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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Abby Gray Borden and her husband, Andrew Jackson Borden were found dead in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, both brutally butchered with an axe or hatchet. Borden was a highly successful merchant, maker of caskets, and owner and developer of commercial property, a wealthy man who nevertheless lived a frugal life and kept his daughters and his wife totally dependent on him. His body was found reclining on the living room sofa by his younger daughter Lizzie, aged thirty-two, and the body of his wife Abby was found shortly afterward. She, too, was hacked to death and was found lying beside her bed upstairs. The only people in the house at the time were Lizzie and Bridget, the maid, who was up in her room resting after having been assigned the task of washing the outside of the downstairs windows in the August heat, though she was still recuperating from a violent stomach upset. Lizzie claimed that someone must have broken into the house to kill her father. As Australian author Sarah Schmidt recreates this famous murder and its aftermath, she delves into all the psychological complications surrounding the individual characters, gradually providing other imaginative possibilities regarding the murder. An iintriguing structure and four points of view, including that of Lizzie, make this novel both inventive and memorable.

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Setting her novel in Jordan, author Siobhan Fallon focuses on Americans who serve abroad in the military, protecting U. S. Embassies, and how cultural differences with their host countries affect their lives. These are subjects that the author knows well. Drawing on her own life in Jordan and her observations and insights about how Americans behave, she creates two characters who act and feel real. Cassie Hugo, who has been in Jordan for two years, and Margaret Brickshaw, who is a new arrival, live near each other, each dealing with her own personal problems unrelated to the setting, but each also hoping that she can find a friend in the other. Cassie is desperate to have a baby but is still childless after nine years. Margaret, a naïve young woman with a new baby, has grown up in a home in which her mother, with a serious, eventually fatal, illness depended on Margaret for virtually all of life’s necessities. Margaret’s unplanned pregnancy and quick, subsequent marriage to Crick Brickshaw, brought her out of the country to Jordan almost simultaneously with her mother’s death. The personal trials and tribulations, both real and imagined, which the two women experience, and the absence of their husbands sometimes for weeks, on trips to the embassies in other countries, leave the women on their own in a foreign culture. Domestic episodes involving love and honor in relationships eventually become broad underlying themes within a multicultural environment, providing much to think about in this well developed and often fascinating novel.

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In Jens Christian Grondahl’s Often I Am Happy, Ellinor, a Danish woman who is seventy as this novel opens, is the only survivor among four close friends – two couples – from their earlier lives in Copenhagen. Now alone, Ellinor is reliving her life, trying to gain some kind of resolution and reconciliation for some of the issues she has faced in her life and marriage. Anna, her best friend, has always been very much a part of Ellinor’s life, even though she died thirty years ago when Anna’s twin boys were only five, and as Ellinor revisits episodes in her own long life, she continually “chats” with Anna, her one-sided “conversations” swirling around in time as she shares her feelings and observations with Anna. Gradually, the reader is able to piece together Ellinor’s past and the complex relationship she has had with Anna, with her own husband Henning, and with Anna and her husband Georg. The initially confusing details of their lives together quickly become clearer as the nature of their unbreakable bonds come into sharper focus. The novel which results, mesmerizing as much for the skill of author Jens Christian Grondahl in controlling his release of information as it is for the psychological interconnections among his main characters, is masterfully constructed to reveal both surprises and devastating revelations which the two couples face, often together.

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Hendrik Groen, age 83 ¼, a resident of an assisted living facility in the Netherlands, decides on New Year’s Day, 2013, that he still doesn’t like old people. “Their walker shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and cookies, their bellyaching.” He regards himself, however, as “civil, ingratiating, courteous, polite and helpful. Not because I really am all those things, but because I don’t have the balls to act differently.” In order to keep himself from spiraling into depression in the home, he has decided to give the world “an uncensored expose: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam.” An international bestseller when it was published in Europe last year, Groen’s diary is written by an anonymous author (newly revealed, see Note at end), and it concerns itself with some of the same issues as were raised in the best-selling December 2012 book, Mother, When Will You Finally Die?” by Martina Rosenberg, a memoir published in Germany. Despite the real information and the statistics which make this book both a fascinating and important study of old age in a different country, the book’s primary purpose is to depict real life in this one care home, and the choice of recording it in a daily diary provides the reader with a plethora of insights and its many humorous episodes.

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Having announced that this book will not be a “costume drama,” author Fay Weldon sets her story between 1922 and 1939, the period between the two world wars. While this is not a pure drawing room comedy, neither is it a story of postwar darkness – a story of families dealing with the deaths of their fathers and sons and the difficulties in supporting their families. Here Weldon’s characters are the elite and educated survivors from that Edwardian period, which shaped their thinking, behavior, and pocketbooks and which has left them out of touch with the real world as they now live in the war’s aftermath. Both satiric and ironic, the plot proves also to be very funny and cleverly revealing of social values. Sir Jeremy Ripple now runs a publishing house but likes to think of himself as a communist. Angela, his wife, the granddaughter of a Princess and niece of an Earl, is the money behind his company, and she still adheres to all the habits and behaviors of the upper class. Only Vivvie, their daughter, “large, ungainly five foot eleven inches tall, and twenty years old,” seems to have much realization of how the world works – and her conclusion is that small, pretty girls are the ones lucky in love. When Vivvie decides to propose marriage to a Douglas Fairbanks look-alike, the action begins, and it never quits. One of Fay Weldon’s best books to date.

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