you have read and what books make up your ‘To Be Read’ pile. This year it has
added a nice feature that provides a summary of activity for the last year, so
I thought that I would take that information and add some of my own to put the past
year into perspective.
much did we read?
2016, the group met 9 times and read 19 titles. Whist our shortest read was Coraline
at a mere 162 pages, Warbreaker filled a whopping 688, so we totaled 7,247
pages, with an average of 381. Most of the time I try to suggest books that are
shorter than 400 pages because I know that we cannot all find enough time to
read giant tomes: Warbreaker was one of our reads over the summer break.
did we read?
we are a ‘ladies only’ book group, we actually read 8 titles by male authors
this year (even without counting Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett as 2 separate
authors for Good Omens). I was pleased to see that we gave the gentlemen a
chance to prove that they can write as well as the ladies! Of our authors, only
one was responsible for 2 books, but as we have loved all our selections by Neil
Gaiman in the past I cannot be blamed for suggesting his work on a regular
basis. Terry Pratchett and Jan DeLima were authors that we had read in previous
years, but the others were all new to the group. One of the main reasons that I
joined the group originally was to discover new authors so I try to continue
that tradition, and our favorites have been woefully slow in producing new
old were they?
oldest book we read this year was The Left Hand of Darkness published in 1965.
The newest titles were Autumn Moon and The Nightingale, which were both
published in 2015. The others showed a definite skew towards newer reads, with
14 titles published after 2000. I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing
and I keep looking at some of the classics and thinking that perhaps we should
try them. This worked well with To Kill a Mocking Bird in 2015 and again this
year with The Handmaid’s Tale, so I may keep it in mind for 2017.
genre were they?
try to keep us reading a wide range of genres and this year we read books that
fell into 15 categories other than ‘Fiction’. Somehow we chose to read a lot of
Fantasy (11 titles) even though I do offer alternatives. As a long-time Fantasy
/ Sci-Fi reader, I make an effort to suggest books from other genres because
not only do I want to try many different authors, but also I would prefer that
we do not get stuck in a rut. However, if the group keeps picking Fantasy I can
hardly complain! We also made our first forays into Non-Fiction, which was massively
successful and encourages me to look for other suitable titles to suggest.
we like them?
had a couple of titles that left us a little ambivalent, but we enjoyed the
majority and were blown away by quite a few. In fact there were only 2 titles
that the whole group disliked: River of Stars and The Left Hand of Darkness.
Both of these looked interesting and the Ursula K. Le Guin is recognized as a
classic of its genre, winning both the Hugo and Nebula Prizes, but, unfortunately,
they failed to engage our interest and left us more frustrated and confused
than enthralled and delighted. However, they did provoke some lively discussion
as we tried to work out what the authors were trying to do and why they did not
work for us.
Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to
present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor
Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet
her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her
death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.
HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of
cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances
like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought
and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
The dark history of experimentation on African
Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether
we control the stuff we are made of.
* * *
the name implies, the Not Your Ordinary Book Group was always intended to break
away from what is expected of traditional reading groups. Keeping this in mind,
we have always tried to offer a wide variety of genres to the group, which has
led to a very diverse list of titles chosen for discussion. I tend to read fiction
myself, but I kept seeing this particular title on lists of recommended reading
and it looked interesting, so I thought the group might want to try something
really different. I am so glad that I suggested it.
trained as a biologist in the late 1980s in the UK and yet I have no memory of
being taught about Henrietta Lacks. Admittedly, I did not take any courses that
depended upon the use of human cells, but it still seems that I should have
been aware of her massive contribution to medical research. Of course, that
contribution was not one that she made herself, nor was she even aware that
some of her cancerous cells had been passed along to be grown in a lab, but it
seems to me that her name should be as famous as those of Fleming, Pasteur and
Jenner for her influence upon humanity’s collective health. Her cells
revolutionized our ability to study human diseases and conditions, leading to
countless vaccines and treatments that have saved, prolonged and improved
lives. Yet, she died in the most horrible pain and her family has continued to
live in the poverty that marred her own short life.
book gives us a brief history of Henrietta herself, although there is little
detail and very few historical records for the author to draw upon. The medical
accounts of her illness and subsequent death are terse and clinical, as one
would expect, especially given her status as a poor and ill-educated black
woman in the 1950s. Other details are dependent upon the memories of her
surviving relatives and share the horror of a person consumed by cancerous
cells that have proven to be almost immortal in the laboratory. Her autopsy
proved that the cancer that began in her cervix had spread to most of her body
in a short period of time, so it is hardly surprising that later research
showed that HeLa cells could grow rapidly, filling their containers and even
contaminating samples of other human cells being grown in the same labs. Their
ability to grow and reproduce endlessly makes HeLa cells the perfect research
tool because experiments can be repeated endlessly on exactly the same cells,
and they have become invaluable to the scientific community.
is very difficult to read the brief descriptions of the agony that
characterized the last few days of Henrietta’s brief life. However, the most
shocking aspects of the book are those dealing with the appalling living
conditions of Henrietta and her family, even her children and grandchildren.
