The Bookends

The-One-in-a-Million Boy

By Monica Wood

Every Saturday morning 104 year old Ona has a Boy Scout volunteer to help with light yard work around her home. She is usually unhappy with their “shortcutting” ways and refuses to let the volunteer return for the next Saturday. However, she likes the last boy that is sent to help. He was different than the others with his constant counting, list making and passion for world records. One Saturday the boy doesn’t come but his father, Quinn arrives the following week to finish the last seven Saturdays of his son’s commitment to Ona. What Quinn didn’t realize is the deep friendship that developed between this woman and his son, and their plan to make Ona the world record holder of the Oldest Licensed Driver.

BECKY This story has some interesting characters. I am not sure which one was my favorite. We have feisty Ona who has an interesting past, an eleven year old boy that is wise beyond his years, Quinn who hardly knows his unique young son and his twice-ex-wife Belle. Throughout the book we only know the child as the boy. Was that frustrating to you or did it fall into place naturally?

PAM You know what is crazy? I didn’t realize that until you asked the question! I would love to ask the author the purpose of omitting the name (even though I did not even notice…). I wonder what that says about me as a reader! I agree that it was hard to choose a favorite character. The author did an amazing job of allowing us to see different sides of each character, making it easy to feel the changing dynamics throughout the story. The boy is interviewing Ona for a school project and records answers to questions he poses. He refuses to talk on the tape, but the interviews come to life as we can infer his questions and comments based on her answers. This was my favorite part of the book, as it allowed me to feel their relationship and how they brought out the best in each other. Did you feel the same about their relationship and how the author shared it with readers?

BECKY I loved these two unlikely friends and their connection. The author did a great job slowly creating a cast of individuals that alone are good but together… make something special. There are multiple layers to the story and the boy’s recording of Ona’s life story felt realistic. As I read, I could hear the recorder click on and the boys muffled presence in the background. As wonderful as the writing was there, I didn’t feel a connection with the mother. Her story is smaller than the rest so maybe that was the reason. Did you feel like she had a large enough presence in the story?

PAM I also felt that this character was not as developed and did not feel connected to her. There were so many sides to the boy’s mother, but they didn’t add up to a character I could understand. She suffers a great loss and I felt very sad for her, but didn’t understand her abrupt switches between childlike and authoritarian behaviors. Perhaps, it was also because deep down I liked the boy’s father and wanted her to help him feel connected and them to come together in this time of sadness. Their relationship had been rocky from the beginning, although he always loved her. Did you also hope they could help each other?

BECKY I usually defend the mother in a story but in this book I too was a fan of the father. I imagined a different ending to the story in regard to their relationship but am completely satisfied with the path the author chose. I think that they did help each other in an unusual way. It may not have been presented in a pretty box with a bow but their journey did resolve some emotions that were in limbo. One of the reasons that I like this book so much is that the characters were broken and didn’t fit into a typical mold. If you liked the novel, A Man Called Ove then you would like this story as well. Both books touch on the loneliness of seniors citizens. A boy sharing a few hours, once a week brought great joy to Ona. After reading this book did you look at the seniors in your life differently?

PAM This story certainly shares a perspective that is often overlooked. Ona is very alone after her dear friend passes. She spends days by herself, except for some interaction with volunteers as she receives assistance from the community. We all get so busy with our daily lives, that it is easy to forget people in this situation. The boy filled this empty spot for Ona. As she answers the boy’s interview questions, Ona is given the opportunity to reflect on her past and people in her life. She struggles with seeing loved ones grow old and pass on. Do you feel that she struggled with this because she didn’t see herself in this light?

BECKY Absolutely, she was still active and as independent as she could be with her physical limits. It is clearly difficult when piers are passing away. It not only creates a loneliness but a realization that time is nearing its end. A dear lady that I know in her 90’s told me that an ‘old guy’ was moving into her senior living center. I believe that her and Ona share a similar opinion that others are getting weak and older but they are feeling young and capable. I would imagine that this positive attitude is a healthier choice but the realization that their circle of friends are diminishing is real. The author did a beautiful job creating this story and I think a book club would have some interesting topics to discuss. It’s time to say goodby to The-One-In-A-Million Boy and move to your book pick for September. Please tell us what we will discuss next month.

PAM Next month, we will discuss Lisa See’s novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. We will learn about the Akha, a Chinese ethnic minority, and the art of producing a special type of tea, while we follow the life of Li-yan.

The Bookends

The Vanishing Year
By Kate Moretti

Zoe Whittaker appears to be the star in her own Cinderella story. She went from sharing a small apartment and shopping at thrift stores to a sleek Tribeca penthouse and designer clothes. Henry Whittaker, a Wall Street tycoon swept her off her feet and brought her into his world. Now, Zoe is separated from her previous life (and friends) by miles, as well as circumstances. But, Zoe’s secrets are coming back to haunt her. Five years ago, Zoe ran from her previous life and created a new life in a new place. Now, the danger that caused her to flee is close and she must decide who she can trust as secrets are revealed.

PAM I found this story as I browsed the new fiction section of our library. It sounded like an interesting and suspenseful tale! We meet Zoe as she is heading an elite event for a philanthropic organization in the city. Right away, we find that she does not feel a part of this life and is nervous about her past. Becky, what were your first impressions about Zoe?

