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We’re Back & We’re Still Reading!

Well, well, we’ve been on quite the hiatus! Oh, The Novel Thinkers have still been reading books, meeting once a month and discussing books, but we haven’t been sharing our views here on this blog.

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So we are back with some thoughts* on this year’s book choice  for June, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore  by Robin Sloan.

Robin Sloan’s delightfully quirky story is funny, sweet and charming. This novel has something for everyone — an epic quest, puzzles and mysteries, a secret cult, modern technology, ancient tomes, ebooks, a quaint bookstore, decoders, Google, and a little romance. Sloan’s nerdy hero and his cohorts take the reader on an adventure in search of the key to decipher a medieval text. From silicone valley to an underground, secret enclave in New York City, the protagonists lead us on a merry chase as they race to decrypt a message hidden in the Founder’s Codex Vitae. Filled with tongue-in-cheek references, amusing characters, this engaging tale ultimately shows us what the meaning of life truly is.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is an a thoughtful, intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable summer read.

*Cathy’s review — originally posted on Goodreads

Cathy's Reads · Uncategorized

How to Be Happy

How to Be HappyThe illustrations in How to Be Happy are amazing — the bold colours, the gorgeous linework — every page* is a delight to behold. I feel that the movement and emotion of Davis’ artwork is the best part of this book.

But don’t be fooled by the title or the gorgeous cover art — this book is NOT a guide book to happiness!

I found the stories quirky, weird and thought-provoking although I feel that I may have missed the point in many of the pieces. I definitely felt a lot of emotion as I was reading through this book — sadness, loneliness and hopelessness were the major feelings I experienced even as I marveled at the beautiful images. Perhaps that was the author’s intent — to evoke an understanding of human longing, to find happiness, to belong.

All in all, I liked this book a lot. I feel that it is a book that I can revisit many times and experience a deeper understanding with each re-reading.

Check out Eleanor Davis’ website for more information about her work. Beautiful artwork!

⭐⭐⭐⭐
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful art and/or graphic novels.

*well, almost every page — some, while exquisitely produced, were a little disconcerting — the fox tale comes to mind.

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We ♥ VWF 2016

Two of our members — Michelle and Cathy — attended two events at the 2016 Vancouver Writers’ Festival. This post article is reposted from Cathy’s blog: Words, Art, Life. Check back soon to read about our meeting on October 24 when Carmen Aguirre came to talk with us about her book, Something Fierce.

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The last weeks of October is always a favourite time of mine. The air is cooler and it is rainy with the occasional glorious sunshiny day. The trees are resplendent in their red, gol…

Source: . We ♥ VWF 2016

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Catch Up On Our Reads

Reading

Time to play a bit of catch up (AGAIN!) — it seems that we have been  a little neglectful of our little corner of the blogosphere.

So here is a round-up of our books so far, starting with the oldest and working up to now …

June — A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I wasn’t at the meeting where this novel was discussed, but I did hear through the grapevine that most, if not all of the Novel Thinkers, enjoyed A Tale for the Time Being.

Dani, wrote this comment (find it in the comments section on this post): I can comment on our June book – I really loved it. I learned so much about so many things – Japanese culture, Buddhism, the Japanese tidal wave and its effect on that country and our own coast, BC island life… I could go on. And somehow the author made it work. The teenage girl’s struggle with her family and her own feelings tugged at my heart. I highly recommend A Tale for the Time Being!

Even though I didn’t make it to the meeting — I read the book and I wrote a review, if you are curious.

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July –  A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

Not everyone in our group appreciate the mystery genre, but every now and then a mystery will be chosen. We have read a few over the years, a couple by Ruth Rendell, Gone Girl, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Our choice for July was A Great Deliverance by Elizabetb George. This novel was the first in the Inspector Lynley series.  For the most part, we all liked this book, although a few of us thought that parts of the story were slow moving and that the sheer number of characters was confusing.

A side note: later that week — the BBC adaptation of the Inspector Lynley series began on the Knowledge network. The pilot episode, A Great Deliverance, stayed true to the book. The series airs on Saturdays at 9:00 pm.

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August –  This month’s  selection was taken from Trish’s Book of Books (a list of all the books she read). We chose Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates. We were a very small, intimate group — only three of us. Thank goodness summer vacation days are almost up! (jk) Unfortunately, our chat about the book was quite short — no one liked this book. That is not to say that there weren’t some things about the novel that we appreciated, such as the writing style — well written and easy to read. But that was about it. We also found the storyline tedious, the characters were weak and unlikeable — we didn’t connect with either. We just didn’t care. #sorrynotsorry.

