The Just-for-Me Book Club is Back!

In November 2016, I collected 24 book recommendations from readers and commenters on this blog, and set about reading them. I have read 21 now and have 3 left!

Since my last update, I have read these 4:

  • Before We Met – Lucie Whitehead – recommended by Amy Rutter
  • Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss – recommended by Janet Brown @ Someone, Somewhere
  • Cripple Creek Days – Mabel Barbee Lee – recommended by Cat @ The Eco Cat Lady Speaks
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver – recommended by reader Jamie

Before We Met was a psychological thriller. (I haven’t read any of the other thrillers like Girl on a Train, Gone Girl or The Woman in Cabin 10). As the story begins, Hannah and Mark have been married a short time and they travel often between London and New York. He is rich; she is unsettled. Soon we find out that although they met through friends, they married in haste and did not know each other well. Soon he fails to return home after a business trip, fails to provide good reasons, and appears to have absconded with her money. But why? He is the moneyed one!

At first, I was impatient with Hannah and thought she was not very bright for marrying a stranger and knowing so little about his business dealings. But I warmed up to her, and soon actually admired her because of the open way in which she contacted his and her friends, family and associates to track down what happened.

The ending was completely different from what I expected. For a while, I even thought Mark was involved in the trafficking of human organs! It kept me interested and maybe I will go back and read some of those other thrillers.

Bodies of Light follows Alethia’s journey to become a doctor in 1860s/70s Manchester. It’s a sober tale, rather than a rah-rah inspirational one. Alethia’s (Ally’s) life is shockingly difficult. Her mother is devoted to improving the lot of poor women, with a zeal that doesn’t allow any affection or compassion for her own children. Ally desperately tries to please her mother by being a perfect student and studying to become a doctor. She is diagnosed with “hysterical attacks” (anxiety and panic) which cause her mother to respond mercilessly.

I read the book with a sense of foreboding. It seemed impossible things could turn out well. (They do…mostly!) Ultimately, the author brings together themes of gender and patriarchy in history, mental health, kindness and self-care. Anyone who has achieved goals while dealing with mental health struggles (and poor medical care) will find this life-affirming. It was not an easy read, but a very memorable one.

Cripple Creek Days was a “wow” memoir I couldn’t put down! Here is my review from Goodreads:

A prospector heads for Colorado in search of gold, bringing his reluctant wife and daughter, in 1892. They commence a hard-scrabble existence in the mining camps, hoping the hard-drinking but honest dad will strike it rich. This is the story of a little girl, Mabel (Mabs), telling us about her family, town, and mining life, from the perspective of an 8-year-old. As she grows up, she comes to know about gambling parlours and bordellos and high rollers with new money – alongside a background of raging plagues, raging fires and raging outlaws. It is intimate and epic at the same time: Mabs watches her weakened, coughing father come down the hills from the mines, and at the same time, watches her town fill up with new train stations, grand hotels and millionaires’ mansions. She is a clear-eyed, unsentimental child. The book was published in 1958 when the author was 74. She integrated a complete social history of the town and the era.

I loved it!

The Poisonwood Bible is another book that kept me at the edge of my seat. An American preacher brings his family to the Congo (DRC) just before the country attempts its independence. Dad Nathan rules his family with an iron fist and believes he is sent by God to convert the heathens. Mother Oleanna and the 4 Price daughters miss the “society” trappings of their home town, but later they miss cleanliness, and health, and safety, and food. We find out that Dad has not secured resources from the missionary society and none of them are equipped to survive. The dad becomes truly unhinged and the womenfolk must fend for themselves.

The story is told in turns by the mother and the 4 daughters, each of whom has a distinct voice. The most remarkable thing about the book is that the narrators are racist colonialists, just as you would expect such a family to be in that time, in that place. For the most part, they are self-centred, whiny, judgmental, and very real. It was hard to read the language they used to refer to the local people. In the first chapter, the mom looks back and comments on her family’s role (and the role of other non-Africans) in the DRC’s story. It appeared she had some regrets, so I wanted to see how she got there.

The mother and each of the four daughters show a pioneering spirit and they adapt to their new circumstances, each in her own way – through friendship, or political awakening, or manipulation, or opportunism, or cooperation.

Their story is a microcosm of how white colonialism and international interference destroyed countries and people. Although not all the Prices come to appreciate the DRC or its people, the reader certainly does – sometimes by reading between the lines. Yet there are also threads of bravery and perseverance in the Price family, much like the Thornhill family in The Secret River. I “enjoyed” both books but was also sickened by the actions of our ancestors and their lack of acknowledgement of the humanity of others.

It was also a good companion to Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, which I also read for this book club.

So, some heavy and some light, but lots of good reading and food for thought. Thank you ever so much to my recommenders!

