Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bonds can be formed in many ways...

A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick

This is the first in the Cobbled Court Quilt series
which currently consists of 6 books: 

A Single Thread 
A Thread of Truth 
A Thread So Thin 
Threading the Needle 
Ties That Bind 
Apart at the Seams 

Prequel (published 2013)
Between Heaven and Texas 
See the author's website here.

Ms. Bostwick's descriptions are so realistic I feel as if I am right beside the characters experiencing the same thing, whether it is Evelyn as she first walks through New Bern and discovers the old Pharmacy building which she immediately envisions as a quilt shop (though its current condition is in need of much rehabilitation and repair), or Mary Dell barging into her bedroom to get her out of the doldrums and back into life! I found the characterization to be concise and quite compelling, as were the themes: illness, betrayal of marriage vows, recreating your life from scratch, etc. I truly love this woman's writing style, but disliked what I felt to be a distinct "preachiness" that unless you believe in God and attend church regularly, you cannot be truly happy. I don't believe that, but in addition, I believe it to be rude to try to "convert" others to your belief system, though I'm sure I am in the minority on this. Additionally, I found it just a bit tough to believe that everything literally turned out so perfectly happy in the end.

One of our book club members wanted us to read this book because it reminded her so much of our own group; the close friendships formed among and between us, after having met as total strangers for the "Borders" Fiction Book Club. Once I read it, my reaction was "Awwww...that is just so sweet!" It is remarkable how we can bond so closely through one common interest, although amongst our group, we vary greatly in many other areas of our personalities! This was one of the realizations as we answered the discussion questions. I always remember what I learned from an introductory Sociology course: the variation among the members within any one group is just as great as the variation between/among different groups! That's rather amazing when you consider...diversity is with us at all times; we must decide whether to embrace it, and others...or not. 

I believe this book prompted one of the best discussions our book club has had! Reactions to the book overall varied from "I just LOVED it!!" to "I really liked it." to "It was a bit too religious and Pollyanna-ish for me." to "I found the religious content to be quite disruptive and everything just ended up way too perfect for me." Isn't that neat? I love it when we can discuss our different reactions and better understand others' perspectives! I was a bit relieved that I was not the only person who felt the ending was a bit too perfect, and that everyone achieved happiness only by attending church and discovering or confirming a belief in "God." (The Christian definition of God, of course.) 

Many times the discussion questions in the back of a book are not the best at prompting good discussion. Sometimes they are rather confusing, and other times they just seem silly, but the questions for A Single Thread seemed quite pertinent. As a result, I believe we each learned new things about each other, although we have been meeting at least once a month for over four years! Now that's sayin' something!  

Have you read this book? Or the series? I have now read all 6 books in the series and the prequel, and will post a follow-up review of the series overall. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes...but with the understanding that I felt Bostwick's management of themes and the realities of life improved with each book following this one. This series is definitely worth the time and effort of reading it and I am so very glad I persevered beyond this first installment! 

Let us know your that we have shared ours with you! :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Who Knew? A White Wind Blew...Fave from 2013!

A White Wind Blew 

It may seem a bit odd that I would post a book review for my FAVORITE 2013 read in September of 2014, but really, it isn' me on this! ;) Always expect the "unexpected"!

This is one of the very first books I received free from a publisher (Sourcebooks) in exchange for an honest and fair review. YIPPEE!! You can confirm with my husband and Smokie, my gray kitty, I was literally dancing around the house I was soooo thrilled!! And now it is my favorite book from 2013. A White Wind Blew by James Markert is an absolutely remarkable read!

I was on a mission once Cecilia of Only You asked me for my ONE (YIPES! Only one? Yes, only ONE!!) favorite read from all of 2013! This is so difficult for me! To narrow the list of books I have read in one whole year down to just ONE favorite! Impossible, I thought to myself! But kudos to her, she got me really thinking. Although I could literally make a case for at least 20-30 books as I started back through the listing of those I'd read in 2013, I did end up with The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin AND A White Wind Blew by James Markert. I know, I know...that is really TWO, but it's as close to ONE as I could get!!

Melanie's book has received much well-deserved good press and remained on the NYT bestseller listing for a long time! However, I would like to think I may be able to convince just a few readers to try a perhaps lesser-known writer and book that proved to be just as fascinating a reading experience for me. After all, everyone who actually followed my recommendation to read this book (Okay, true, as far as I know, only the members of the book club I facilitate...but STILL... lol) has really liked it or now cite it as one of their favorite reads! I am proud and happy about that!! Additionally, I donated a copy to my local library and the President of our Board of Directors happened to read it and was talking about what a great book it was at the next Board meeting...she had no idea I had donated it to the library! That made me feel wonderful, especially since she typically only reads nonfiction historical/political books. Hooray!

In my opinion, this book has everything you could ask for: clear concise characterization, 
accurate and compelling depiction of relevant social issues of the day including racism, prohibition, gangsters, and those other interpersonal issues that arise between and among people. The reader directly experiences the world of that time through these fascinatingly ordinary, yet complex characters, immersing you into this TB-laden world of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Lousville, Kentucky, in post-WW I U.S. 

I am certain one of the things that has made this book even more  memorable to me is the fact that Mr. Markert was kind and generous enough to spend 25 minutes of his valuable time speaking with our book club, answering questions and providing additional information about himself and this wonderfully written novel. Additionally, he was sitting in the hotel lobby speaking with us, since his room was not yet ready for him to check-in! How nice is that? You can discover additional information about him at his website, and about the Waverly Hills Sanatorium at this website By reading this book, you learn the stories of some of these peoples' lives, though this is a fictional work, it is quite compelling and realistically told...

