Archive for July, 2007

A Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Monday, July 30th, 2007

In May the Novel Ideas book group, which meets the fourth Monday of each month at the Jarrettsville Branch of Harford County Public Library from 10:30 AM to Noon, met and discussed A Recipe for Bees.

As Publishers Weekly put it, “… Anderson-Dargatz’s (The Cure for Death by Lightning) latest is a warm and wise love story, an exploration of the extraordinary as revealed in everyday lives.”

As Augusta Olsen awaits the outcome of her son-in-law’s surgery she reminisces about her long and never-dull life. Augusta is both extremely gifted and headstrong. She inherited from her mother her gift of clairvoyance and her ability at bee-keeping. Unfortunately for Augusta, with her unusual outlook on life, at 18 she marries Karl, a shy man older than she who takes her away to his isolated farm in British Columbia. Augusta quickly learns to resent his taciturnity and his lack of sexual finesse. Determined not to despair, Augusta tries various friendships, work in town, and a brief affair. Eventually she causes her family’s move from the farm, after which she takes up bee-keeping again, the “ointment for her soul.” Her starting of this business re-connects her to the community and sparks changes in her marriage. Augusta realizes that as she has aged she is able to look on her life differently.

Some things to consider:

1)The PW reviewer wrote, “Augusta is a headstrong heroine with prismatic perspectives; her long, never-dull life as told by the gifted Anderson-Dargatz is both charming and impressive in its quiet, cumulative power.” If you have already read this book, would you agree with that assessment? If you haven’t read it, why not put it on your “To Read” list? If you enjoy stories of strong women and their inner emotions, or of farm life or family relationships, you will probably enjoy this.
2)I was struck by similarities that I could see between this book and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. In Prodigal Summer, Lusa, a talented scientist gives up her career to marry a farmer and try to make a life in an isolated Appalachian community. Most of the book takes place after she is widowed, but Lusa does a lot of self-searching and looking back on her marriage, which, like Augusta’s, was troubled by her husband’s taciturnity and his apparent inability to understand her. Each husband expressed his love through “a simple gesture he had been planning for a day or two, a message contained in flowers.” Lusa’s husband, for instance, sent her a message across the fields from his tractor when he refrained from cutting down “her” honeysuckle.
3)Prodigal Summer contains many story lines; but, both books contain a lot about small town life and gossip. This could be an aspect of both books you could bear in mind while reading and discussing them.
4)Another possible topic of discussion could be the author’s treatment of farm life. Are they sympathic towards the lifestyle, even though their heroines have difficulty with it? Does life on the farm in some way mold the characters?
5)Prodigal Summer has a great deal in it about farming, crops and orchards, and growing things, and also about the wilderness and about a family of coyotes. The background of A Recipe of Bees is beekeeping. I enjoyed all the lush details. What do you think they contribute to the books?

Here is a link to the publisher’s discussion guide for A Recipe for Bees.

Whale Season by N.M. Kelby

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Whale Season: A Really Good Book by N.M. Kelby
If you want something funny, light, a little bizarre, but also with characters you can believe in this may be the book for you. Kelby brings together some eccentric characters and some odd happenings at Whale Harbor, Florida. (“There are no whales in Whale Harbor, Florida. Never have been.”) Her book is entertaining, yet it has wisdom, pathos and human feeling. Kelby has been compared to author Carl Hiaasen, and you can see similarities in her Florida setting and her quirky characters. This is a good summer read (even though it is Christmas in the book).

As the residents of Whale Harbor get ready to celebrate Christmas, a serial killer, who is dressed as Jesus, comes to town. The essence of this book concerns the way in which his appearance and the events that he initiates affect the characters.

The Abingdon Book Group enjoyed the book. We found the characters to be unusual, but generally likeable, and almost all had a tender side. One reader in the group had not liked it too much, but during the discussion, said how much she was starting to like it now that we had discussed it and she had seen it in the light of other readers’ observations. This is why book groups are so good, we get to see hear many differing views and opinions, and then we may discover something about the book we had overlooked. We also enjoyed iced tea & chocolate chip cookies! Then shared other books we are reading.