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September – Martin John by Anakana Schofield

We were a small group again for this meeting — four of us were able to make it — but it was a great group and Shauna’s chocolate nanaimo bar-ish treats were so delicious! Healthy, too, as they were made with coconut oil, avocado and dark chocolate. Yummy!

As for the book, we all found it beyond creepy and were totally repulsed by it. Shauna, who always reads every book right to the end, only read halfway through — and the rest of us wondered why we finished it.

We questioned why Schofield decided to pen this novel. We felt that there was not a compelling reason to tell this sad, depraved story. Dani tried to find some answers on the web, she read some quotes from the author about her intentions, but we did not find a satisfactory answer. We were perplexed when we found quite a bit of positive feedback about Martin John. We all agreed that we would never recommend this book to anyone.

Creepy, and disturbing.

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Next Book Club: October 24, 2016
Book: Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
Special Guest: We are excited and pleased to welcome Carmen Aguirre to our discussion this month!
Place: Wendy

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Dani's Reads · Uncategorized

Truly, Madly, Guilty

Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Fiction

Picture a summer BBQ attended by 6 neighbours and their children. What could go wrong? Well, something tragic happens in Australian author Liane Moriarty’s newest bestseller, and she does a masterful job of leading us to the unveiling of the incident. Her real gift is how she reveals the personalities of the 3 couples involved. They seem like people you might know, or maybe even like yourself. This was an absorbing read, and I loved that I was still discovering things about each character right to the very end. I’ve also read her earlier bestseller The Husband’s Secret, and really enjoy her writing. Possible “book club book” – lots to discuss here, I think.

 

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Let’s Get Reading — Our New Book Picks!

readingThis year’s book choosing evening was different from any of our previous reading plan meetings. For one, this year the meeting was moved to May, instead of our usual April night. But the biggest reason it was different was because our dear friend Trish was not there. At least, she was not there in the physical sense, but she was certainly with us in spirit. Our meeting was wonderful, there was chatting, sharing, remembering, we got our work done (9 books chosen – 1 pending) — but, we missed Trish. We all felt her absence with a deep ache in our hearts.

Book choosing is an important time for us Novel Thinkers. We devote an entire meeting to picking our reading selections for the whole year. We look forward to this event, we all love reading and we can’t wait to get together and determine our choices.

We usually have a great list of 10 books to read and discuss every year. Once in a while our book list is humdrum, but that is rare — our book choices usually get us excited and exploring ideas about the book and related topics and beyond. Oh, I’m not saying that every book is a winner, we’ve certainly had a few bombs, but we’ve never had a year’s worth of fails.

This year, I think we have outdone ourselves. Not that I think we will love every title on our new list, or that every one of these books will generate a storm of conversation. But I do believe that we may have stepped right out of our reading comfort zone with some of our picks!

I’m excited for this years’ readings — it will be very interesting to see what we feel, think, love/hate about our choices. Take a look below for a synopsis of our Book List for 2016/2017. Tell us what you think. Have you read any of these titles??

Novel Thinkers’ 2016/2017 Book List

June* — A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki  
Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace — and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox —possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

— From Ruth Ozeki’s website 

*Please Note: I have been a little lax in writing this post — we have already read and discussed June’s selection. I wasn’t at the meeting, so I cannot comment on the group’s feelings about “A Tale For the Time Being” — but I can say that I loved it.

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July –  A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George 

In A Great Deliverance, Elizabeth George probes the delicate motivations of the heart against a backdrop of buried scandals, unresolved antagonisms and dizzying ambiguities. It was her debut novel, the winner of the Agatha and Anthony Awards for best first novel as well as France’s Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. It was nominated for both a Macavity and an Edgar. It has been optioned for television by the BBC.

— From Elizabeth George’s website

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August –  TBD – We are planning to choose a title from Trish’s Book of Books (her list of every book she has read)

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September – Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Martin John, the Scotiabank Giller Prize-shortlisted novel by Anakana Schofield, is an extremely creepy tale of a serial sexual predator and what he can get away with. It’s also a heartbreaking portrait of a man on the margins of society, being crushed by the weight of his mental illness.