BECKY I quickly liked this character. She was easy to connect to and I enjoyed how her story is revealed. She is currently living what appears to be a perfect life. We quickly see that maybe everything isn’t as beautiful as it first appears. Do you like the pace of this story and the style of writing?

PAM The story gets moving quickly and we begin to see troubles in Zoe’s life. I did like the writing style and the way the author reveals pieces of the mystery, but keeps the reader guessing how pieces fit together until the end. Zoe feels grateful for her new lifestyle, but we begin to see that she has very little freedom. Did you feel she was more accepting of this because she had gone through such hard times growing up and was comforted by the offered security?

BECKY I suppose that her past could have played a part in the seduction of this wealthy lifestyle. However, I think it’s more likely that she was slowly seduced, and controlled by Henry. I think that it was easy to put her guard down and enjoy all the pleasures that her new lifestyle provided without realizing the isolation that came with his love. She didn’t see that her cash allowance or the watchful eye of Henry was a prison. What did you think of Henry when we are first introduced to him? Did you think he was her knight in shining armor?

PAM I had a bad feeling about him from the beginning. There was always an edge to him or a condescending comment aimed at Zoe. When we come into the story, we are already seeing some issues in the relationship. When do you think she began to realize that it wasn’t all perfect?

BECKY I like how this character was developed but there was a bit of a disconnect for me regarding how trusting she was in this relationship. Zoe had a challenging childhood so I found her immediate dependence on Henry to be unlikely. I would have expected her to be more scrappy and guarded instead of blindly being lead by this man. However, she began to question her marriage when she accidentally sees Henry while he is working out with a beautiful woman. He is an expert at manipulating the situation but she began to start putting the puzzle together after that. Along with the marriage came a seriously devoted housekeeper, Penny. She is in charge of everything in the home from decorating to selecting dinner. Did you like the development of this character that was cold with Zoe but intensely involved in all aspects of this home?

PAM The development of this character certainly added to the unease and feeling that something was not right in Zoe’s home. The coldness that Zoe received from Penny and the brush off from Henry when she tried to discuss the situation helped to make Zoe feel isolated. Adding to her isolation is the distance that has been created between her and her friends. Zoe was working at a flower shop when she met Henry and was very close friends with one of her coworkers. She hasn’t seen any of her friends in quite some time and begins to try and connect with the friends that she left behind when she married Henry. They are reluctant to accept her after her abandonment of them. How did you feel about these three characters?

BECKY Those relationships were realistically portrayed as she delt with friends that felt abandoned. Zoe had to deal with hurt and betrayal as she mended those relationships. It also gave us a glimpse into Zoe’s past as she reconnects to her old lifestyle. There is more to this story but we are avoiding a few topics so we don’t give too much away. Do you think that a book club would have interesting discussion or is this more of a book to read on a beach vacation?

PAM I think there are some deeper topics that would drive a book club discussion around this story. I know I had some questions that would be fun to discuss in greater detail! We will go in a completely different direction with our next book: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Join us as we discuss a 104 year old woman, Ona, and the boy that reignited her interest in life.

The Bookends

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

By: Susan Rivers

Seventeen year old Placidia Fincher lives a privileged life with her family. She is a tomboy that has a love for horses, especially the wild ones. Major Hockaday comes by her father’s property to buy a mule and Placidia is attracted to this rugged older man. He feels the same and the two are quickly married and she leaves everything behind to start a new life on a 300 acre remote farm far from her family. Just days after becoming husband and wife, the major is called back to the battlefield. Young Placidia is left with the Majors young son and more responsibility than she has ever had. By the time he returns two years later, his young bride is accused of adultery and infanticide. Placidia refuses to talk about the accusation nor defend her herself. What happened during those two years?

BECKY This Civil War story is told completely through correspondence and diary entries. For the most part the letters are conversations between Placidia and her cousin Mildred. We do get quite a bit of information but they are the only characters we get to know for awhile. What did you think about this style of writing?

PAM I typically like this style of writing, but I did find it a bit cumbersome at the beginning. However, once I became more familiar with the characters and the time frame of each letter, I was able to see the connections and the story began to fit together. I felt that it frequently took me a bit to catch on to what the author was implying in different social situations and relationships. I wondered if it was the language the author used. Did you find that, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! I had a hard time following this story and I often wanted more information than what was provided in a letter. This style also didn’t paint a vivid scene in my mind. I usually have a very good picture of the characters and the setting, but this book was like watching a black and white television show. The story however, although it took awhile to develop, was quite interesting. The reality that women were left with the heavy responsibility of taking care of property, farm animals, servants and often children, gives a different glimpse into the realities of war. Do you think that the author was successful, using this style of writing to show how grueling that time was for Placidia and women in general?

PAM I agree that the story developed and drew me into the interesting mystery. Although it took a while to see the entire story and get a feel for the characters, eventually the author did portray the difficulties women faced during the war. Also, the author offered a glimpse into the social order, where women were considerably lower than men. This became even more of a challenge when a woman was in charge of her land and the people working it and had to deal with the men in town and on neighboring farms. Did you find this frustrating, as Placidia worked as hard as any man?

