OFF THE SHELF
“American Dirt”, by Jeanine Cummins
American Dirt is a 2020 novel by American author Jeanine Cummins, about the ordeal of a Mexican woman who had to leave behind her life and escape as an immigrant to US with her son. At the opening of Jeanine Cummins’s devastating and timely novel, bookshop owner Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca, are the only survivors of a targeted massacre by the Mexican cartel that dominates and terrorises their hometown of Acapulco. Sixteen of their relatives have been shot at a family barbecue, including Lydia’s husband and Luca’s father, a journalist who had been investigating and reporting on the drug traffickers.
What follows is the story of a mother’s desperate attempts to keep her son alive, away from the cartel whose influence stretches across Mexico and from whom she knows they will never be safe. It is through their ordeal that Cummins humanises the migrant crisis, delivering a powerful portrayal of the extraordinary lengths people will go to in order to save their loved ones. It is a moving portrait of maternal love and an unflinching description of the experiences of displaced people on the move.
As members we really enjoyed reading this book. It was very well written, had powerful descriptions throughout and the turn of events were easy to follow. Although these were menacing at times and difficult to read, we persevered and appreciated its honesty. The characters were powerful and the main characters Lydia and Luca extremely likeable. We would recommend this book and gave it a score of 9/10. Chris Munroe
OFF THE SHELF
“The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is an autobiographical children’s novel written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She shares with us the harsh conditions of being brought up as a child in the late 19th century in one of the hardest winters of South Dakota. It is the story of a close-knit family’s struggle to survive the freezing temperatures and food shortages, as the severest of blizzards rages on for seven months. Each chapter unravels the unimaginable struggle that this isolation brings. The chapters can seem repetitive, but this cleverly reflects the claustrophobic life the family has to endure. Even when homes are only ‘just across the town’s street’ the high-density snowfalls obliterate any pathway to a neighbour’s door. If they are to be reached many townsfolk are also bereft of fuel, food and energy. The rail and road links have been completely wiped out, but hope exists because the family is creative, resilient and resourceful. It is a wonderful social history book suitable for adults too as it is full of lessons about relationship building and survival. Possibly a similar reflection on our current situation and there are many excellent tips on good parenting, which are still relevant to today.
Our Book Club members gave this a score of 9 out of 10
OFF THE SHELF
“EDUCATED ” by Tara Westove
Tara Westover tells the story of her family and upbringing in rural Idaho. It is fascinating and at times quite scary. Her father ruled the family, and they were all at the mercy of his extreme ideas. In retrospect, she is convinced that he had schizophrenia; it was hard to live and cope with his behaviour and restrictions. None of the children were allowed to go to school or consult doctors; they had to wear old-fashioned clothes and had no life of their own. Her mother was complicit with these rules. She did at times seem to encourage Tara, but ultimately always supported her Father. One of her brothers and her father were very cruel and vicious at times, with seemingly no care for Tara or anyone else.
Tara had great strength of character and an independent spirit; eventually, she managed to leave home, go to University and eventually to study in Cambridge, England. At the time of writing her family would still have nothing to do with her.
Most of us found this book to be a real page-turner but some did not enjoy it because of the cruelty and unpredictability of the family. As a group we scored it 7/10.
OFF THE SHELF
My Mother’s House by Lily Tobias was written around 1930, so the style of writing is different, in so far as it is lyrical, explanatory and very vivid.
The story concerns an intelligent boy who wants to break away from Judaism. The beliefs and actions of Judaism are well explained during that time.
The story is fascinating and examines the meaning of having a faith and feeling a foreigner in your own country. The book was well received by the Book Club with a score of 8/10 and we can recommend that you read this book. Ann Gill
OFF THE SHELF
“The Confession” by Jessie Burton
A young girl called Elise Marceau, life model, meets the dazzling, older and alluring Connie Holden. Connie is a very successful author and Elise is easily encouraged to follow Connie to the glamorous and glitzy Hollywood, as her latest book is being turned into a film. Elise is unsettled and an event changes her life’s direction which has many consequences.
The narrative switches to the future where Rose Simmons, another lost soul, is seeking answers to the disappearance of her mother. After realising that Connie Holden, now a reclusive novelist, had a connection to her mother she entangles herself in a story to find the threads of her past.
The themes of the book are concerned with motherhood, pregnancy and independence and the characters of Rose and Elise do mirror each other. Given these themes it is surprising that we all agreed the relationships are rather unconvincing. You do not get the impression that the characters actually really care for or love each other. Having said this, we all enjoyed the book possibly because Jessie Burton knows how to hook you into a plot. It does have a slow start but definitely worth a read. We gave this book a score of 8/10.
OFF THE SHELF
This month’s book was On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming.
In 1929, Betty, the author’s mother then aged three, was kidnapped from a beach in Chapel St Leonard. Within a week or so Betty reappeared unharmed and throughout her childhood the secret surrounding her birth and subsequent adoption was kept by the village.
