Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

Our January meeting had a dozen of us discussing this historical fiction of a program the United States Government started shortly after WWI called "Gold Star Mothers pilgrimage."  One person stated they thought the book was going to be dry, not very interesting, but the novel immediately had brought me in.  Another said they got caught up in it, read it really fast and really enjoyed it.  One member said it brought out racism, how it was for women back then, the discrimination. Ten members loved the book, one liked it and one was neutral in their view.

Our leader for the book, choose this because she was downloading the library media program and choose a book right away on the list, A Star for Mrs. Blake.  She said "I wouldn't have read it, but by serendipity it served well and was a good book."  We all agreed.

We talked about the time that these women went.  Here many were suffering the effects of the depression and they are now in a fancy hotel and with food that is above anything they would have back home.  We talked about that when their soldier sons died, these women had been asked if they would like to bring their sons home.  Many probably couldn't afford the burial.

The storyline involves women who were diverse, including their age difference, some were immigrants, they were of different faith and some had more money than others.  One woman in the group in the beginning was, Selma, a Black seamstress.  We learned in the story about the segregation back then and a few of us mentioned we missed hearing more about Selma.

Someone in the group mentioned this from the book "Doesn't matter who you are, Black, White, Jewish, Catholic -- doesn't mater -- we are all going to die." {I couldn't find it in the book, but if someone from our group knows where it is they could post it in the comments.}  They were in this mission to find out about where their sons died and where they were buried.

We are introduced to many characters in the story, Linwood, Hammond, Lily, Perkins, Griffin Reed besides the ladies on their pilgrimage.  We talked about the secrets that many carried through out the story:  Cora -- her son's father; Bobbie's -- heart condition; Griffin -- his mask; Katie -- shameful about not being able to afford bringing both sons home; Lily -- the kiss Perkins gave her; Hammond -- his path chosen but did he really want to be in the military?  We talked about the characters and what happened at the end of the novel.
Cora was a great character in the story and we talked about her experience with many characters in the book.  Will she go back to Linwood?  Does she know that Griffin doesn't make it back to the States?  What will her life be like with her grandson?  Faith was a part of this story.  We saw faith by the military in taking meticulous care of their soldiers (even the women on the pilgrimages).  Faith in humanity, the people cared for the fallen soldiers graves.  And finally, faith in the shared experiences, a bond, even though there were many differences.

The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

More treats in December!  A member hosted our evening discussion and we all brought an appetizer to share and even, a book to pass along if we wanted.

We had a great discussion by an author who is well-published, 100 books to his name our discussion leader has shared.  There are 15 books to this series (16 counting a different version of the #1 book).

The series takes place in the country of Botswana, just above South Africa. The main character in the story is Mma Ramotswe, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.  Most liked the book and we had quite a good discussion with it.  One person said they liked the "respecting elders and good manners" that are a part of this book, but imagine part of Botswana, and they liked that women aren't oppressed by their husbands.  Mr. JLB was a kind man and represents the men well in Botswana.  He had high ethical standards in his business.

We liked how they often had 'Bush Tea' and even in the hot summer days they sat under a tree and had hot tea, considered it to be a pleasantry offered to guests.  We liked this, and someone said it is like time to relax, to just talk.  Life is slow and simple and enjoyable there someone shared.  "It wouldn't fit in New York."  Someone said that the community is "so generous, so straightforward, they take care of each other.  Don't have all the drama."  Another member stated they enjoyed reading the book because it was this way, it was a great place to "get away."  Someone said they also liked the simplicity of the book, they felt like they were in the country, listening to them speak (which is how the author wrote the book).  Another said they liked how simple life was.

We liked the characters in the book and how Mma Ramotswe was influenced by her past, by her father.   A member shared this line from the book and we nodded in agreement.  “We find what we are looking for in life, her father had once said to her, which was true--if you look for happiness, you will see it; if you look for distrust and envy and hatred--all those things--you will find those too.”
Alexander McCall Smith, The Full Cupboard of Life