BECKY For me, it was more upsetting to read about men benefiting from a woman in such a desperate situation. We are introduced to a few unsavory men that took advantage of the environment the war created. She really had no means or experience to effectively protect herself and that was something that I hadn’t thought about before. Not only was she physically vulnerable but her livestock and stored food supply were equally at risk. What I found most intriguing in this story is the servants she interacts with. I had a better picture of these individuals than the two main characters. Did you find that storyline interesting?

PAM I agree, Becky. I also had a more complete picture of the servants, than the two main characters. The storyline of the servants connected many pieces, as we were able to see the interactions between different families. The servants were often temporarily moved to different families and homesteads when there was a need. This allowed us to discover information that helped to piece together the story of Placidia. She would not have been able to withstand the period of war without her servants by her side. Although, some were loyal and some were definitely not. Were you able to have a better understanding of this story through these relationships?

BECKY Some gave more light and understanding to this story than others. I would have loved hearing more from their point of view as the story moved along. With the correspondence style of writing this wasn’t possible but I did enjoy that some of those stories come to life as we move towards the end of the book. There was so much to address in this story with loss, forgiveness and the conclusion of the mystery. Did you like how this story came to an end?

PAM I had mixed feelings about the ending of the story. Ultimately, it was what I would consider a happy ending. However, the events and hurt that had occurred throughout the story were hard to completely wipe away. As we approach the end of the book, some of the characters’ children discover certain truths that had been meant to rest forever. This causes much discussion in the families. Did you feel that it was better to learn the truth, even though it changed perceptions or is it sometimes better not to know?

BECKY That’s an interesting question. I enjoyed the truth and how it was revealed. If it wasn’t presented then I think I would have felt cheated and assume a second book to follow. I can’t say that I would have been interested in a second story but I did want to know what happened to that baby and this marriage. I think it’s time to say goodbye to this story and move to The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti. Zoe is living a lavish lifestyle but her secret past is sneaking up on her. Will her previous life be revealed or will she be able to lock it safely away?

The Bookends

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

By: Fredrik Backman

Elsa and her granny are inseparable. Nobody understands Elsa the way her grandmother does. She is often called different and faces bullies every day at school. At night, Elsa escapes into her grandmother’s fairy tales. Everyone thinks her grandmother is crazy, but she is Elsa’s only friend in the world. Elsa embarks on a great adventure when her grandmother dies and leaves letters that must be delivered to many people she wronged. Her life will never be the same.

PAM I was drawn to this unique story idea and completely lost when I realized this was the same author that wrote “A Man Called Ove.” I loved the quirky characters in that book and was not disappointed in this story. I was quickly pulled into this story with its very eccentric characters. Elsa’s grandmother made me laugh from the beginning. Did you find yourself drawn into this tale from the beginning?

BECKY I did not immediately connect to this story. There is little background preparation before the story starts so I floundered for a bit. The characters throughout the book are enjoyable and well developed. I just would have liked a bit more explanation of the fantasy part of the book so that I could have appreciated the magical essence of this story from the beginning. What is created later in the book is a sweet story so it was worth the initial confusion. Granny tells Elsa fairy tales and has created an imaginary place called Land-of-Almost-Awake. They access this land via the wardrobe in Granny’s apartment and travel to the various lands by riding cloud animals. Was it just me or would you have liked to see at least a map at the beginning of the book to set the stage for the Land-of-Almost-Awake?

PAM I would have loved to see a map with all of the different lands Granny created! This would have been a great visual for the different stories, as well as characters. Granny is very different than other adults that Elsa knows. We come to learn of many interesting stories about Granny and her experiences as we travel through this story. Do you think this helped form the unbreakable bond between granddaughter and grandmother?

BECKY Elsa is only seven when her grandmother passes away so I think the multiple stories that are revealed to her definitely helped etch Granny’s character in Elsa’s young mind. Before passing away, Granny has written several letters of apology to various people. Elsa embarks on something like a scavenger hunt to deliver these letters, and ultimately learn more about her Granny and the people that live around Elsa. Was there too much going on in this story or did you like the flow of the story?

PAM There was definitely a lot going on with the story and it was like jumping on a fast moving train at first. However, all of the pieces began to make sense and fit together as the story continued. So, although if felt very scattered initially, I loved the way everything tied together with Granny’s fairy tales. Elsa is bullied by other students at her school and her grandmother was always her biggest advocate, coming to her defense in meetings with the administration. Was this storyline about bullying challenging to read and did you worry that Elsa’s mother was not as strong of a defender for her?

BECKY Poor little Elsa was often cornered at school by bullies. It wasn’t graphic but it sure tugs at the heart strings when you read this story. For example, “Like many children who are different, she’s good at running.” That is just upsetting to read. I didn’t dislike her mother but she wasn’t one of my favorite characters. She had a lot going on in her life and although it’s not an excuse I could identify with not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Her executive job keeps her busy and she doesn’t have much time to actively parent Elsa. She also has a new marriage and is soon to deliver Elsa’s half brother (whom Elsa calls Halfie). I think that she relied on Elsa’s grandmother without realizing that Granny was starting to lose her mind and that Elsa really needed her mother. Unfortunately, Elsa also has a distant relationship with her father. What did you think about this quiet man?

