Category: Book Club

Book Club: The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone
By Richard Preston

What an incredibly gross, terrifying and amazingly interesting book we read this month!  It was made even better by a super-fun, show-n-tell book club filled with expert knowledge and hands-on experiences (and gourmet food and wine, of course!)

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is an engrossing book that traces the roots of Ebola from Africa through an outbreak outside of Washington, DC.

First published in 1994, it’s over 20 years old but it is still relevant in describing Ebola and the history of various strains and virology in general.  There are more recent events and new procedures in safety that made for very interesting discussion. Not every book club is fortunate enough to have a member and hostess who is a biosafety laboratory professional and has been the president of the international association for her industry.

But more about that later.  First, the food!

Book Club Food Ideas and Recipes for The Hot Zone

We had a lot of fun with the theme this month!  Our ladies are up for any challenge when it comes to cooking! So much deliciousness!

Our amazing hostess created an African couscous paella.  Here is the recipe from Food.com.

African couscous paella

She also made wonderful yummy monkey bread, which lead to an interesting discussion about how it got the name monkey bread.  Which led to asking the source of all knowledge …Google…

Monkey bread, also called monkey puzzle bread, sticky bread, African coffee cake, golden crown, pinch-me cake, and pluck-it cake is a soft, sweet, sticky pastry served in the United States for breakfast or as a treat. It consists of pieces of soft baked dough sprinkled with cinnamon.”

Wikipedia says, “The origin of the term “monkey bread” comes from the pastry being a finger food, the consumer would pick apart the bread as a monkey would.”  But we also heard it was because the dough looked like monkey toes.

All I know is that it is incredibly delicious!  Here’s the doughy, buttery, yummy recipe!

We had a Lentil and Fennel Dish with Ricotta and Anchovies.  The recipe is detailed at the end of the post.  It was surprisingly delicious and fresh tasting with the lemon.  I had an anchovy and I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. They’re so salty! But I hear they’re good for you. Isn’t it a fascinating shape?  Like a turtle or skeleton or some creature.

Here’s a gross looking but delicious dish.  Ebola is a string virus, shaped like a tube or noodle, so red beet noodles were perfect!  Someone said she didn’t like beets but enjoyed this.  Roasting them makes them taste less like dirt!  Here’s the recipe for Spiralized Mediterranean Beet and Feta Skillet Bake.

Other wonderful savory dishes included cheese balls with salami and a white pizza with spinach and artichoke hearts.

 

 The sweets were also wonderful. Homemade banana cream pie and monkey balls,

 

and coconut macaroons (sooo delicious) and hemorrhagic cupcakes…I’m so sorry I didn’t get a picture of the bloody, oozing cherry filling!!  Love the warning sign she put on them!

Decor for The Hot Zone Book Club

We were warned as we entered…

 

Our hostess, Melissa, created an awesome table setting that included safety suits for biological and chemical situations, Ebola and Black Plague stuffed “animals” (You can buy them at giantmicrobes.com! who knew!), Moroccan spices, blood sample shooters, “bacteria” Good n Plenties in Petri dishes and all kinds of information about biosafety.

 

 

Melissa and her lovely assistant, Mindy, gave a demonstration of how to put on a biosafety suit with HEPA filter and mask.

 

 

 

The Hot Zone: Book Club Discussion

Melissa’s father was an army veterinarian with U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and was a colleague and personal friends with Drs. Jerry and Nancy Jaax, the army veterinarian and pathologist who were key contributors to the Ebola removal operation in Reston, Virginia in 1989 and featured in The Hot Zone.  He shared some background with us and as a special treat, we connected with the Jaaxes, recently retired from working at the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University, over FaceTime from Maryland to Kansas!  

They were awesome!  They said that, though Richard Preston put a few words in people’s mouths, the details and events of the book were accurate.  The book is accessible to everyone from 4th or 5th graders to microbiologists.