— From CBC Books

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October** –  Something Fierce — Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
Winner of CBC’s Canada Reads 2012

Six-year-old Carmen Aguirre fled to Canada with her family following General Augusto Pinochet’s violent 1973 coup in Chile. Five years later, when her mother and stepfather returned to South America as members of the Chilean resistance, Carmen and her younger sister went with them, quickly assuming double lives of their own. At just eighteen years old, Carmen became a militant herself, plunging further into a world of paranoia, terror, and euphoria.

Something Fierce takes the reader inside war-ridden Peru, dictator-ruled Bolivia, post-Malvinas Argentina and Pinochet’s Chile in the eventful decade between 1979 and 1989, at the same time showing the beauty of these nations and the resilience of their people. Dramatic, suspenseful and darkly comic, it is a rare first-hand account of revolutionary life and a passionate argument against forgetting.

— From Carmen Aquirre’s website

**Author Visit: This book discussion will be even more memorable because Carmen Aguirre has graciously agreed to join us for the evening. We are excitedly looking forward to her visit!

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November – All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize
No. 67  on the Robert McCrum 100 Best Novels of all Time (2003) 

All the King’s Men is one of American literature’s definitive political novels, as well as a profound study of human fallibility in politics. Set in the 1930s, it describes the dramatic rise to power, as state governor, of Willie Stark, a one-time radical attorney.

— From The Guardian review 

This novel was made into a movie in 1949 starring Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, & Joanne Dru  and a remake in 2006 starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, & Kate Winslet

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December – Book Club potluck. No Book

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January – Seveneves  by Neal Stephenson
Winner of the 2016 Hugo Award

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remains . . .  Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

— From Harper Collins

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February – A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

— From Simon and Schuster 

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March – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.

DI Ray Stevens is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.

— From Clare Mackintosh’s website 

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Next Book Club: July 25,  2016
Book: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
Place: Judi
Snack: Shauna

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What Should We Read Next?

BooksThis coming Monday is our book choosing meeting! We normally hold this meeting in April, but we postponed it for a month so that we could gather together to reminisce, grieve, laugh and cry — and support each other in our loss.

Our book choosing meeting has always been an exciting and anticipated event. This year, it will be tinged with sadness but it will still be good — I’m looking forward to the evening.

I have to confess, though, that I haven’t given my choices much thought yet, and I’m feeling just a little panicky! There are so many books out there to choose from — and while, the Novel Thinkers would never pass judgement on anyone’s book pick, I want the titles I put forward to be “unputdownable” stories that generate a rousing discussion. So I will set aside a bit of time in the next few days to think up some great reads. And don’t worry, we’ll post our new year’s book list after our meeting on May 31! Come back then and take a look!

In the meantime, if you are stuck for your next great read and want some ideas right now, check out the CBC’s summer 2016 Reading List. The list is a compilation of 16 titles for your reading pleasure — you can even download a pdf version. (In the event, you aren’t tempted by any of those books, there are quite a few other lists on the CBC’s book page!)

Next Book Club: May 30,  2016
Book: No book. It’s our book choosing meeting!! (Postponed from April)
Place: Judi
Snack: Shauna

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Last Check In

dark flowerMy heart is heavy as I write this remembrance of our dear one, Trish Petrie. Trish was a founding member of our longstanding group — the Novel Thinkers Book Club — a beloved friend and confidante.

She had a zest for life, a passion for reading — she loved sharing that passion to all around her. She loved her job at Black Bond Books, where she was an invaluable asset — spreading her love for and knowledge of books to everyone who stepped into her store.

Trish was creative, caring, and kind. She had a wonderful sense of humour and an infectious laugh. She was a master at pointing out the funny side of life’s little foibles.

She was always ready with helpful, pragmatic advice for any problem we Thinkers had, whether it was a work or parenting thing, book club issue (and believe me, we had a few of those!). Her wisdom was never judgemental, but always right on the money and oh, so practical.

One of her pieces of advice, was about reading our monthly book club picks. She insisted that just because you didn’t read or finish the book, was no reason to NOT come to the meeting. She wanted us to feel that our book club wasn’t just about the book — it was about a group of smart women friends getting together to hang out, chat, vent, bond and coincidently, talk about a book we all read (or didn’t read).

Even though, Trish LOVED books and she loved sharing her thoughts and ideas about reading, writing and books in general — her favourite part of book club was our check-in.