PAM At first, her father’s attitude toward her really upset me. However, as we continue through the story, we are given the opportunity to understand him and his feelings about his daughter. It took me a while, but as secrets unravel, I came to appreciate this character and his love for his daughter. There are many eccentric neighbors in Elsa’s building that are involved in Granny’s tales. One of my favorites is a large animal called a wurse. Elsa discovers this creature from the fairy tales after her granny passes away. She saves this creature and quickly finds a friend that is loyal and gives her the support she has never found in a friend. Did you love this friendship between Elsa and the wurse?

BECKY I agree that this was a sweet friendship but it too was a bit confusing. I believe that this creature was a huge dog that belonged to her grandmother (although it lived in an apartment and ate chocolate). When you read this book you have to embrace that it is told from a seven year old’s point of view and there is a great deal of imagination employed throughout the story. If you can do that then I think you would enjoy this story. It’s time to say goodbye to Elsa and crack open our next book set in 1865. Next month join us as we discuss The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers.

The Bookends

All Is Not Forgotten

By Wendy Walker

* * * We feel compelled to warn our readers that this is a sensitive topic and the story has graphic descriptions. This book is not for everyone. * * *

Jenny Kramer is a teenage girl that wanders a few hundred feet away from a local party. She is brutally violated in the woods behind the house where the party is given. While doctors are treating her physical injuries she is given a drug that will medically erase the traumatic memories of this assault. In time she physically heals from this horrific event but she will never be the same. Her country club mother, Charlotte prefers to pretend this tragedy did not touch their picture perfect world. Her father, Tom is obsessed with identifying the attacker and wants justice for his daughter. Dr. Forrester is familiar with this drug and its effect on victims. Will Jenny and her family, find the answers they need to completely recover from this nightmare.

BECKY This is such a tragic topic and it was difficult to read sections of this book. However, it is a disturbing but interesting psychological thriller. There are plans to make this into a movie and I am curious how they will retell this story. I encourage you to start the book when you have the time to read at least the first few chapters. I began by reading a small section and it took me awhile to get used to the style of storytelling. Pam, would you agree that it took a while to wrap your head around this story?

PAM I completely agree. It took me some time to become familiar with the author’s style of storytelling, specifically which character was talking. Parts of this story were very difficult to read. However, the author’s descriptions were of a clinical or investigative nature, which allowed the reader to be distanced from some of the emotion. Did you feel that the author used this type of description?

BECKY That is a great observation and although it took a bit to get use to, I enjoyed the distance it created. Once I acclimated to this style of writing it intensified the creepy factor for this story. It felt like I was reading a diary or listening in on a private conversation. What did you think about the possibility to erase memory through medical intervention? Would it be a blessing or a curse?

PAM I think it would first appear to be a blessing to anyone looking into this possibility. However, the emotional fallout described in the book would make anyone think twice. Perhaps a victim cannot fully heal and move past an event without the traumatic work of coming to terms with the details. As parents, we want to protect our children from anything harmful, either physical or emotional. This would have seemed as a blessing for their daughter. Tom questioned this method from the beginning, but Charlotte was insistent that it be used as soon as possible. If she had known the risks, do you feel Charlotte would have been as certain?

BECKY Charlotte wanted to put this tragedy in her past. I think that she would have brushed the risks aside because she wanted a fix for this terrible circumstance. I wonder what choice Jenny would have made if the decision would have been completely up to her that evening. Later in the story she will meet Sean and he has some experience with this drug treatment for PTSD. What did you think about this character? Was he a good support for Jenny or did he make the situation worse?

PAM What an excellent question about Jenny. I wonder what she would have chosen that night. Sean faced his own tragic events and is going through a similar experience with effects from the drug, as well as trying to come to terms with issues that have always caused personal struggles. Jenny and Sean had very different events that led them to their intersection, but find an understanding friend in each other. They felt that the other really understood when nobody else could. I was a bit uneasy about this relationship, although it did make a big difference for Jenny. Do you think this friendship helped Sean or gave him more to overcome?

BECKY He was an interesting character and I would have enjoyed learning more about him and his past. I feel that for both of them it was a relief to find someone that understood a similar pain. I think that focusing on Jenny was good for Sean and the connection was a balm for his scarred past. Do you agree that the female author was successful portraying significant male roles?

PAM Honestly, I didn’t realize the author was female until later in the story. I often read on my kindle and find that I do not refer to the title or author while reading a book. That means I usually cannot remember the name of the book I am currently reading! I find this to be true about the author, as well. I was convinced by the narrator of the story, although it was a male character. Since this character was telling the story from a personal, as well as a professional angle, it was an interesting perspective. Did you enjoy the way he told the story?

BECKY I enjoyed the style in which the narrator manipulated my mind while reading. At first we are held hostage not knowing whom was telling the story. Then later it was like you were reading a case file and only small bits of information is revealed. As disturbing as the situation was for this young girl, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. I would look for this author again and I hope it is made into a movie as I think it would be interesting on the big screen. It is time to say goodbye to Jenny and pick up the next book. Please join us next month as we discuss, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.

The Bookends

Breakthrough

By: Michael C. Grumley

A group of marine biologists are conducting amazing research with dolphins, Sally and Dirk. The team is making great strides in translating the language of dolphins, which will change our understanding of this amazing animal forever. Meanwhile, something unexplainable is happening around the world. Naval investigator, John Clay, is tasked to solve the mystery when one of the strange events involves a nuclear submarine. As these two seemingly unconnected groups come together to solve the puzzle, they realize that the world is in danger and it is up to them to save millions of people.

