Tag Archives: Book Club

Book Club Reflection: The Bear by Andrew Krivak

22 Feb

My book club met recently to read a book I was not a fan of, The Bear by Andrew Krivak. Krivak was a National Book Award finalist for another book, The Sojourn, and is working on another book. One of our readers did a book club for his other book and Krivak joined the discussion! She said he was very nice and spoke about his time as a Jesuit. He’s published a memoir about his eight years in the Jesuit order called The Long Retreat. We could see some contemplative reflections in this book that many felt were in line with a monk’s life. Krivak has said he made up a story for his children about a talking bear and that inspired the bear in this novel. He also said he was inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road which another reader had guessed before our leader volunteered this information.

Our group had divided opinions on this book. Some loved it, a few (like me) hated it, and many were in the middle. Those of us who didn’t know it was going to be a fable were more on the ‘dislike’ side. A few readers had found the audiobook version and opinions there were split between love and hate as well.

The setting was never made very clear. Some felt it was Colorado while others thought Appalachia was more likely. Readers not knowing a lot about what was happening was reflective of the characters not knowing a lot, either. They had such minimal contact with other humans that there was a lot unspoken and unknown in their world. This book was described as a ‘quiet survivalist’ story. It was harrowing because of the girl’s personal struggle, but there wasn’t a community or society that was falling apart.

We thought the book would have been different if the child had been a boy and not a girl. We couldn’t exactly articulate what, but the ways the girl seemed to want to understand her late mother seemed to call on gender lines and wanting to be more like another woman. However, it the world started with Adam, maybe it was fitting that it should end with Eve. We found it odd that the father was so careful in everything he did and all the preparations that he made. Yet he was so reckless when exploring the old house. It was the only time he was impulsive and it spelled his ending. The bear was like her father once he showed up. In one of the girl’s dreams, she thinks she sees her dad but it ends up being the bear. We wondered if the bear was part of her grieving process for her dad’s death.

The book focused on re-establishing a connection with nature. Man is an animal, like all others in nature. However, many of us felt that paying attention to the trees and nature doesn’t have to mean talking to them, and this went a bit far. It was more about learning from nature and how to survive from the animals that do it already.

I was glad to meet up with this group, even if I didn’t like the book very much. It’s always great to talk to other book lovers. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

15 Feb

This is much delayed, but I’m finally ready to write my Book Club Reflection for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche! I have to apologize for the delay since I did finish the book a few weeks ago. I wanted to delay writing this post until after I got through the end of the book but then I put it off too long after. I’ll be writing soon about my delays in posting so you all can get an update on my life. But for now, let’s dive into this complex book.

Adichie has done a few TED Talks that our organizer is a big fan of. Here are links to two, The danger of a single story and We should all be feminists. I’m still making my way through them but have enjoyed her way of speaking so far. Adiche started school in Nigeria, much like Ifemelu, and transferred to the US, first studying in Philadelphia and then Connecticut. Her tone is very funny and humorous and her perspective on American culture is a source of laughter. She was quoted once saying she was surprised people didn’t find it as funny as she thought it was. One of our readers found the book too long and a bit dry though most loved it, despite the length. We felt the book was about a lot of things. It was clearly about race and racism but it’s also about sex and sexism, the migrant experience, the strength of first love, and returning home. If you’ve read my review, you know that I think there was too much in this book and I think this list of themes highlights that.

The title of the book comes from the nickname Nigerians give to those who have lived in America and return with some Americanized ideas and inclinations. We found it was very interesting that for so much of the book, Ifemelu was sitting at the salon, getting her hair done. Apparently, this was done on purpose, to emphasize the culture surrounding African hair and how much time is put into maintaining a hairstyle. One thing that surprised us in the book was that Adichie comments many times about the quality of Nigerian schools being so much better than American novels. Ifemelu is shocked at Dike’s school experience and how much she feels it is lacking compared to her own grade school. With Adiche’s and Ifemelu’s decisions to come to college in the US, this was a bit inconsistent with some of the other messages in the book. The ending was a bit abrupt, one reader called it a cliffhanger. We all agreed that it was very suspenseful until the end because you were waiting to hear what happened between Obinze and Ifemelu.

