Friends Who Read

A book club

Books 46-60

The Color of Water, by James McBride.  Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared “light-skinned” woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.  The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in “orchestrated chaos” with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Mommy,” a fiercely protective woman with “dark eyes full of pep and fire,” herded her brood to Manhattan’s free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect. As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion—and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.  In The Color of Water, McBride retraces his mother’s footsteps and, through her searing and spirited voice, recreates her remarkable story. The daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi, she was born Rachel Shilsky (actually Ruchel Dwara Zylska) in Poland on April 1, 1921. Fleeing pogroms, her family emigrated to America and ultimately settled in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town where anti-Semitism and racial tensions ran high. With candor and immediacy, Ruth describes her parents’ loveless marriage; her fragile, handicapped mother; her cruel, sexually-abusive father; and the rest of the family and life she abandoned.  At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all- black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. “God is the color of water,” Ruth McBride taught her children, firmly convinced that life’s blessings and life’s values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth’s determination, drive and discipline saw her dozen children through college—and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University.  RATING: 3.0

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain.  Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.  RATING: 3.0

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman.  In pre-World War II Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, an unexpected encounter leads to an inescapable glance of recognition, and the realization that providence has given Lenka and Josef one more chance…  From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit—and the strength of memory.  RATING: 3.0

Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.  Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.  In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.  Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.   RATING: 2.5

Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert Masse.  In this commanding book, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs’ lives: Nicholas’s political naïveté, Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis’s brave struggle with hemophilia. Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a powerful drama of passion and history—the story of a doomed empire and the death-marked royals who watched it crumble.  RATING: 4.0

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver.  In her first novel in nine years, Barbara Kingsolver, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, tells the story of Harrison William Shepherd, a man caught between two worlds—an unforgettable protagonist whose search for identity will take readers to the heart of the twentieth century’s most tumultuous events.  RATING: 3.5

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie.  The Queen of Mystery has come to Harper Collins! Agatha Christie, the acknowledged mistress of suspense—creator of indomitable sleuth Miss Marple, meticulous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and so many other unforgettable characters—brings her entire oeuvre of ingenious whodunits, locked room mysteries, and perplexing puzzles to Harper Paperbacks…including Murder on the Orient Express, the most famous Hercule Poirot mystery, which has the brilliant detective hunting for a killer aboard one of the world’s most luxurious passenger trains.  RATING: 3.0

Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.  It was the time of the French Revolution — a time of great change and great danger. It was a time when injustice was met by a lust for vengeance, and rarely was a distinction made between the innocent and the guilty. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens’ great story of unsurpassed adventure and courage unfolds.
Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it though, the pair are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman — Charles Darnay — falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom, the dissolute lawyer’s clerk Sydney Carton. It is a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once. Brilliantly plotted, the novel is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.  RATING: 4.0

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.  A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom. Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved? This updated Penguin Classics edition features a new introduction by Brontë scholar and award-winning novelist Stevie Davies, as well as comprehensive notes, a chronology, further reading, and an appendix.  RATING: 4.0

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen.  In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Walter and Patty Berglund as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.  RATING: 3.0

The Shoemaker’s Wife, by Adriana Trigiani.  Beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani returns with the most epic and ambitious novel of her career—a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again. The Shoemaker’s Wife is replete with the all the page-turning adventure, sumptuous detail, and heart-stopping romance that has made Adriana Trigiani, “one of the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today). Fans of Trigiani’s sweeping family dramas like Big Stone Gap and Lucia, will love her latest masterpiece, a book Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, calls “totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic which tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream.”  RATING: 3.0

Tenth of December, by George Saunders.  In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill—the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.  Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.  Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December—through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit—not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”  RATING: 2.5

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.  Few have failed to be charmed by the witty and independent spirit of Elizabeth Bennet in Austen’s beloved classic Pride and Prejudice. When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.  RATING: 4.0

Secret Daughter, by  Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  Secret Daughter, a first novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, explores powerfully and poignantly the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love through the experiences of two families—one Indian, one American—and the child that binds them together. A masterful work set partially in the Mumbai slums so vividly portrayed in the hit film Slumdog Millionaire, Secret Daughter recalls the acclaimed novels of Kim Edwards and Thrity Umrigar, yet sparkles with the freshness of a truly exciting new literary voice.  RATING: 3.0

Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann.  One of the most famous literary works of the 20th century, the novella “Death in Venice” embodies themes that preoccupied Thomas Mann (1875–1955) in much of his work; the duality of art and life, the presence of death and disintegration in the midst of existence, the connection between love and suffering, and the conflict between the artist and his inner self. Mann’s handling of these concerns in this story of a middle-aged German writer, torn by his passion for a Polish youth met on holiday in Venice, resulted in a work of great psychological intensity and tragic power.  RATING: 3.5

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