PAM Becky, this book was different from anything we have read in some time. Many different storylines converge into one as we follow this story. I especially enjoyed the dolphins and the connection between them and the group researching their language. Did you find this part of the story intriguing? Did you find it plausible?

BECKY I think dolphins are amazing creatures and the idea of communication with them seems plausible. However, in this story the computer quickly allows the humans to talk clearly with these two dolphins. I did not find that believable but this is a science fiction story so it works. The storyline that I enjoyed most was the research team in the Antarctic. They were studying the Rhonne Ice Shelf and I could hardly put the book down during one section of the story. If this became a movie I would go just to see how they would reenact this part of the book. The idea of a huge section falling into the ocean and creating a tsunami was fascinating to me. What did you think about this small part of the story?

PAM I agree with you about this part of the story. I also found it very interesting. Honestly, I enjoyed the different story lines and the different types of science represented. The idea of the tsunami was terrifying, but their solution was creative to say the least (I wonder if it would really work). The character that led the research trip to the Antarctic was a woman that had not been taken seriously by some of the people in power in the country. She was determined to gather evidence and prove her theory to be accurate. In order to do this, she gathers a team of researchers and heads into the inhospitable environment of Antarctica. Did you admire her drive to find the truth? Or did you find this trip to be a bad idea?

BECKY I loved her drive and spunk. The trip was dangerous and put her team in a treacherous situation, but the research was necessary to complete and it made this storyline very exciting. We also get a glimpse into how our government might handle a danger that could potentially kill millions. Telling the truth could cause a panic of epic proportions so, is keeping it a secret a better choice? Did you feel like the government officials were realistically represented and how did this part of the story make you feel?

PAM I’m sure there would be disagreement among the people involved. I also feel that the difference in opinion between the scientists and elected officials would occur, as they have different information and different perspectives. One of the officials was very demeaning and dishonest. He made me very mad! Ultimately, his decisions (that he was not cleared to make) led to incredible danger for many. He also was disgusting in his behind the scenes manipulation. I kept hoping that his true character would be revealed to all. Did you feel the same about this character?

BECKY I completely agree with your feelings about this man. There was nothing likable about him but I enjoyed the chaos he caused in the story. The author did a fantastic job creating a character that stirred such emotion in the reader. When I started this book I didn’t realize that it is the first book in a series of four. Did you enjoy this story enough to continue to read the whole series?

PAM I enjoyed the connection with the dolphins enough that I plan to read the next book in the series. It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. You know how much I love stories with animals as main characters! Are you planning to pick up the next in the series?

BECKY This is not the type of book I would usually pick but I really enjoyed it and will read at least one more in the series. I hope that a few of the characters return in future stories. I appreciate that the author completed this story and did not leave unresolved cliffhangers so you were forced to buy the next book. Were you satisfied with the resolutions to the different storylines?

PAM I completely agree! I love when an author organizes a series in a way that allows a reader to read one or all and still get an entire story. I did feel that the storylines were resolved completely, but I hope to gather a little more information about a few of them in upcoming books! We will be reading a very different genre next month. Join us as we discuss All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker. We will be introduced to a tragic story of a teenage girl that suffers a brutal attack and is given a drug to erase her memories of the assault. The author takes us through the challenges this teenager faces, while the reader unlocks the mystery of the crime.

The Bookends

The Life We Bury

By Allen Eskens

Joe has a college assignment to interview a stranger and write a biography. He approaches a local nursing home to see if they have someone that would be interested in telling their story. It is here that he meets Carl Iverson and Joe’s life will never be the same. Carl is a Vietnam veteran that has been convicted of rape and murder. He has spent the last thirty years in prison but has recently been paroled to this center because he is dying from pancreatic cancer. This story will become more than just a grade for Joe.

BECKY Joe is a struggling college student that had a challenging childhood. He never knew his father, his mother is an alcoholic and his brother has special needs. He is juggling school and a job as a bouncer at a local bar. He just wants to complete this English assignment, that he procrastinated starting, and move on. I love this character. He doesn’t wallow in self pity but has accepted his dysfunctional situation. This story starts off quickly. Did you get to know Joe well enough before we meet Carl, the topic of his school assignment?

PAM Although the story moves quickly, the author does a great job of introducing us to Joe. I loved this character from the beginning and had a great sense of his loyalty and integrity. I felt connected to him from the beginning and continued to feel this way throughout the book. Joe decides to search for a subject for his assignment at a local nursing home. Since he has waited so long to begin, he hopes to find someone who will talk to him about their life. He is matched up with Carl, albeit reluctantly, by employees of the center. Carl agrees to talk with Joe and they begin to learn about each other. What were your first impressions about Carl?

BECKY He was a dynamic character that we slowly get to unravel. Originally I thought that this would be a story about a good guy versus a bad guy but there was so much more to this story. We learn a great deal about Carl’s character when the two men first meet. He will only let Joe write his dying declaration after Joe promises to be honest. A thread of honesty will weave throughout this story and reveal much more than what we originally see from both characters. The author has been a criminal defense attorney for 25 years. When I read that fact I thought that this story would have a heavy courtroom drama feel. In reality it’s primarily based on relationships. What did you think about the sweet connection between Joe and his special needs brother, Jeremy?