There were a few themes that came up often. The blog posts that Ifemelu has in the book were a good way to talk about topics that might have been difficult to address in the novel without that forum. Many of the relationships in the book involved women pursuing men for financial reasons. Auntie Ouju’s first marriage in the US was someone she didn’t love, but she felt she needed to be married. Obinze’s wife clearly wanted to be with him for money as well. It made Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship stick out. As Americans, many of us found it off-putting that weight comes up a lot in descriptions and conversation. Adichie does comment on this, about how weight is a bigger taboo in the US, and Americans are less comfortable talking about weight and pointing out when someone’s weight is higher than what we think it should be.

One of the biggest themes in the book was about being Black and what that means. Ifemelu says a few times that she wasn’t Black in Africa. The Nigerians divided themselves by culture or nation, not by the colors of the skin. She wasn’t Black until she came to the US. Ifemelu decides to label herself as Nigerian, not Black. But she realizes that others were going to decide she was Black without her opinion being considered. America wanted to pigeonhole her and put a label on her even if she didn’t identify with it.

Auntie Ouju and Dike were some of our favorite characters in the book. Auntie Ouju had redemption in her arc. She learned things, regretted them, and made her own way in a world that wasn’t making it easy for her. Dike had a hard time growing up with her, however. While Auntie Ouju is an adult when she’s having the identity crisis that Ifemelu blogs about. Dike is a child when he’s having this crisis and it’s harder for him than his mother seems to realize. Some felt that Dike’s suicide attempt came out of nowhere. Some of us felt that felt like he didn’t have an identity. His peers thought he was an American Black and his mother saw him as African and we felt these identities were hard for him to balance. Many felt that his visit to Nigeria was very healing because it allowed him to feel like he fit in finally and see where his mother came from and helped explained her expectations and behavior. Dike and Ifemelu were very close, more than most cousins, and we were glad they had this good relationship.

Obinze and Ifemelu’s relationship was a very central part of the book. One reader felt it was a very unhealthy relationship. There was a lot of physical and emotional cheating due to trauma that the characters had suffered. Another thought it was admirable. Obinze admired Ifemelu’s because of her intelligence and what she was capable of on her own. After finishing the book, I think I have to agree with the first reader.

I’m glad I was still able to participate in this discussion, even if I didn’t understand it all at the time. It was good to revisit my notes after I’d finished it. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais

8 Feb

My book club got together a few weeks ago to discuss Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais. Be warned, spoilers ahead! I had enjoyed this book until the end and I was glad that most of my fellow readers liked it as well. One disliked the alternating narrators but enjoyed the story overall. A few did agree with me that the ending was a bit contrived and too many convenient things seemed to happen. After a book that had a relatively slow pace, the ending happened very fast and was a bit rushed. One reader felt that this book came off like a bit of a Nancy Drew story from Robin’s perspective and felt that was a disservice to apartheid and the horrible things that happened under the laws. With today’s political climate in America, many of us drew parallels to the Black Likes Matter movement and the push for rights and recognition that we’re still seeing today.

Robin and Beauty both craved a human connection throughout the story. After Robin lost her parents, she needed to connect to someone. Mable was the only person she thought was left in her life and she abandoned Robin. Beauty was missing her daughter and we felt Robin reminded her of a young Nomsa. Having Robin to care for gave her a second chance at motherhood and she felt she could fix any mistakes she might have made. Robin’s need to connect with Beauty was why he hit the note. She was being defensive of the love the two had formed and Robin wanted to keep it at all costs, even if it was denying Beauty of the one thing she wanted most.

Kat was a surprising element to the book. Many of us were surprised when she wasn’t real. Kat was a great sounding board for Robin. Kat let her cry and have emotions without showing them. Her mother discouraged her from showing her emotions and Kat was a coping mechanism for that. We saw a parallel between Jolene and Edith and Robin and Kat. The sisters were very different but that didn’t stop them from loving each other.