Check-in, the beginning of the meeting, where we all share bits and pieces about the events and non-events in our lives from the past month. We share whatever we want to or need to. Sometimes our check-ins are short, sometimes long — depending on what is going on in our lives.

During the past three years, as well as sharing the everyday goings on of her life, Trish shared with us her experience with the Disease. In typical Trish fashion — honest and straightforward — she described what her month had been like. Always thinking of us — making sure that she was sharing the things we most wanted and needed to know. She talked about tests, and chemo, about doctors, support, her ups and downs. She told funny stories, sometimes darkly humorous for sure, but funny none the less. It was good to be able to laugh.

For a while, I was in denial about her prognosis, but Trish helped me — helped us all — to come to terms with the inevitable. Sometimes we spent the entire check in crying with her. But Trish always managed to show us how determined she was to live her life to the fullest, as normally as possible – as happily as possible. I admire her so much for her immense capacity to find joy in living,in the here and now, even in the face of her terminal illness. I loved her – she was my friend.

This then, is my check-in especially for you, Trish.

Trish, I’m deeply saddened to say goodbye to you. To know that I will never again hear your check-in —never know what your thoughts are about the books we will read — never hear your calm and sage advice — truly makes my heart heavy and my soul ache. But I know that as grief and sadness ebb, I will hear your lovely laugh, I will remember your spirit and I will always hear your voice, when I am at my wit’s end, saying — “Relax, nothing is in control!”

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If I Should Go
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.
– Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979)

I am so blessed to have known you, Trish, to have shared some of my life with you, to have read books with you, laughed and cried with you. Rest in peace my dear friend. I will always carry you in my heart.

(Trish passed away on Sunday, April 10, 2016)

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We Read Go Set A Watchman and Then We Talked About It

Go Set A WatchmanWe were a small group this month when we met at Shauna’s to talk about Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. We missed you; Karen, Mayda, Michelle and Trish.

Our discussion mainly revolved around the question “Should this novel have been published?” Most of us agreed that this book needed a lot of editing — especially the last half of the book, which we found confusing. We felt that Lee’s publisher was brilliant in encouraging her to write the story that became the author’s acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

We all loved Lee’s first published work — the story was compelling and we were invested in the plot, and engaged with the characters. We felt a disconnect reading Watchman — the characters were flat, the prose was rambling and dull. We found it difficult to relate the characters in this book with those same characters in Mockingbird.

Although, we felt that Go Set a Watchman was disappointing, there were parts of it that we liked. There were some humorous bits that we enjoyed — the episode with the “falsies” during Jean Louise’s first formal dance was hilarious. We also found, the telling of the “Coffee” (a gathering of Scout’s school friends) amusing and agreed that the fragmented writing worked well here, read the snippet below.

 

“John says…Calvin says it’s the…kidneys, but Allen took me off fried things…when I got caught in that zipper I like to have never…wonder what on earth makes her think she can get away with it…poor thing, if I were in her place I’d take…shock treatments, that’s what she had. They say she…kicks back the rug every Saturday night when Lawrence Welk comes on…and laugh, I thought I’d die! There he was, in…my old wedding dress, and you know, I can still wear it.”

We could imagine Scout sitting in her living room with the “magpies” (as she calls them), listening to their chatter.

Although we didn’t come up with an answer to the question “Should Go Set a Watchman have been published, we did talk at length about the process of writing a novel, the function of editors and publishers, and readers’ expectations. We all felt that, even though, we didn’t particularly like this book, we were fascinated with the fact that this novel was the harbinger of To Kill a Mockingbird. It gave us glimpse of what it was like to live in America’s deep south during a turbulent era. However, we definitely felt that Harper Lee’s first published novel, had a bigger impact on us and delivered her message in a more powerful way.

Read this interesting review in the Guardian: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee review – a literary curiosity

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By the way: The recipe for last month’s snack is up now. Click here to read the ingredient list and to access the recipe.

A great big thank you to Angela Liddon for granting permission to post the ingredient list! Thanks, as well, to Michelle who made these delicious bars and introduced them to us!

Next Book Club: April 25, 2016
Book: No book. It’s our book choosing meeting!!
Place: TBA
Snack: Judi

 

 

 

 

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Book Talk — February, 2016 (Better Late Than Never!)

Station ElevenStationElevenHCUS2 by Emily St. John Mandel was our book choice for February. This was one of our picks this year that everyone enjoyed a lot.