PAM This relationship helped the reader to see Joe’s true character. Understanding this connection between Jeremy and Joe illustrated the layers of feelings that Joe felt. He wanted to escape a difficult home environment, but feels responsible for his brother’s safety and well being. I was saddened that Joe was forced to choose between his brother and school. But, more importantly, that his mother had no boundaries and didn’t have any respect for Joe or Jeremy. Their deep and loving relationship was contrasted with their relationship with their mother. Did this character bring out similar feelings for you, Becky?

BECKY You don’t want to get me started on that character! She made my blood boil but I love that it was a raw character. She was undiagnosed but clearly struggled with a bipolar disorder and alcoholism. I was angry with the way she treated her two sons and although she had a small role, it had a mighty impact on Joe and the story. What did you think about Joe’s neighbor and love interest, Lila?

PAM I had a hard time deciding if I liked her character at first. She definitely didn’t want anything to do with Joe at first. She also was very judgmental about Carl and the case against him. However, the way she interacted with Jeremy made me reconsider and gave her character much more depth. She turned out to be a very loyal and supportive friend to Joe and Jeremy at a time when they both needed one. Were you surprised by her connection to Jeremy?

BECKY Lila was a guarded person and it was hard to see her softer side, until she started to interact with Jeremy. I wouldn’t say that it surprised me that she came to care for Jeremy, but it definitely helped me to like her character more. What didn’t flow for me in this story is Joe’s relationship with her. I saw them more as friends than involved in an intimate relationship. Once they get heavily involved I felt like the story line took a turn from a human connection story and moved towards an implausible action theme. What did you think about the last part of the book?

PAM The last part of the book was certainly full of action, which was a surprising turn for me. I agree that it transformed the story from the original idea. The author continued to weave the human connection through the story, but it seemed to get lost in the action. Did you feel that the ending wrapped up the story sufficiently?

BECKY The second half of the book was not what I expected but it was an interesting ending. The author pulls all of the story lines together and we are left with a glimpse of the characters future. Next month we will explore Breakthrough by Michael Grumley. This story has something for everyone with a touch of mystery, science fiction, military action, marine biology and even a little romance.

THE BOOKENDS

The Ballroom: A Novel

By Anna Hope

Sharston Asylum, located in England, was the unlikely location of a love story set in 1911. Although men and women are kept far apart in the asylum, they come together on Friday nights to dance in the stately ballroom. The men and women look forward to this time and hope they were well behaved enough during the week to earn their admittance. Ella Fay and John Mulligan, two of the patients at Sharston Asylum, encounter each other as Ella is attempting to run away. They meet again in the ballroom and a courtship begins in this unlikely place.

PAM This unique story intrigued me and I was drawn to read more. The author introduces us to the characters and their stories, as well as the asylum itself. I found the stories, as well as their daily lives to be very bleak. What emotions surfaced as you read about the nurses, doctors, and patients?

BECKY My grandfather spent most of his childhood in an orphanage so this story stirred a number of negative emotions. It is hard to believe that not that long ago we would place people in institutions like this. The idea that, as a society, we felt that they were to be locked away and forgotten is hard to comprehend. In this story we meet Ella and John who are not mentally challenged but have been sent to Sharston for minor issues. Ella for breaking a window at her job in a factory and John for melancholia which resulted after losing his wife and child. The days are uneventful and the nurses are uncaring. The most interesting character to me is Dr. Charles Fuller. His first love is not medicine but music and he starts a program to see if exposure to music has a beneficial effect on patients. What were your first impressions of this character?

PAM Initially, I felt that Dr. Fuller cared for the patients and their quality of life. In an environment where men and women were admitted against their will and had no say about their rights or treatment, I thought he would be an advocate for them. However, his character did not continue along the path I thought he was traveling. He had escaped his parents and their oppressive expectations when he secured this job. Dr. Fuller went through significant changes in his beliefs (and his character) during this story, with many underlying themes woven throughout. He is initially drawn to John’s story and decides to focus on this patient. How did you feel about Dr. Fuller’s attention being directed to John?

BECKY First, I think that we have to paint a picture of John. He is a tough and stoic Irishman that is in a trusted position to work digging graves at the asylum. In my mind he was similar to Hugh Jackman in personality and physique. We don’t know much about him initially, but I quickly liked him and wanted the best for his character. At the beginning of the book I thought that the doctor would be a champion for John as he encouraged him to attend the dances and was interested in his opinions. However, as the story progresses the doctor wrestles with his own demons and he begins to obsessively focus on John. Were you as quickly drawn to John as I was, or did another character grab your attention?

PAM I pictured him the same way you did! I was also drawn to his character from the very beginning. He was very stable and appeared content in his work. He struggled with a painful past and preferred to hang back and go through the paces of the day. Therefore, he initially resisted the doctor’s request to attend the dances. Once there, he met Ella and his quiet and solitary world began to change. Ella was not content in the asylum and was constantly looking for opportunities to escape. Were you surprised that these two were drawn to each other?

BECKY They were different personalities and there wasn’t much opportunity for the men and women to mingle until the Friday night dance so this was not a typical romance. I wouldn’t say that their connection surprised me but I did enjoy this unlikely relationship. What I found disturbing is that neither one where mentally ill yet they were unable to leave the asylum. They were held, and treated, as if they were prisoners. The staff was unkind and they were subjected to psychological abuse. The most disgusting was when Dr. Fuller became interested in the eugenics movement. It was a belief that those with less desired traits should be sterilized. Unfortunately, patients in the asylum fall into this category. What do you think of the author’s ability to develop this dark character?

