Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Gingerbread Cookies Murder


THE GINGERBREAD COOKIES MURDER by Joanne Fluke – To be Discussed Wed Nov. 1, 2017, at Geneseo Public Library


When Hannah Swensen finds her neighbor Ernie Kusak with his head bashed in and sprawled on the floor of his condo next to an upended box of Hannah’s Gingerbread Cookies, she discovers a flurry of murder suspects that’s as long as her holiday shopping list. “The Dangers Of Gingerbread Cookies” is written by Laura Levine. Jaine Austen has been enlisted to help with her parents’ retirement community’s play The Gingerbread Cookie That Saved Christmas. Playboy Dr. Preston McCay is playing the role of the gingerbread cookie when he ‘accidentally’ falls to his death during the final act. Now Jaine must figure out if one of the doctor’s jealous lovers was capable of murder. “Gingerbread Cookies And Gunshots” is written by Leslie Meier. When Lucy Stone discovers the body of Rick Juergens, whose five-year-old son Nemo disappeared, she senses foul play. Crumbs from a gingerbread cookie Lucy gave to Nemo are found in the back seat of Rick’s car. With the hours quickly ticking till Christmas, Lucy races against the clock to find a killer before he strikes again.

Discussion Questions:

1.    Did you like /dislike this book?  Why?



2.    Which character did you like the most and why?  The least and why?





3.     Are there any situations you can identify with?  Which one? 


4.    Did you learn something you did not know before?





5.    Did this story evoke emotions for you?



6.    Name your favorite thing about this book?



7.    What you would change in this story?

8.    Did you like the writer’s style?

Notes from Oct 2017 group


At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier – Discussed on Wed Oct. 4, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library



1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last. 

We enjoyed the history and traveling of this story.  There were several fictional characters that were based on real life people, and they were interesting. The readers learned information about growing apples and the trees in California.  However the plot was about a very disfunctional farming family.  Our group had mixed feelings about this dark novel, but it generated good discussion.





Wednesday, September 13, 2017

At the Edge of the Orchard


At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier – To be Discussed on Wed Oct. 4, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library


1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last. 

Discussion Questions:
. 1.For James, apples are an obsession, a reminder of his family’s home in Connecticut, and for Sadie, they’re both a source of jealousy and of respite from the brutalities of pioneer living. How does that conflict with today, when apples are a homey symbol of America, with “heirloom” varieties nodding to a nostalgia for an earlier time? Discuss James and Sadie’s love for apples as escape, as pleasure, as sweetness—but not really as sustenance—and the ways they tied the Goodenoughs to the land
.
2. Sadie’s mistakes and aggressions are the ones that propel the plot in the first half of the book. What did you think about her character?  Discuss the ways the author makes Sadie’s behavior more understandable or sympathetic. In what ways is James responsible for the family’s strife? What would this novel be like without Sadie?

3. Imagine burying five children, and spending nine years in constant war with your environment just to keep yourself and your family alive, while being mostly isolated from family and from neighbors. How would you hold up under these circumstances? How would your family have dealt with this life? What would your children do? What would your marriage be like?

4. The Goodenoughs end up in Ohio because they get stuck there and their wagon can go no further. There they face malaria, mud, starvation, bitter familial fighting—this could be seen as a darker Little House on the Prairie (or perhaps simply more realistic—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s diaries were far more gritty than the life her novels portrayed). How do you think these realities shaped our history? How does it differ from our typical narrative of life on the early American frontier?

5. Robert’s and Martha’s letters serve as pivot points for the book. Why do you think the author chose to tell big portions of the story in this way? What effect does it have on the emotional impact of Robert’s decision to leave his family? Of Martha’s life after he does?

6. After Robert does not hear from his family for 17 years, he finally gives up trying to communicate with them. Everything about this communication is foreign to us in an age where technology minimizes great distances. Discuss the real costs of leaving your family in the era this book is set. Would you be able to make this kind of choice?

7. Did Robert make the right choice in leaving the family? What might have become of the Goodenoughs if he had not left? How might Martha’s life be different? What do you think would have happened to him?

8. Our mythology of the American west involves expansion to wide open landscapes on the backs of people—usually young men—seeking riches or adventure. But Robert’s story is about running from something. What other things might people have been running from by moving westward? How has it shaped our national character?


9. Think about all the different migrations in this book: settlers moving west, stopping somewhere to make a home or continuing on to the coast; Johnny Appleseed and William Lobb’s travels; all the different paths taken by the various members of the Goodenough family. We don’t think of trees being as mobile as people, but Johnny Appleseed points out to Sadie at one point how much trees migrate from place to place as well, frequently moved by people. How much of the landscape of where you are now is a product of these types of migrations—of humans, animals, or plants?

10. Discuss the transformation of Robert & Molly’s relationship. At what point does it deepen? Would you have gambled on Robert as Molly does?

11. Robert is shocked at Martha’s strength and capability to travel by herself all the way from Ohio to California. Discuss what you would have done in her situation
.
12. Discuss the ending of the novel. Robert’s childhood was clearly traumatic, and his experience of family for most of his life has been full of strife. What does that mean for his new family going forward? What does it mean that he decides to go back to the old world, where his family came from before they set out for the frontier?