Squalor and poverty, coupled with poor education and a segregated health care
system made Henrietta’s early death seem almost inevitable, but I was inexpressibly
depressed to see that 50 years had not shown a marked improvement in the
family’s social conditions. The pattern of poverty, drug abuse, criminality and
the non-treatment of both physical and mental illnesses was repeated through
the generations although I was very heartened to learn that one of Henrietta’s
great-grandchildren was about to go to college when the book was published.
is very easy to blame the research community, and John Hopkins in particular,
for their cavalier attitude towards using Henrietta’s cells without permission and
then profiting from their application. However, samples were being taken from
many sources in an attempt to find a source of human cells that could be used
for research outside the body. This means that many, many samples were tried
and died before Henrietta’s miraculously survived. The man whose lab was
successful in cultivating the HeLa cells did so for no profit whatsoever, and
sent samples of them around the world free of charge, unlike other less
scrupulous practitioners who did indeed profit from cells obtained with little,
or no, informed consent. I can also understand why John Hopkins did not want to
admit any financial responsibility towards the Lacks estate because it could
have set a precedent for claims by other patients. However, it did seem that
somebody, somewhere should have felt morally responsible for making some
recompense to the Lacks family and I was rather disappointed that nobody had
stepped forward to do this.
the whole, the actions of the scientific and medical communities were poor in
many respects with regards to Henrietta and her family, but the author provides
many examples of other cases showing a similar disregard for patients. As is
often the case with early work in a new field of research, ethical issues only
became apparent after a certain amount of damage was done. Whilst most parties
were acting in good faith, their ignorance of potential consequences led them
to behave in ways that seem scandalously unethical when viewed from our perspective.
our first foray into Non-Fiction, this title was a great success and received a
unanimously high rating from the whole group. We were perhaps most impressed by
how the author’s tenacity in pursuing this story of many years as her
relationship with the Lacks family waxed and waned. Her efforts have produced a
massively informative book that is still easy to read and understand. She
refrains from being too judgmental about the researchers directly involved with
the first production of the HeLa cells and so maintains an impartial air
throughout. She is obviously outraged and moved by the struggles of Henrietta’s
descendants, but does not allow that feeling to bleed through into her writing.
Now that everyone in the group has become an
ardent fan of snails, thanks to Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s exquisite memoir, I
wanted to offer some non-snail alternatives for the 6 weeks before our next meeting.
The titles chosen are Archetype by M.D. Waters and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
I have added them to the Nooks.
Our next meeting will be on January 22 in the
Camden National Bank meeting room, which is in the business center. In the
meantime, please try to stay warm!
by M.D. Waters
In a future
where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive
by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she
could remember which is which . . .
In the stunning first volume of a two-book
series, Emma wakes with her memory wiped clean. Her husband, Declan—a powerful
and seductive man—narrates the story of her past, but Emma’s dreams contradict
him. They show her war, a camp where girls are trained to be wives, and love
for another man. Something inside warns her not to speak of these things, but
the line between her dreams and reality is about to shatter forever.
by Rachel Hartman
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust
between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into
human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational,
mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers, however, tensions
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician,
she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in
suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation,
partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive
Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to
destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret
behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very
always, I like to suggest some thought-provoking titles in my selections as
well as some lighter fare. The Left Hand of Darkness appeared on a list of
books set in Winter and I thought that the gender issues involved would make
for a lively discussion. I suggested The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating because I
thought it might be an interesting exploration of immobility after Me Before
books are now available on the Nooks.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K.
On the planet Winter, there is no gender. The Gethenians can
become male or female during each mating cycle, and this is something that
humans find incomprehensible.
The Ekumen of Known Worlds has sent an
ethnologist to study the Gethenians on their forbidding, ice-bound world. At
first he finds his subjects difficult and off-putting, with their elaborate
social systems and alien minds. But in the course of a long journey across the
ice, he reaches an understanding with one of the Gethenians—it might even be a
kind of love...
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth
While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey
watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a
result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious
creature brings and comes to a greater understanding of her own confined place
in the world.
Intrigued by the snail’s molluscan anatomy,
cryptic defenses, clear decision making, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious
courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a
candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small