Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New MUSE Season

The holiday break is over and a new season of MUSE Group is about to begin.  The group will meet next Tuesday (January 17th) at Kent State University to discuss “Wench: a Novel.”   We will also be reading two Pulitzer prizes winning books, The Known World (February 21) and Empire Falls (March 13).  I hope you will consider joining us at 6:30 on these nights for some lively discussion
Being an Ohioan (or perhaps an almost Ohioan like me), you will find the history of Tawawa House, the setting for Wench, to be of special interest.  It was an actual resort in Wilberforce Ohio, about halfway between Columbus and Cincinnati.  The historical marker there reads:  From its beginnings, the resort did not fare well as it was popular among southern planters who, much to the consternation of nearby antislavery sentiment, brought slave entourages whenever they came.”    
Each summer, the southern plantation owners, the “Masters,” would travel north to Tawawa to escape the oppressive southern heat.  Amongst their “entourages” would be their slave mistresses.  Author Perkins-Valdez plunges the reader into this dark period of American history through the lives of Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu.  Each woman offers a different perspective:  Lizzie is in love with Drayle, the father of her 2 children, Reenie is half-sister to her cruel master, Sweet is pregnant and vulnerable, and the fiery red-haired creature known as Mawu wants desperately to escape slavery.  These women will haunt your thoughts long after you have turned the last page. The novel covers 3 eventful summers; it is touching, heart-wrenching, even humbling, but there are glimpses of hope as well as the women consider their options. Readers will find some passages difficult to read, such as when one of the women is publicly beaten and raped, least she forget who is in charge.  The book is a quick, easy and rewarding read but one that packs a significant wallop. 
Need more reading suggestions?  I loved Cutting for Stone…even though it seemed overly long to me.  And I am currently reading A Paris Wife, the story Hadley Hemingway.  Next of my shelf is Stephen King’s new one, 11/22/63.  If anyone has read it, I would love to hear your thoughts.    

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recommended Reads

Perhaps the best part about being in a book club is getting recommendations from people who like the same types of books as you.  Here are some of the title's that were highly touted at the most recent MUSE group:

We liked these three so much that we picked them for Spring's MUSE Group:
Known World, 2003 by Edward P Jones
Wench, a Novel, 2010 by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Empire Falls, 2001 by Richard Russo

Other titles::
Kate Morton books including, The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton
The Kitchen House, 2010 Kathleen Grissom
Next to Love, 2011 Ellen Feldman
The Outlander by Diana Gabalden
Ariannah Franklin novels including Mistress of the Art of Death, Grave Goods, The Murderous Procession, and The Serpent’s Tale
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, 2001
The Melodean (known also as the Christmas Gift) by Glendon Swarthout (older book but good Christmas Story)
Winter Garden by Kristen Hanna
Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale

Can you name the book by the characters?  Here’s an easy one…Harry Potter?  How about Bella, Jacob, and Edward?  Perhaps a little harder… Diana Bishop?   One more question, what do all of these characters have in common?  They are all supernatural beings, a mix of sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, and witches.  They are quite popular with readers these days and their stories make for spine-tingling Halloween reading.  But whatever happened to the good old-fashioned ghost story?  I was looking for a modern ghost story for October’s MUSE group and found it in “The Thirteenth Tale” (2007) by Diane Setterfield.  Perhaps you recognize the names Vida Winter and Margaret Lea?

“The Thirteenth Tale” is considered a gothic novel.  The gothic genre, characterized by a brooding fearful atmosphere, is often set in an old castle or decaying mansion, features characters with secretive, mysterious pasts, and includes a touch of the supernatural in the form of real or imagined spirits.  Think Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Dracula, and Rebecca.  Those four top the list of GoodReads’ “Best Gothic Reads of All Time.”  The Thirteenth Tale is number ten on this list, making it one of only two modern novels to achieve this distinction. (Interview with a Vampire is the other one, placing ninth on the list)

Vida Winter is a dying, best-selling British author who contracts with antiquarian bookseller Miss Lea to write her biography.  Daily, in the library of Vida’s home, the lives of the Angelfield family are revealed by Vida.  There is the dark-hearted violent Charlie with his obsession for his sister, the beautiful and willful Isabelle, and Isabelle’s feral twins Adeline and Emmeline.    Secret gardens, crumbling ruins, misty landscapes and ghostly apparitions chill the pages.  The time setting is unclear, the story is bizarre and the biographer (or reader) is never certain that Vida is telling the truth. One reviewer called The Thirteenth Tale, “A good story written by a very good writer about a good story told by a very good writer.”  Confused, read the book!

Join the MUSE group on October 25th, 6:30pm to discuss this book with other readers.  We'll meet in the Dean’s Conference Room in the Main Building, 400 East Fourth Street.    

Monday, September 19, 2011

Water for Elephants

Did you ever find a book that you just couldn’t get into?  That’s how Water for Elephants was for me.  Geez, I think every book-lover I know has read it and has seen the movie but I still couldn’t get past the prologue.  Now that I have finished it, I can’t believe I had this problem!  The book is story-telling at its best.  Unique but believable characters, an intriguing setting (the circus), an interesting format (it’s told alternately by 23 year old Jacob and Jacob at 90), and a story that will knock your sox off.  A blend of love story, adventure story, and cultural study, once past Chapter 1, I couldn’t put it down.