Notes from Sept 2017 group


The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg – Discussed on Wed Sept. 6, 2017 at Geneseo Library




As onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend for their fortieth high school reunion, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob. For the ever self-reliant, ever left-out Mary Alice, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet—or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it’s too late. As these and other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away: desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all.

This was an easy to read, light book.  We all could relate to the class reunion topic and the cast of characters. Teen years are an emotional time.  We had good discussion on our high school years – what was important and why.  Everyone shared reunion stories.  Our group had mixed opinions on this book.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

At the Edge of the Orchard


The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg – To be Discussed on Wed Sept. 6, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library

As onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend for their fortieth high school reunion, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob. For the ever self-reliant, ever left-out Mary Alice, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet—or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it’s too late. As these and other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away: desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.

Discussion Questions:

1. Berg offers portraits of high school "types"—the jock, the cheerleader, the popular kids, the nerds and outsiders. Are her depictions accurate?

2. Which character do you most identify with? Which ones do you find most sympathetic? Which least sympathetic?

3. What do the individual characters want—or hope to achieve —from the reunion? Why are some hesitant to attend?

4. In what ways have the various characters changed over the past 40 years—especially Lester and Mary Alice? Have any other characters truly changed? What have they learned? How have expectations been dashed...or met?

5. One character observes: "Here they are, these people, all these years later just...what? Trying.... Just trying." What does he mean..."just trying" to do what?

6. High school comprises a very short time of our lives; in retrospect, most of us recognize how shallow, cruel, even meaningless, the social heirarchy was. Nonetheless, the memories—the hurts and triumphs—resonate even after 40 years. Why is that? Why are those few short years so potent for so many?

7. If you're "of an age"... or have graduated even just 10 years ago...does Berg's novel ring true to you? Have you attended any of your high school reunions?

8. Does the ending of Berg's novel satisfy you? Are you pleased with how it all turned out?

9.  Would you recommend this book to others? 










Notes from August 2017 group


One Good Dog by Susan Wilson – Discussed on Wed Aug 2, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library

The very definition of a hard-nosed businessman, Adam March has no room in his life for anything but the cold drive to succeed. Not for his social-climbing wife or for his rebellious teenage daughter. Then, in an instant, he loses everything. Due to an untimely collision of arrogance, stress, circumstance, and a momentary loss of self-control, Adam finds himself alone, unemployed, and reduced to bussing tables in a homeless shelter, serving men he'd always gone out of his way to avoid.

One instant of opportunity. Enough for one dog to find his freedom.

Chance was born in an inner-city cellar, a mix of pit bull and God-knows-what. Bred to fight, and damn good at it, he lived in a dank, dark, and vicious world. Not that he wished for something better; that world was all he knew. But when the moment presented itself, Chance made the most of it in a new life on the street, for a little while.

Two lives. Two second chances.

Thrown together, Adam and Chance fill the holes in each other's lives. Adam gives Chance his first real home, a haven he never could have imagined, while Chance gives Adam a new start. And a new heart.

Our book group really liked this book.  It was an easy read.  We loved that there were chapters written from the main character Adam’s perspective and then next chapter was written from the dog’s viewpoint.  This story challenges the popular myth of all pitbulls being natural killers: they are taught to be killers. It was interesting how Adam’s personality changed from beginning to end of the story.  There were lots of good topics for discussion in this book. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

One Good Dog


One Good Dog by Susan Wilson – To be Discussed on Wed Aug 2, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library

The very definition of a hard-nosed businessman, Adam March has no room in his life for anything but the cold drive to succeed. Not for his social-climbing wife or for his rebellious teenage daughter. Then, in an instant, he loses everything. Due to an untimely collision of arrogance, stress, circumstance, and a momentary loss of self-control, Adam finds himself alone, unemployed, and reduced to bussing tables in a homeless shelter, serving men he'd always gone out of his way to avoid.
Chance was born in an inner-city cellar, a mix of pit bull and God-knows-what. Bred to fight, and damn good at it, he lived in a dank, dark, and vicious world. Not that he wished for something better; that world was all he knew. But when the moment presented itself, Chance made the most of it in a new life on the street, for a little while.
Thrown together, Adam and Chance fill the holes in each other's lives. Adam gives Chance his first real home, a haven he never could have imagined, while Chance gives Adam a new start. And a new heart.

Discussion Questions:

1. What explains Adam March’s outrageous attack on Sophie?

2. Why do you think the author used the first person in telling Chance’s story?

3. There are two protagonists in this story. Are they equal? Are they believable?

4. What is Adam’s initial attitude toward the Chance?

5. How does that attitude reflect his attitude in general and the situation he’s in?

6. When Adam breaks down, what motivates Chance to approach him?

7. What does Chance think of his ‘career’ as a fighter?

8. Should Adam forgive his father?

9. What role does Gina play in Adam’s personal growth?

10. Describe Adam’s relationship with his daughter Ariel. How does his childhood impact this relationship, or does it?

11. Does Adam relate at all to the boys he encounters on the street? How so?

12. What are Adam’s three sins and does he overcome them?

13. In this story men are living on the streets as well as dogs. Are you more likely to support animal shelters or homeless shelters?

14. Conventional wisdom believes that fighting pit bulls cannot be rehabilitated. In many cities, a dog that has been known to fight is automatically put down. Do you think that a character like Chance is realistic? Does he change your mind about pit bulls?

15. In the end, has Adam been redeemed?