The title was such a short line in the book that we got talking about why Marais would choose it for her title. It spoke to figuring out how to keep going when you were lost. It was about blending in, faking it until you fit in, and getting through to the next thing. As one reader said, “Go along and get along.”

I’m not sure I’ll get a copy of our next book in time for the discussion so I might be missing a month of this group. Fingers crossed it comes in early and I can try. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

14 Dec

My book club met last week to discuss a book I really enjoyed, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Happily, most of us enjoyed the book a lot so it was a very positive discussion.

Many commented that the races were well written and easy to follow. The quotes from Pocock at the beginning of each chapter were really great, too, and helped give some context. We gave rowing a lot more credit after reading the book because of the details we learned went into it, even with sports technology where it was in the 30s. Some felt that the narrative got a little detailed at times because of the minutia about the sport, but they were able to push through and still enjoy the story.

Many of us were very impressed with Joe. He went through a lot of trauma with his mother dying when he was so young and how his family left him when he was only ten years old. He was very motivated to attend school so he could get a good job and raise himself up. Many other students were mentioned throughout the book who were in the same situation. He was lucky to have Joyce, who was one of the only constant things in his life and one of the most wonderful things to come into his life.

Rowing is not a big sport in our area. There are some crews on the Detroit River, out of the Belle Isle Yacht Club, but that’s a very exclusive and small set. I know there are big schools in our area with teams. My sister-in-law rowed in college so I’m probably a little more aware of the sport than most. Many readers said they wouldn’t be aware of rowing outside the Olympics.

There was a good historical context in this book as well. The lead-up to WWII was a prominent part and we wondered if the coxswain had revealed his Jewish ancestry if he’d still have been able to compete. A reader recommended the book Olympic Pride, American Prejudice by Deborah Riley Draper about the Black experience at the 36 Olympics, focusing on the runners and Jesse Owens. This book didn’t go into that area much but it’s another big historical marker from the 36 games.

At our meeting, we looked and saw that WU was ranked 2nd nationally in men’s crew. USC was 3rd. I guess the rivalry is still strong.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

23 Nov

I had a very fun opportunity last week. I’d read Erin Morgenstern’s book The Starless Sea with my reading buddy back when quarantine started. The SF&F book club at my library picked it for their read this past quarter so I tagged along for the discussion. It was great to hear what other people had to say about a book I discussed so much with my buddy.

Many of us had read Morgenstern’s other book, The Night Circus and more liked that book than this one. We all agreed that she’s a very good and lyrical writer and she has beautiful descriptions. She has stories within her story and many of them were beautifully written. We wanted to read Sweet Sorrow and see what the story would involve but, unfortunately, it’s probably nonsensical with all the pages Maribell tore out. The book seemed to be a love story written for books and wasn’t focused too much on the plot itself. One reader imagined the Harbor like the Library of Congress, with every book ever written included inside.

People either loved or hated this book. Many said the ending, where the fantasy elements really kicked in, was hard to get through and one almost abandoned it rather than finishing. A common complaint was that there was so much to keep track of and so many references to earlier or later text that it was a bit hard to enjoy while trying to mentally juggle so many things. There were a lot of things some felt were never well explained, like who the Owl King was. (A reader’s Google search returned a fairy tale from the 1600s as the reference for this one.) As someone pointed out, we’re in Zachary’s shoes for this book. He doesn’t understand everything around him and doesn’t get all of his questions answered and we have the same experience. Some felt the story didn’t have an ending, but the driving point seemed to be that another story was going to start, so this one had to end.

We had a lot of theories about the book. My favorite was that The Starless Sea (the story itself) was the story created to hide Fate’s heart until it was needed. We, as the readers, find our way through it by reading and solve the puzzle. All the layers and moving parts are part of the craft that kept the heart hidden inside. It took multiple reincarnations of Maribel so that it could finally be time to solve the puzzle and she can finally be with Time. We thought a lot about the dice, too. They told you what path you were more inclined toward, one reader likening them to Dungeons and Dragons dice roles for a character. We’re not too sure what the feather and crown mean, but maybe the harbor that Dorian, Zachary, and Kat form will be based on that. However, it was foretold that the sword Dorian wielded would kill a king and he’s killed Zachary. Is Zachary a king in the new harbor?