I believe a sequel to this book would be another wonderful addition to the world of literature, particularly historical fiction! Just sayin', Mr. Markert... A writer who can literally make me feel as if I am there has such talent! 

If you have not read this book, it is an excellent way to spend your time. Even if you are a bit hesitant, I believe you will discover Markert did more than just make this theme work, he created a masterpiece with characters you will never forget! 

Please check out another of his projects, a romantic comedy, 2nd Serve

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Is it just reading with your Mother?

 The End of Your Life Book Club 
                      by Will Schwalbe

This book had so much to say...about reading...about books...about sharing reactions...about love...about pride...about parent/child relationships, especially in adulthood. 'Cause Will and his mother, Mary Ann, definitely (in my opinion, at least) had a remarkable friendship and camaraderie which seemed to culminate in their shared reading experiences. Personally, it is difficult for me to imagine such a give-and-take relationship with my own mother...suffice it to say, she was nothing like Mary Ann. To me, Mary Ann was the quintessential mom, depicting my idealized version! Will did an amazing job of memorializing her in this book, while simultaneously demonstrating the purpose of literature! 

Literature as defined by Merriam-Webster online: (1) written works (such as poems, plays, and novels) that are considered to be very good and to have lasting importance, (2) books, articles, etc., about a particular subject, (3) printed materials (such as booklets, leaflets, and brochures) that provide information about something. To me, "literature" can be virtually anything we read, but it is in the sharing of written materials that meaning and so much more is determined; each individual providing their own unique interpretation of and reactions to the written word. Mary Ann believed "books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal" and that reading all kinds of books "is how you take part in the human conversation." (p. 326). Our book club demonstrates that! As she stated: 
                    The appeal of reading...lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about 
                    literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. 
                    All readers were equal, herself included.
Refugees would always request books, especially for their children, "sometimes even before medicine or shelter" (p. 110)

Courtesy NY Times
Robert H. Chapman/Courtesy Will Schwalbe
Mary Ann Schwalbe and her children,
including Will Schwalbe, at left;
circa 1967.
This picture of mother and children speaks volumes! You can definitely "see" Mary Ann's delight in her children reflected in her own expression. And...just look at that smirky little grin on Will's face! I believe the attitude behind that grin was accurately reflected in Will's daily life. His mom instituted a mandatory Sunday School attendance policy about which Will was not overly thrilled. However, he eventually selected the Christian Science Sunday School, mainly because "the cookies were store-bought and of the highest quality" and Tang was served. "It was fun to both follow the rules--I was going to Sunday School--and cast my lot with the outlaws [Christian Science believers]." (p. 94) 

Religion played a large part in their discussion of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Although I am do not believe in a deity, nor ascribe to an organized religion, I was fascinated with this book and the story, but not at all put off by John Ames' Christian foundation for his understanding of life. And typically, that would be a distraction for me. Mary Ann felt that this book should make Will "want to have faith," however, Will states he feels the same as John's friend's son who "describes himself not as an atheist," but rather that he is in a "state of categorical unbelief." This appears to frustrate Mary Ann and she changes the subject; one of the few times it seems she disagrees with one of her children and persists in trying to change him. 

Mary Ann had what Will termed "a slightly socialistic streak" when it came to treats and possessions. If one of the 3 children tried to "hog" more than their fair share of a treat, she would redistribute the portions, making certain that same child received "the smallest portion by far." (p. 85) Likewise, when it came to their possessions, mandatory sharing was the policy. I totally agree with the treat reapportionment, but I believe it is healthy for each child to have at least a few items they can feel are theirs alone and they are not compelled to share with their siblings, unless they choose to do so. But perhaps that is simply the result of my being an only child.

I could appreciate Will's description of the one single most effective tool they could use as children to avoid household chores, etc.: "Like churches during the Middle Ages, books conferred instant sanctuary. Once you entered one, you couldn't be disturbed." (p. 68) Therefore, if you could prove you were actively engaged in reading, you were exempt from common chores. I would have never had to do anything as a child since I virtually always had my "nose in a book," as they say! In fact, my grandmother would become a bit angry with me for walking through the house while reading! She always feared I would fall! I could relate to Mary Ann's dismissal of hypocritical double standards: "Mom was always a little amazed at parents who thought their kids should be reading more but who never read themselves." (p. 68) She and her husband read during the week and would sometimes spend whole weekend days reading! Wow...that would have been my dreamworld as a child! 

So many people noted Mary Ann's bravery and courage to travel internationally visiting refugee campus, monitoring elections, etc. However, she did not believe herself to have been courageous, as she had chosen these actions. In her opinion, people who qualified as courageous had to endure and overcome challenging situations into which they were placed by no choice of their own, and in fact would certainly never have chosen. 

Each of our book club members greatly admired Mary Ann on so many levels, especially with regard to the unique relationship she developed with each of her children. She learned who they were, about their strengths and challenges, and then enabled and guided their development overall, all while working full-time outside the home and traveling much of the time. We loved the discussion of books and appreciated the fact that many of those listed were ones we've read and discussed in book club and/or on our own. This prompted listing and ordering of many different books!! In fact, just one or two people could use the book discussions contained within to have their own "book club"! :)

Have you read this yet? I would definitely recommend it. What are your thoughts?