There are several women in our group who usually refrain from reading post-apocalyptic novels, but who agreed that St. John Mandel’s book was one that they were happy to have read.

Station Eleven, begins with the sudden death of an aging actor, Arthur Leander. His death is soon overshadowed by a raging flu pandemic that decimates the world’s population. The surviving characters are all linked in some manner to Arthur or to the graphic novel “Station Eleven”. The story focuses on a band of Shakespearean troubadours who travel the countryside, entertaining the folks they encounter who are remaking their lives as best they can in abandoned towns in the Great Lakes region.

We all agreed that the author’s writing was beautiful with interesting characters and delivered a message of hope that humanity will prevail in the face of calamitous destruction. Most of us liked Arthur’s story and how the main characters had some sort of link to him. A sort of “seven degrees of separation” thing. Some people, were confused or irritated by the presecence of the graphic novel “Station Eleven” that threaded through the book while some of us found it linked the two youngest characters in a unique way.

Wendy, who was unable to attend our meeting (vacationing in Mexico!!), sent us her view on the book. Read her opinion below.

I LOVED this book. Couldn’t wait to get home to read it.

There’s something about dystopian books, like Blindness, The Road, and Station Eleven, that I find really compelling. I have thought quite a bit about why that is.

Although I don’t talk about it often any more, I believe there’s a pretty good chance our modern structure will implode within, say, 50 years. It used to terrify me to think that my children or grandchildren might live terrible lives as a result. But exactly how terrible, or what that terrible might look like, is never quite clear.  Books like the ones I’ve listed above give me an idea, and the known is always less scary than the unknown.  So, I found Station Eleven not at all distressing and oddly reassuring: to just see “This is what chaos looks like”. The second part of that is that, in all the books I’ve mentioned, there’s a strong theme of hope. In all three, a small group of people travel together to try to find safety in the form of others. There is human connection and love and loyalty in spite of civilization having fallen apart. And I find that very moving. I loved the image at the end of the town they could see from the air traffic tower, with the grid of electric lights. The symbolization of lights as hope for a better future was perfect. Also hopeful: the way people were organizing schools, and even governance structures in some towns.

To be more specific about this book: I loved the visual images the author provides. I could really see the long, long lines of cars on the freeway, some with skeletons inside. I could see the child’s room covered in dust, with the tea set on the table. I could see the pickup trucks pulled by horses. I loved also the spare writing style, proof that more flowery language does not mean that it’s more descriptive. I thought the characters were believable.

A few minor quibbles: At first I was a little put off by the back story of Arthur. I wanted the whole book to be set in the present, with the traveling symphony/troubadours. But I came to appreciate the device of how people in the story were linked through Arthur. And I did like hearing about the hours, days and weeks right after the epidemic.

However, I didn’t find that the Station Eleven comic book story added much to the book. I pretty much skimmed those parts.

Wendy, we missed you at the meeting, but your review added a lot to our discussion. Thank you for sending your thoughts!

Personally, I agree with the group that Emily St. John Mandel’s prose was engaging to read, and I agree that linking the people through Arthur was an interesting literary device that worked very well. I liked the graphic novel/comic “Station Eleven” presence in the novel. I found it added an interesting angle to the story. I thought it connected the two youngest characters in an unexpected way. I found it was interesting how differently the two children were affected by it.

I enjoyed reading this novel, but it didn’t have the impact on me that other books in this genre had. While the author’s writing was excellent, I had no feeling of fear, dread or despair when I read Station Eleven. I consider it to be a light (and “fluffier”) rendition of the post-apocalyptic world. While the ultimate message of this novel was one of hope, I did not experience an overwhelming feeling that the world after the “Georgia flu” was as harrowing as say, life after the end of the world in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I also thought that the message of hope, humanity and survival was not as strong in this novel as in others I have read. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy,  for example, for me had much stronger messages.

However, I thought Station Eleven was a good read, and I might have thought it great had I not read other post-apocalyptic novels first.

A word about our snack. Michelle brought a delicious tray of “glow bars” that she made. They were so delicious, everyone gobbled them — there was not one crumb left! She made them from a recipe on the blog: “Oh, She Glows”. I am awaiting permission to repost the recipe on our Featured Recipe page. Check back soon!

Next Book Club: March 28, 2016
Book: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Place: Shauna
Snack: Wendy