Kat was a favorite character for a few of us. She took care of the people around her. Allegra was universally disliked and her desire to keep the harbor the way it was was what made the world collapse around her. She was a gatekeeper who wanted to limit access to the library while the leader of our group, a librarian herself, sees that the role of librarians is the opposite of a gatekeeper, it’s to share and make information accessible. Toward the end, we’re told that Zachary and Dorian are the new Fate and Time. We wondered if they’d have the same trials as Maribel and the Keeper did to finally be together. Many of these characters have literary or cultural references in their name. Dorian comes from Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray and one reader suspected that Zachary’s middle name, Ezra, was a reference to a character in the Star Wars Rebels story. One of the most interesting was Eleanor. We’re told her name comes from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. However, her nickname, the name she chooses for herself, is Lenore. We couldn’t help but think of the Poe poem about his late wife by the same name.

I like joining this group from time to time to get a good SF&F fix. We’ll see what else they’ve got that can entice me. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: The Rise of Wolf 8 by Rick McIntyre

16 Nov

My book club met last week to talk about our latest read, The Rise of Wolf 8 by Rick McIntyre. This was a read I listened to, mostly while moving and driving back and forth between my apartment and my new house so I was able to get through it rather quickly. It wasn’t one I particularly enjoyed but, as I suspected, I was the minority when we met to talk about it.

McIntyre clearly knows a lot and understands wolves well. He’s able to describe the narrative of wolf interaction and is a gifted storyteller. Now, he’s not going to win a Nobel for his writing, but it was still more engaging than most naturalists can probably tell a story about non-verbal animals. Sometimes, he walked a line between telling a story and sharing his research. But his connections to the wolves are strong and he shows his passion. The second book in this series, The Reign of Wolf 21, came out this past September and there’s a planned third book to finish the series.

The reader who most liked this book already liked wolves and dogs. It did get one reader to have a greater affinity for wolves than she’d had before. Many with pet dogs were able to compare the behavior to their dogs. One thing that didn’t come across as well in the book was the size of Yellowstone. A few of our members had visited the park and they said you couldn’t imagine the range of the park and by focusing on the wolves, you didn’t always get a sense of how far apart they were. The Wolf Project is a big undertaking for the park, which is funded with public funds. Some questioned if the public supported the project enough to justify the cost. It seems like McIntyre’s arguing that the additional revenue to Yellowstone is enough to pay for the project and that it’s also supported surrounding businesses.

We had a few criticisms that were shared almost universally. One is that the middle of the book seemed repetitive and long. I noticed this myself and was glad I wasn’t alone. The second was that with the animals being numbered it was easy to forget the relationships and who packed with who if you didn’t read the book daily. I heard the print version contained a family tree that I would have found immeasurably helpful. We heard that the rationale for numbering the wolves is to keep the researchers from getting so attached to the animals. Though, McIntyre seems to do this anyway. Jane Goodall was criticized for naming the chimps she studied since the generally accepted practice is to use numbers.

We’re going to continue to meet virtually so I plan to continue attending. Once this group meets in person again, I’ll likely drop off since it’s now quite far from me.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

3 Nov

My book club met to talk about a book I read a few years back, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I decided not to re-read it since I thought I remembered it reasonably well and I sometimes enjoy sitting back and listening to what other people say rather than participating. I was a little shocked at how much people disliked this book, which I remember fondly.

Many people didn’t like the book. Many felt that the people were depressing, spoiled, and plain terrible. They drank a lot and one reader commented that if you skipped the drinking scenes, there wasn’t much left in the book. Though there was agreement that Jake was the best character in the book because he was kind, unlike many of the other characters.