I have 3 more books to read:

  • Fools Rush In – Bill Carter
  • The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  • Justice – Michael J. Sandel

Have you read any of these books? What else have you been reading?

Previous posts about the series are here:

Intro

Reviews 1

Reviews 2

Reviews 3

Reviews 4

Reviews 5

Reviews 6

Reviews 7

 

22 comments

  1. I have not been reading at my usual pace lately. In 2017, I read 70 books. Nearly at the halfway mark of 2018, I have completed only 29, most recently a 1946 Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe) mystery.

    I attended the bi-annual used book sale at my favorite indie bookstore earlier this month, so my shelves are stocked — I don’t lack material or motivation; I just need time!

    • I’m on pace with you – I have read 29 books so far this year and should be at 30 or 31 by the end of the month. My goal for the year is 60 so I’m on track unless I falter later. Wishing you some relaxing reading time!

  2. EcoCatLady

    I continue to be impressed by how much you read. Most of my reading these days is actually CatMan reading to me, which, while very enjoyable, is also very, very slow. We’re lucky if we finish 1-2 books per year. But I suppose speed isn’t everything!

    Anyhow, I’m so glad that you liked Cripple Creek Days. CatMan actually discovered that book in a little bookstore in Cripple Creek when he was living there one summer in the 1960s. It’s quite a colorful place even today – though legalized gambling has brought lots of glitz that seems so out of place to me.

  3. ang0660

    Am going to try and find all these myself via Hampshire library if I can as they sound great reads and I am struggling to find a good book. Last two I have read were Minette Walters – The Last Hours and Gail Honeyman-Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Both were brill but then finding something as good can be an issue so thanks for your reviews. Happy reading

    • Two of these were hard for me to get but I placed interlibrary loans for them and the library didn’t charge a fee. I would like to read the Eleanor Oliphant book!

  4. I love your book reviews. It brings books to my attention that I might have otherwise missed. Can’t wait to see what you read next.

  5. Margie in Toronto

    I have been on a reading tear lately and have learned to make really good use of my library!
    I am about half way through Camilla Lackberg’s series – mysteries, they take place in Sweden and they follow the same cast of characters throughout. They are well written, quite intriguing and the mysteries are balanced by the domestic lives of the various characters – lots of twists & turns and if I start one I usually read until I’m finished!
    I’ve read two stand alone books by Peter May, “Coffin Road” and “Runaway” – I especially recommend “Coffin Road”.
    .”Paper” by Mark Karlinsky – love his books – he picks an object and then traces it’s affects on history & civilization. If you are a reader then “Paper” is especially interesting!
    .I’m currently rereading “Still Life” the first book by Louise Penny as I’m leading my book club session this week and I had recommended this author – only one other person in the group had read her series which really surprised me as they have become world-wide best sellers and she is Canadian!
    Of the books on your list I have read “The Secret History” and I’ll warn you – don’t start unless you’ve got the time as it’s one that I could not put down! “Cripple Creek Days” sounds wonderful – I’ll have to add it to the list.
    Happy reading everyone!

    • Hi Margie, I can’t wait to read The Secret History on your recommendation! I haven’t read the Louise Penny series and would like to start with number one. The Paper book sounds really good – I’ll see if I can find it!

  6. Wow I too am amazed at how much people read – maybe when I leave work I will get time to do more. Some of the books sound very interesting and with some substance. I like the sound of the Paper book. I have a lot on audio now – we listen in the car on the long journey to Scotland and are wading through the Proust collection – I love his wrting and even better when narrated.

  7. Thanks for more fascinating reviews. I just ordered a used copy of Cripple Creek Days as my library doesn’t have it and I’ve taken on responsibility for keeping up a Little Library so have a good place for all good books to go once read! (Or to the Friends of the Library bookstore of course). I’ve recently read Derek Miller’s “Norwegian by Night” which was terrific and the subsequent “American by Day” which was pretty good. Also read the latest in Laurie King’s series about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes (Island of the Mad) as I’m hooked on this series and have started re-reading them in order. For a change of pace I read “Edison and the Rise of Innovation” by Leonard DeGraaf which was interesting although I found myself skimming that last few chapters but learned quite a bit. Some others not worth mention LOL.

  8. Wow, those are marvellously great reviews. I’m happy you found Disgrace to be worthwhile. For some reason I have not been seeing your posts on my feed. Must have been an oversight. And I’ve missed you. 🙂

  9. This was such a great idea (and I think I’m going to use it one of these days). Your reviews have been wonderful too. There are so many great books out there that I would probably never know of, and this has been a good way to “spread the word.”

    BTW, I did sign up for Goodreads but have just not been able to get it going. I’m not giving up though – maybe when we finally settle down I’ll get my lists going. Your strong recommendation for it still resonates with me.

  10. Jamie

    It was so exciting for me to hear you had read a book I had mentioned. I’m glad you found it interesting.

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