Ms. Kelby is the author of Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill (forthcoming book), In the Company of Angels, and Theater of the Stars. She also has written short stories. Information about the author may be found at
Our August title is Family Tree, by Barabara Delinsky.

Cool Ideas for Book Groups

Monday, July 16th, 2007

A few blogs back I discussed a few ideas I had seen in the literature about rejuvenating flagging book discussion groups. One of the ideas was choosing books with themes. Another idea is to set the scene for your discussion with the refreshments to be served and perhaps even the place where you hold your meeting.

The group I belong to meets in members’ houses. Quite often the host will decorate the table or the coffee table with items that go with the book. Once we read a biography of Frida Kahlo, and a couple of our members came dressed as Frida. Last month we discussed Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. We had food of the fifties. Luckily, we were spared the meatloaves studded with candies!

One of the coolest ideas I have seen lately was brought to my attention while reading PW Daily last week. Apparently, Julia Flynn Siler, a Wall Street Journal contributing writer, offers a wine tasting group/reading group guide for her new book, The House of Mondavi. Ms. Siler suggests “organizing a tasting of some of the wines featured in The House of Mondavi as part of your event. You can discuss the colorful personalities in the book while sampling their wines.” According to PW, “Siler can participate either in person or via speakerphone and discuss what “surprising news” led her to write the book about the famous California winemaking dynasty, what forced the Mondavi family to give up control of its company, her favorite wines and more.” The Penguin Group reading guide has a detailed wine list for a tasting session and how to arrange an interview with the author.

It looks to me as if in this case the wine list is sponsored by Mondavi. You and your group could be more independent if you wished. Perhaps you could choose to read one of the currently very popular travel and food memoirs, and arrange your own tasting of the food and drink of the region. Check out my Recent Biographies – Food Memoirs booklist on Readers Place for some ideas of where to begin.

Princess Diaries & Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Julia’s avatar welcomes you to her Blog. For all you Mom’s out there, have you thought about reading a book with your daughter? The Abingdon Library held a Mother Daughter Book discussion today and discussed the Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. This very popular book has been a hit with Middle Schoolers and it seems the Mom’s enjoyed reading it too. How does Mia react when she discovers her Dad is Prince of Genovia and she is going to be a Princess? Mia resists her fate at first and is angry and horrified that she will be different from her friends at school, but she eventually reconciles herself to the idea of being a princess. The Mom’s thought of this story as a fairytale, while the girls thought of it as being something that could really happen. In a sense it does sometimes, as when a singer or actor becomes a Hollywood Star.

The book is very different from the movie of the same name, and Meg Cabot was not involved in making the movie, though it did fit in with the spirit of her books. The series is going to last through ten volumes so there is plenty to keep you reading here.

If you want to read an adult book by this author, she now has two books published in the Heather Wells mystery series, Size 12 is Not Fat, and Size 14 is Not Fat Either. Heather Wells was once a popular teen singer but her popularity wanes and she finds herself the assistant dorm manager at a New York City university. When a dead girl is found at the bottom of an elevator shaft, Heather decides to investigate. There is a lot of confusion and mayhem, some romance and humor. This is light reading, good for the beach and for fun entertainment. Kind of a chick lit mystery. And who doesn’t love the titles?

Check out Meg Cabot’s website, for lists of her kids, teens and adult books.

There will be another Mother Daughter Book discussion in August featuring the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Call the branch for details and to register. 410-638-3990.

Now It’s Your Turn

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Yahoo! AvatarsThis is me, going on my travels very soon. I’m doing a lot of reading so that I am all ready to go to my book club when I get back. For our next meeting we are reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s a somewhat gothic tale about a young man who lives and works in a used bookshop with his father in Barcelona. He is given his choice of any book from a warehouse called The Cemetary of Old Books, and is sucked into the mystery of the disappearance of his book’s author. I’m not into it very far yet, but the book has elements of magical realism that would appeal to fans of Chocolat by Joanne Harris. The local Barcelona color is also very well done, and there are lots of strange and gutsy characters as in Harris’ books. The writing is not bad too – lots of passages I feel like putting sticky notes on.