This group read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife a few years ago and the life portrayed in the book is much like what we get in The Sun Also Rises. This generation had lost it’s direction in life and was trying to escape. The men of the time were sold on war being the way they could save the world and the experience many of them had wasn’t what they expected. They saw death and felt that life was fleeting. A similar thing happened more recently in Vietnam. One reader commented that the returning soldiers saw that life was pointless, much like this book.

We debated why this book is still popular. It built a mystique around Hemingway and this book was very similar to his life and reflected his personality. His technique is also very unique and has not been replicated widely with success. His word choice is very simplistic and it forces you to imagine the scene and background.

Hopefully we enjoy our next book more. With the way the pandemic is heading, it looks like we’ll remain virtual for quite a while. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Cho

20 Oct

My book club met via Zoom again for our last meeting, a discussion of Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride. I had finished the book earlier that day so I was excited to get a chance to discuss it so soon after finishing it.

Choo is 4th from the fourth generation of Chinese to live in Malaysia. She traveled a lot in her life and went to Harvard in the US. She now lives in San Francisco. It’s easy to see how her birth influenced this book. Many of us enjoyed the exposure to Chinese funeral customs and understanding how a different culture looks at the afterlife. Many of us compared the Plains of the Dead to Purgatory but they’re very different, which we realized when we started talking about them. There was a good deal of superstition in the novel. It manifested more in the older, less educated characters like Amah and Old Wong. Tian Bai and Li Lan’s father, for example, were less tolerant of old superstitions.

We had some conflicting opinions on the plot of the novel. Some felt like the plot went along well and didn’t get bogged down with side characters and side plots. Others of us felt it was very slow at times and a bit predictable. We did feel like Li Lan didn’t grow much during her story. It started to feel like a YA novel at times because she was so head-over-heels in insta-love with Tian Bai and was do repulsed by Lim Tian Ching that it felt oversimplified. We discussed the corruption side plot and didn’t feel it was a very strong plot. Most of us were surprised by Fan’s betrayal; no one saw that one coming!

We spent a lot of time talking about the ending. Li Lan seems to change her mind about Tian Bai very quickly and that was part of my frustration with the end. One reader pointed out that she seemed to lose her favor for him as she saw him like the things in Fan she despised. She seemed to think that if he couldn’t tell the difference between them and believed that she valued jewels and gifts, he didn’t really know her and wasn’t the love match she expected. She projecting her dislike for Fan onto Tian Bai. A lot of us felt like it was a cheap reason for her to end up with Er Lang, though. After so much time pining after Tian Bai, it felt weird to have her change her goal.

A few readers had watched the Netflix mini-series for this book but I wasn’t aware it existed! I’m excited to give it a try soon. I hear it’s well done so I have high hopes.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Club Reflection: In the Distance by Hernán Díaz

21 Sep

It is rare for me to not finish a book before our book club meets, but that’s what happened this past week. I couldn’t manage to finish In the Distance by Hernán Díaz in time for our meeting. I had less than two hours left of the audio when we met.

Our leader had some great information about Díaz. The book was sent int during an open call for manuscripts and is his first novel, which he’d been working on for years. Díaz lived in first Sweeden and then Argentina before moving to New York. He didn’t travel to the locations he mentioned to research the novel. It’s a bit of a travel novel and a Western. The story shows the chaos of the Wild West more than the heroic side that’s often portrayed in Westerns. The corrupt Shariff is an example of the American Dream of the West gone sour. It was pointed out that most Westerns set in the late 1800s like this one were not written during that time period. Most Westerns are about an idealized and mythological West that’s common in literature but isn’t necessarily true of history. (From this article from The Nation)

There were a few of us who listened to the audiobook for this one and we found that those of us who listened disliked the book more than those who read it. We didn’t feel the narrator’s voice matched the story. Those who read the book noticed something that passed me by. There was almost no dialogue in the first half of the books because Håkan didn’t speak English and didn’t understand what was being said. He’s a foreigner in the West, even though everyone there is not from the area. He’s the most foreign foreigner in the land.