Following the death of his parents, Jacob Jankowski drops out of college and life and accidentally joins the circus.  He becomes the veterinarian for Benzini Brother’s Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  It is “not” the most spectacular show on earth, but rather a Ringling Brothers wannabe during the depression era.  Through author Sara Gruen’s clear writing and thorough research, the magical, glamorous, seedy, and vicious underworld of circus workers is brought to life.  An Amazon editorial review explains “She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch.”  Jacob falls headlong into this world and into love with the boss’s wife. 

As Jacob and Marlena’s relationship develops, along comes Rosie.  Rosie is an elephant purchased by Uncle Al, the despicable heartless owner of the circus.  Rosie is to be the financial savior of the circus but unfortunately she is under the tutelage of August, Marlena’s abusive husband, whose brutality does not endear him to the bull.  Rosie gets her revenge in a rather predictable ending.  I say predictable because Gruen builds the story like a house of cards as she provides bold hints of the big collapse. And big and glorious it is; a satisfying ending for both the 23 year old Jacob and the 90 year old Jacob.

If you would like to participate in a discussion of this book, please come to the MUSE group on September 27, at 6:30 in the Main Building of Kent State, East Liverpool.  Lemonade, although not the circus variety, and other circus fare will be served.  The program is free and open to the public.  Call or email Susan Weaver for more information:  330-382-7432, sweaver@kent.edu.    

Thursday, September 15, 2011

MUSE Fall 2011

So after a very short summer, we are ready to convene the next MUSE season.  The reading choices are listed below.  Each meeting is in the Dean's Conference Room in the Main Building of Kent State University at East Liverpool and begins at 6:30.  MUSE is sponsored by the campus Library and is free and open to the public.  Refreshments are always served, often the food is in keeping with the theme of the book.  This definitely means that circus food will be on the menu for the September meeting!  What should it be?  Popcorn? Cracker jacks? Lemon shakes?  Elephant ears? Cotton candy?  Candy apples?  Come to the meeting and see!

September 27, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The brutish and enticing world of the circus is revealed to the reader by two versions of Jacob Jankowski; Jacob at 90 years of age (or maybe 93) and Jacob at 23.   Jacob lives and collides with a menagerie of animals and seedy human characters as he falls in love with the boss’s wife.   This novel has a bit of everything; adventure, mystery, fictional memoir, love story, and historical account.  Read it before the DVD is released on November 1!

October 25, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Thirteenth Tale is a haunting mystery perfect for Halloween reading.  It is the story of octogenarian Vida Winter, a best-selling British author and Margaret Lea, the young antiquarian bookseller and amateur biographer whom Ms. Winter has chosen to write her life story. The problem is that Ms. Winter has spent her life telling stories -- including 19 different versions of her background and childhood. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and family secrets…as well as the ghosts that haunt them still.

November 9, UnBroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken is the true story of Louie Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic star-turned-war hero. During a routine search mission over the Pacific, Louie’s plane crashes into the ocean.  Along with his friend Phil, the pilot, he survives gunfire, sharks, and starvation on a tiny raft, only to be rescued and thrown into a Japanese prison camp. Louie’s ordeal during the war and his struggle to return to civilian life are moving tributes to the Greatest Generation.  This inspiring read serves as a reminder, to all of us, of what US veterans have endured and sacrificed for the safety of our nation.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

We just experienced the United States’ patriotic commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Most of us donned our red, white, and blue and enjoyed such traditions as fireworks, parades, and cookouts with family.  Imagine a future North American country called Panem that commemorates its founding with a televised, over-the-top ceremony, mandatory to watch, of two young adults from each of the country’s 12 districts.  Following the ceremony, the tributes are thrown into an elaborate and enormous arena where they will brutally fight to the death in the Hunger Games.   The sole survivor wins a life of luxury and notoriety. 

The Hunger Games was recommended to me by students here at Kent State.  Online, I learned that The Hunger Games, published in 2008 and followed by Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010), is the hottest young adult series since Twilight.  I quickly downloaded the novels and scrolled through all three in a matter of days.  Like Twilight, the protagonist is a misfit young woman with two very different young men who adore her.  No vampires here but lots of blood and violence fill the pages and that is where the similarities end.

The reader experiences the stories through the eyes of 16 year old Katniss who lives in District 12, an Appalachian coal mining district that could very well be our tri-state area.  The people live like peasants, working in mines, factories or on farms while those in a city called the Capitol live the glamorous “bella vita.”  When Katniss’ little sister’s name is drawn in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  Obviously she survives the gladiatorial ordeal (or there would be no novels two and three) but her ambition to win is complicated by the introduction of her district-mate and new found friend, Peeta…remember, there is only one possible victor!  Peeta shows Katniss the importance of “holding on to one's humanity in such inhuman circumstances.”  Katniss, unlike Peeta, is conniving and has survivor skills.  She is cold, clever, and calculating but still likable.  While reading, it is impossible to figure out how author Suzanne Collins will end these stories, since they seem to have no possible happy endings.  But each one ends in a good place, readers will feel quite content.
 I hope you can join us at MUSE Group, 6:30 on July 12 in the Main Building of Kent State University at East Liverpool.  We'll be discussing The Hunger Games and chowing down on homemade pepperoni rolls (in honor of Peeta the baker).  There is no charge to attend and all are welcome.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Next MUSE Group

Hope you can join us July 12th for a discussion of "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.  This is book one of a  trilogy.  Watch this blog for a review of the book (coming soon!). 
The group meets at 6:30 in the Dean's Conference Room, Main Building, Kent State University, East Liverpool, OH.  Everyone is welcome.  Refreshments will be served.