PAM I found this very upsetting, as well. The patients had no control of their lives and were treated so poorly. This environment of complete power over other people was even more disturbing as we saw the slide of Dr. Fuller. He lost the ability to see the patients as people and became a firm believer in the eugenics movement. This belief that he could (and should) sterilize as many patients as possible without their (or their families’ permission) illustrated just how broken the system had become. The author painted an interesting picture that led me to believe, at first, the doctor cared for his patients and wanted to enrich their lives. However, as we follow him through this story, we see a dark change. I felt that she was inferring he was suffering from a struggle with mental health. Did you feel this, as well?

BECKY Absolutely! How ironic that a doctor with mental illness is working at an asylum. This is a talented author that created a dynamic plot. I think that a book club would have many topics to discuss. It’s time to leave this dance and meet Joe next month in, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens.

Happy New Year!

The Bookends

bookends-dec2016A Quilt for Christmas

By Sandra Dallas

Eliza’s husband has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight the Confederates. While he is gone she must care for her two children and their land to the best of her abilities. It is physically difficult to manage the farming but so far she is able to feed her family and store just enough away for the colder months ahead. Her only relaxing time is during a monthly gathering with quilting friends from the community. Although her home is full and food supplies are stretched to their limit Eliza has welcomed in a young war widow that is in desperate need of shelter. Although it is challenging she is happy for the extra help and companionship. What she isn’t sure about is the additional request to hide an escaped slave for a few days. Eliza is faced with a difficult and dangerous decision.

BECKY This story revolves around a group of women that are, for the most part, in similar situations. Most of the husbands are away fighting the war or have died in battle. Their most relaxing and normal times are during their monthly quilting gathering. As a quilter did you enjoy the descriptions of the various quilts and their ability to bring different women together for a common purpose?

PAM I did! Sandra Dallas frequently brings the art of quilting into her storylines. I think she does this for exactly the reason you mentioned above. It brings women together like few things do and I could picture the women sitting around the quilt frame, discussing events in their lives while making these pieces of art. I especially loved the importance a simple scrap of fabric given to a fellow quilter held. Eliza created a very special quilt for her husband from some of these precious scraps. He used this quilt to keep him warm, while away at war. Do you think she intended it to do more than warm him in this scary time?

BECKY I don’t quilt but every book that includes this art clearly shows that there is a message in every quilting design. Eliza was sending her love, support of his decision to go to war and reminders of their family in this one quilt that would also provide desperately needed warmth. I wish that the book cover would have included this quilt in the design as my imagination probably isn’t accurate. What did you think about Eliza’s character? I had some challenges connecting with her. I liked her but she felt one dimensional to me and I found myself wanting to know less about her storyline and more about some of the other characters.

PAM I agree that a picture of the quilt design would have been a wonderful addition to the book! Eliza obviously loved her husband very much, but I struggled with their formality towards each other. I realize that was probably normal for that time period, but I found it sad. Perhaps with the amount of work that was required for the women of that time in that area, they had to be stronger and show less emotion. Did you find that interesting about Eliza?

BECKY You have a good point. Maybe relationships were different during that era. I think that she was stoic and that made her hard to connect to but I did admire her strength. She had to face physical and mental challenges so that was an interesting facet to her character and it brought back memories of stories my older relatives would relay. I much prefered spunky Missouri Ann the war widow that came to live with Eliza. She was an extra set of hands around the house and gave Eliza companionship. However, her male in-laws had a mean spirit and were not going to let her move on without some conflict. What did you think about the hostile group of men and in contrast the hard but caring mother-in-law?

PAM Great question! That part of the story was very sad. Missouri Ann was stuck with a family that didn’t want her, but didn’t want to let her move on. The Stark men were demeaning, mean, and filthy. But, Mrs. Stark was a kind soul who was stuck in the middle of this family. She missed Missouri Ann and her granddaughter when they went to live with Eliza’s family. However, she knew they needed to escape and tried to help them be free. The Stark men caused trouble for the women, but with their strong spirits and supportive neighbors, they were able to overcome the challenges. I loved that Missouri Ann was determined to tell her young daughter that her father (Hugh Stark) was a good man, although we later learn that this was not the case. How did you feel about this little lie?

BECKY That spirit is what makes me love this character. She could have easily told her daughter the ugly truth but chose to create a more loving memory. That tells me a lot about her heart and I thought it was incredibly loving. Soon after Missouri Ann comes to the house, Eliza is approached with a request to hide a runaway slave, Sukey. Not only is this a dangerous choice but Sukey is weak, sick and recovering from a severe beating. Did you like this storyline and did the author paint a vivid picture of what that experience might have been like?

PAM I thought this storyline allowed us to see Eliza in a different light. Her character was very straightforward, honest, and faithful. When she was asked to hide Sukey, she was told the background of the runaway slave. When she heard these details and what Sukey was accused of, she had to put herself in another’s place and answer some difficult questions. This process gave Eliza’s character a new dimension, as she considered slavery, motherhood, and faith. Missouri Ann’s father in law is hunting runaway slaves and the women suspect he will come looking for Sukey. Were you surprised that Eliza agreed to shelter Sukey with this added danger?