I have also just completed A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander. This is a mystery, Ms. Alexander’s second, set in late Victorian London. A young wealthy widow, determined to be independent becomes embroiled in an international plot to restore the Bourbon heir to the throne of France. This is a great study of the social mores of the time, but it’s not like Edith Wharton, more like Elizabeth Peters. The feisty heroine falls somewhere between Amelia Peabody and Anne Perry’s Charlotte Pitt. This was a good story and fun too.

Now over to you… Leave me a comment about what you are currently reading or have on your “to be read” list.

In Memoriam Kathleen Woodiwiss

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, called by Publisher’s Weekly a, “Trailblazing romance author,” died Saturday, July 7. She was 68.

Kathleen is widely credited with inventing the modern historical romance novel. She broke onto the scene in 1972 with The Flame and the Flower, which featured an historical backdrop and (again from PW) “flashy sex scenes.” This was a departure from the traditional historical novel which featured fictional characters on the periphery of actual of recorded history and were stories of either adventure or intrigue.
Kathleen Woodiwiss’ new take on the genre struck a chord with the reading public and was wildly successful. She went on to write 13 novels and to influence many other romance authors. She was, as bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips put it, a towering figure in the genre. “We all owe our careers to her. She opened the world of romance to us as readers.” There are currently more than 26.7 million copies of Woodiwiss’s novels in print; her last novel, Everlasting, will be released in October.

Other writers of sensual historical fiction are:

Shirlee Busbee; Johanna Lindsey; Fern Michaels; Rosemary Rogers; Bertrice Small

While I have enjoyed a book by one of these authors on more than one occasion, I really prefer the more old-style historical novel that has more history than romance. I like feisty female main characters and I think it is a shame that a lot of current historical fiction is written mainly for men.
My all-time historical novel is Katherine by Anya Seton. I once devoured all the historical novels of Jean Plaidy chronologically, and I liked most of her books written as Norah Lofts too.

A book I used to recommend all the time to people is A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. I know that’s not a “pure” historical novel, and the time travel element might put people off, but it’s a terrific read, especially for a rainy day or a day on the beach. Fans of Diane Gabaldon might like that one.

Why not leave a comment on your favorite historical novel or join the debate on what’s an historical novel and what’s not.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

In May the Norrisville book group read and discussed Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. This book was the first in a series set in a delightful town in Virginia, called, no surprise here, Big Stone Gap! Not a lot happens to 35-year-old Ave Maria Mulligan in this quiet backwater. The highlight of her week comes on Friday, with the arrival of the Bookmobile. The novel concerns the family scandals that befall Ave Maria in this seemingly uneventful town. Greed, lust, envy all manifest themselves even in this hamlet of “ordinary folk.”

Ave Maria Mulligan is the daughter of the late pharmacist of Bit Stone Gap, Va., and an immigrant Italian seamstress. She inherited the pharmacy when her father died, but it’s only her mother’s recent death that has made Ave realize that, at 35, she’s on the shelf. When her best friend, the handsome high school band and choral director proposes and then takes it back, and the mountain-man Jack McChesney also proposes – she thinks – out of pity, Ave is in despair. To add to her emotional turmoil, a letter from her mother tells her her real father is a man who lives in Italy. All of this takes place against the backdrop of Big Stone Gap, its history, and its summer Bluegrass festival. How will Ave cope with the unexpected arrival of her entire newly discovered Italian family, and will she be able to recognize true love before it’s too late?

These are some things to consider when reading or discussing the book:
This is part of what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about Big Stone Gap: “A wholesome Cinderella story with a winning blend of ’70s nostalgia and Appalachian local color, Trigiani’s debut introduces a likable heroine who’s smart but obtuse, needy but rejecting, and generous with affection but afraid of love.” The reviewer places Ave squarely in the tradition of romantic heroines the world over. Would you agree that she conforms to the stereotype?

Publisher’s Weekly thought the book was almost too sentimental. Would you agree with the reviewer who wrote: “What saves the narrative from sentimentality and invests it with charm is Trigiani’s witty voice, her tart-tongued but appealing heroine and her ability to recall the cultural details that immerse the reader in the atmosphere of her little mining town.”

There is a lot of local color in the book – there is even reference to an actual 1978 visit to Virginia of senatorial candidate John Warner and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor – did you find this contributed to the story or was it irrelevant?

Some reviewers found the writing awkward and some of the characters overblown. What did you think?