During the book, Håkan has a lot of different companions and one reader counted nine in total. I wasn’t a fan of this episodic storytelling and a few of my fellow readers felt the same. We were disappointed when characters like the woman with black gums never showed up again. It made us question the purpose of certain parts of the book. Lorimer was one character we tended to like. Many of us felt he was comparable to Darwin.

Many of us were frustrated that Håkan never found his brother, but many people suspected it. Marking it to New York wasn’t part of his story. When he decided to return to Sweden, most weren’t surprised. A reader suggested that he’d lost touch with reality a bit in thinking he could walk across Russia, but others thought he’d honed his skills enough to be able to do it. One reader was very familiar with Sweedish immigration and told us that many Swedes who left for the US went back to Sweeden so it’s likely Lionus may have done that and they’d be reunited at home. So maybe there is a happy ending?

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Book Club Reflection: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

6 Aug

Our book club met over Zoom again and this time we were able to discuss The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. We got a little background about Richardson to start us off, finding out that she’d grown up in a bad orphanage situation in Kentucky and struggled with homelessness for a time. There was a lot of disease and poverty in the book. Characters suffered from hunger, infections, and Pellagra (a disease none of us had heard of).

I wasn’t the only one who listened to the audiobook and some said they found the narrator to sound very authentic and liked her a lot. I’m inclined to agree.

Many of us didn’t know about the blue people of Kentucky. Some thought it was science fiction at first and most of us ended up Googling it. The way the people reacted to Cussy’s family showed how evil some people can be. We wondered how much of that evil is human nature and how much of it is taught prejudice. In the case of some characters, it seemed a taught behavior (Harriot) whereas others seemed mildly curious about something so unusual (the doctor). We wondered how much Angeline’s husband knew he was a blue. I thought he knew, but others thought he was an unknowing carrier. Angeline didn’t know she carried it. We were a bit surprised that her husband hung himself. With his anger, we thought he’d hurt the baby. But we were glad he didn’t.

There were some great historical aspects of this book that we enjoyed. The scrapbooks were a great community project for the dispersed people to participate in. It let the neighbors learn different ways of doing something or learn a new skill while they were spread out. It seemed a bit odd to us that so many people didn’t want to take WPA jobs, but we also understood the pride involved in not taking government handouts. I’m involved in hiring and I’ve talked to a lot of people struggling with taking government assistance with the COVID fallout because of pride.

We were surprised that Cussy’s father married her to her first husband. Her father seems to be so caring and fond of her, yet he seems to turn a blind eye to such a poor match. We figured that he probably knew he was sick and wanted her to be married to someone who could care for her before he died but still felt he was a bit too quick. It seemed odd that he turned Jackson down six times after that much desperation to marry her the first time. We also wondered about the inconsistency of her being able to marry. Her marriage to Jackson is illegal, but she could marry Frasier? Maybe the law changed, but we figured the most likely answer is that no one cared enough to report it the first time.

The women in town were unnaturally cruel to her. The scene where she took her medicine to appear white and was still so strongly rejected was especially difficult to read. She was pretty and smart and the women felt threatened by her if they couldn’t put her down and make her feel like an underdog. The people on her route were much more polite and open-minded. We wondered if they were honestly better people and more open-minded, or if their reliance on Cussy helped them forgive her skill color.

Cussy’s relationship with the doctor was very confusing. Many disliked him because he was an opportunist. He certainly knew he had an upper hand on Cussy and blackmailed her to get her to submit to his experiments. He treated her like she was sick and that she wouldn’t be well unless she was white. He’d been after her mother, too, trying to get samples and cure their blue skin. At the same time, he was grateful to Cussy for giving him something to publish that he gave her pills and food whenever he could. He was just looking for a way to make himself famous.

I expressed my frustration with the end and a few people agreed with me. The wrap-up seemed a bit hurried and less authentic than the rest of the book. It was a story with a lot of heartbreak and hard-won joy and the ending was just a little too neat and happy to jive with the rest of the story.

We’ll be meeting again next week for our next book, Old Baggage by Lissa Evans. I hope I finish the book. Until next time, write on.

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