BECKY What surprised me is that she would put the children in that danger. Two were young enough that it would have been difficult for them to fully understand the need to keep this woman a secret. I have to say that this storyline, although interesting, wasn’t very believable. Sandra Dallas normally has direct ties to Colorado in her stories and I have always loved the setting of old Colorado. This story is completely set in Kansas with just a few mentions of Colorado. Did you miss that special touch in this story or were you content with a different angle?

PAM I did miss the Colorado connections in this book. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to Sandra Dallas books! However, although the story was short on Colorado details, it was long on the amazing relationships of women in a difficult time and area. This is another reason I enjoy this author; the depth of her characters and their connections to each other. Next month, we will explore unique friendships and relationships as we discuss The Ballroom: A Novel by Anna Hope.

The Bookends

bookends_nov2016Secrets of a Charmed Life

By Susan Meissner

It is World War II and children are being evacuated from London, as bombing appears imminent for the city. Emmy and Julia Downtree find themselves separated from their mother and moved to the countryside. They find a welcoming home in a cottage in Cotswold. Emmy wants to stay with her young sister, but also yearns to follow her dreams of designing wedding dresses. Emmy’s choice and the events that follow will change the course of many lives.

PAM I was drawn to this book and knew I must read it as soon as I finished the back cover. I was not disappointed and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Becky, did you find yourself engaged with this story?

BECKY This book captivated me from the beginning. The story begins in the present as Kendra, a college student, is interviewing 93 year old Isabel, a survivor of the Blitz during World War II. I thought that the story would bounce back and forth from the present to the past. I was wonderfully surprised to find that the book primarily stays in the storyline of the past. I don’t mind that type of storytelling but it seems like so many books use this style that it’s getting a little overused. Did you get enough of a glimpse into the present story or were you left wanting to know more?

PAM I felt that the glimpse into the present time was perfect. The author gave me enough information to know there was a connection to the past, while leaving most questions unanswered. This allowed me to discover the truths, in time, through the story of the past. Emmy has a close relationship with her sister, Julia. However, her relationship with her mother is more complicated. What did you feel was the cause of the challenges in their relationship?

BECKY Anyone reading this that is a mother to a teenage girl will completely understand the chasm between these two. Mothers and daughters, during the teen years especially can have a tumultuous relationship. Emmy wanted a future her mother didn’t support and had to parent her little sister. What teen wouldn’t dig their heels in? I thought that it was a realistic relationship and I enjoyed learning more about the mother as the story grew. We are just getting to know the dynamics of this family as the bombs start to drop. The writing lulled me in and I could hardly put the book down as the planes flew overhead and the neighborhood starts to crumple. Did the author paint a descriptive scene for you as well?

PAM I was also pulled into the book with the descriptions, as well as the characters. Many of the characters lived daily with regrets about their decisions. As I witnessed the unfolding of the story, I felt distressed by their regrets and the agony that accompanied them. If Emmy knew the outcome of her choices, do you believe she still would have been tempted to chase her dreams?

BECKY The abrupt separation from her sister caused lifelong issues so she certainly would have avoided that pain if possible. I do however believe that she still would have pursued her dream but that fateful day would have been handled differently. Wouldn’t we all make different choices if we could have a glimpse into the future? I would love to listen in to a bookclubs discussion about this topic. Here is another item to think about. Did you know that half a million children were evacuated from the city during this time? They were sent to live with families in the country for an unknown amount of time. Can you imagine being presented with that situation?

PAM I can’t imagine having to send my children away. This would be so difficult! We want our children to be safe, but it would be scary to be separated during such uncertain times. Plus, not knowing the people in charge of your children would be terrifying…such a leap of faith was required in that situation. However, the girls were extremely fortunate to connect with an amazing woman that cared deeply for them. How did you feel about this character?

BECKY I really enjoyed Charlotte and although it was a small role, she has a big impact on the story. She was the motherly influence that they didn’t have back in London. I love that she not only opened her home to these two children but she also gave them chores and boundaries. However, it wasn’t enough to satisfy Emmy. After some careful planning she decides to run away and return to London for a meeting that might provide an opportunity for her to work on her dream to be a designer. How did you feel about her decision to leave Charlotte, Julia and the safety of the country?

PAM It was incredibly frustrating for me to read this part of the book. Charlotte was a stable and loving woman who was so good for these girls (and they were good for her) and Julia depended on Emmy, much like a mother figure. However, Emmy was young and determined to find her way in the world. I understood her desire to take charge of her life and strive for something more than her mother had. However, it was quite a risk to leave the safety and love of Charlotte’s home. As Emmy is preparing to leave, Julia confronts her and won’t let her go without her, creating a big decision for Emmy. Putting yourself in her shoes, would you have made the same choice?

BECKY I am not a risk taker so I can’t imagine making the choice to return to war torn London. I would have happily enjoyed a quiet country life. However, Emmy’s return to the city is when the book really starts to take off. This was a great pick Pam and I can’t wait to read her other books. It’s time to leave London and the Blitz behind. However, we are still in the war zone as we read A Quilt for Christmas by local author Sandra Dallas. We will meet Eliza and a handful of other women that are struggling to keep their lives together while their husbands are fighting in the Civil War era.

Have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving season!