Laura Cummings, who has a background in art history, discusses the work of famous painters as a means to unravel her mother’s experiences. Most of us found this acutely irritating. Betty had a fascinating story to tell and for us, being taken up endless artistic cul-de-sacs detracted from, rather than enhanced Betty’s bitter narrative. On a more positive side, Cummings gave a brilliant description of Chapel St Leonard and Lincolnshire in general which delighted those in the group who were familiar with the area. We were all pleased that we had read the book but could only award it 7/10.
OFF THE SHELF – September
This month’s book was ‘Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood’ by Trevor Noah.
Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, television host and actor. This is the story of his childhood in Apartheid South Africa. He was born of a black mother and a white father at a time when any mixed-race relationships were illegal. For much of his early days Trevor was concealed by his family – hence the title. Even though Noah suffered poverty, abuse and identity problems, he doesn’t come over as a victim. He is a great narrator and the book is hilarious in parts and also enlightening. Each chapter begins with an explanation of some illuminating aspect of Apartheid and sets the background to his chaotic life: his living conditions, upbringing, isolation, education, the police state and of course race.
Noah’s mother is central to the book. Unconventional, strong, and extremely religious, she takes him to church three times on Sunday to Black, White and Coloured services (to cover all possibilities). She also believes in demons, hands out harsh beatings and couldn’t love him more.
A chapter that stood out highlighted Trevor’s sketchy education. As well as a traditional African name, Trevor and his friends were all given a random European name. As a teenager Trevor, then a DJ, and his dancers were invited to entertain at a middle-class Jewish family party. They didn’t understand that shouting out the main dancer’s name (Hitler) was offensive to the hosts and were mystified that they were thrown out. ‘We weren’t taught how to think about how Hitler related to the world we lived in. We weren’t being taught to think, period’.
This book will make you laugh, cry and cry laughing. 9/10.
Off the Shelf –
Book of the Month
This month’s book was Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This book was winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Elizabeth Strout offers profound insights into the complexities of human relationships – its various chapters share the conflicts, tragedies and joys of life from the smallest incidental moments to people’s exploration of their life’s journey. In both the darkest and joyous passages of the book we can find our own parallels of emotions.
Olive Kitteridge, is a retired schoolteacher, living in the town of Crosby, Maine. She doesn’t always recognise the changes in those around her and the bluntness in her responses can almost knock the reader off balance. At times this results in the most poignant and sensitive scenes which continue to play out in the reader’s mind long after the book has been put down. Olive’s relationships with her grown up son Christopher and husband Henry are extremely complex as both parties feel unbalanced by her irrational sensitivities.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Elizabeth Strout is magnificent in allowing us to slip into a character’s viewpoint. She can leave us sensing something dark or life sustaining but always there is hope. There is a simple honesty that weaves itself throughout the book: that we need to try to understand people even if we don’t particularly like them. The Book Club members loved it and gave it an overall score of 9/10
Your contributions – We would love to receive a review or synopsis of a book you are reading during lockdown. Please email your contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Off The Shelf
Falling in Love (Death at La Fenice)
Falling in Love (Death at La Fenice) was this month’s book written by American author Donna Leon. Leon lived in Venice for many years and has written a series of crime novels set in and around the city, featuring her fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.
Flavia Petrelli has returned to Venice and La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca. Lately, an unknown fan has been sending copious bouquets of yellow roses to the dressing rooms of the international opera houses where Flavia has been singing. In the beginning Flavia was flattered by the thoughtfulness of the anonymous fan but now the growing number of floral tokens have become extreme and Flavia has become disturbed by the attention of what now appears to be that of a stalker.
Flavia is a family friend of detective Guido Brunetti and she tells him of her concerns. When her ex-lover is attacked, Brunetti realises that Flavia’s life could be in danger. The plot grinds on to a never-ending finale.
This was not a popular book with our members. Other than sharing the obvious love the author has for Venice and opera, the story line did not capture our hearts. It was an easy read but we thought that the plot was far-fetched and implausible. We felt obliged to finish the book rather than enjoy it. We gave the book 5/10.
We would love to receive a review or synopsis of a book you are reading during lockdown. Please email your contributions to email@example.com
Off the shelf
This month’s book was The Children Act by Ian McEwan.
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge. Decidedly intelligent, talented and highly regarded in her profession. She now regrets her decision to sacrifice motherhood and a marriage which is failing for a profession she loves.
When seventeen-year-old Adam’s urgent case comes before her in family law, her professional involvement with him becomes personal as Adam battles with a decision based on his and his parents’ religious conviction whether or not to refuse treatment that would save his life. Fiona has to decide whether the secular court should intervene.
This was a tale of morality and McEwan had put his usual research into the professional life of the main character. A few years ago the book was dramatized on television; brilliantly acted by Emma Thompson playing Fiona. Although we all thought it was a good read, some found the storyline of Fiona’s personal involvement unconvincing. We gave the book an overall score of 7.
We would love to receive a review or synopsis of a book you are reading during lockdown. Please email your contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org.