The book gave the public relations and advertising the army couldn’t buy and the Jaaxes were able to give talks while they were still on active duty.  They are still “trotted out as talking heads” any time Ebola experts are needed, like the 2014 doctor and healthcare workers who returned to the U.S. from Africa with Ebola. They said there were so many people who told them they became virologists or veterinarians or biologists because of reading The Hot Zone.

They also talked about the biowarfare and weaponization of viruses and diseases programs in the U.S. and Soviet Union. President Nixon halted the very robust U.S. offensive operations but defensive programs continue.

I asked if they were scared during the operation in Reston and he said, no, “It was cool”  He really enjoyed being a part of things during that time, exploring, learning about uncharted territory!  They were discovering new things. They trusted the protocols and equipment. They said the equipment that was state of the art then is now in high schools. They took their kids to see the monkeys at their offices at USAMRIID.  Now they would be locked up for that!

Jerry Jaax received over 50 vaccinations.  Nancy joked the worst one she got was botulism because not only was the “bot shot” very painful, it made her immune to botox.

We toasted them with test tube blood sample shooters made with cranberry juice, Tito’s vodka, and Malibu rum!

 

Melissa led a continuation of the discussion. Our group has 4 lab scientists and several nurses so we had a lot of scientific knowledge in the room. Melissa told us about her career and the path that led to it. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry with a premed focus, a master’s degree in Environmental Management and an MBA, but there is no degree for what she currently does. ABSA International is creating programs.

She is in charge of the division of research safety and serves as the institutional biosafety officer for a major university medical health system. She tries to make sure everyone goes home healthy and doesn’t bring home anything that could harm their family.

Her focus is in biosafety and biosecurity. There’s a lot to that-conducting biorisk assessments; establishing written biological safety policies and procedures; developing exposure control; emergency response planning; participating on engineering project teams to build or renovate biological laboratories, high containment facilities, and animal facilities; partnering with occupational health professionals to develop and implement medical surveillance programs for personnel working with infectious agents; providing technical advice on shipping, importing and exporting biological materials; auditing biosafety and biosecurity programs; and managing regulated agents and materials. She has other staff that focuses more on the chemical and radiological hazards in the research lab.

Here’s our girl on the job!

She showed us pictures from the lab where she works and the latest in safety equipment and procedures. We talked about recent situations in the news including bird flu, MERS, and smallpox. We also talked about movies like Outbreak and Contagion.  Jerry Jaax had contrasted Hollywood’s version of how things work versus real life.  Melissa and the Jaaxes agreed that Contagion was the real experience.

This may have been the best book club ever! The book was a unanimous thumbs up for everyone. It was awesome!  It was fun and we learned a lot.  Here’s another recipe!  Happy reading!!!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Lentil and Fennel Dish with Ricotta and Anchovies

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to drizzle
Pinch of red chili flakes
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 cups green or black lentils
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
2 sprigs fresh sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads fennel, halved lengthwise
2 cups fresh ricotta
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Anchovies, if desired.

Directions

Place lentils in a heavy, medium pot with both garlic-head halves and sage. Cover lentils with 2 inches water and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Set pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer lentils until tender but still whole, about 20 minutes. If necessary, add extra water to keep lentils submerged throughout cooking. Strain lentils and season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Slice fennel into very thin slivers. If fennel is woody, sprinkle with lemon juice to soften. Season with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Place ½ cup ricotta on each plate. Season cheese with salt and arrange dressed fennel on top. Spoon lentils generously over fennel. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley and anchovies, if desired.

Book Club: The 13th Tale

Book Club Ideas for The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield from www.sweettnbooks.comThe 13th Tale 
By Diane Setterfield

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for August 2016 (originally July 2016)

The mysterious story of world-renowned, reclusive author Vida Winter, who has grown ill and needs to tell someone the story of her life. At least the version she wants told.

She chooses Margaret Lea, the daughter of a rare bookseller, to write it.  But Margaret has never read any of Vida Winter’s books and she has only written a quaint biography of a little-known author. Why has this woman chosen her when she can have anyone write her story.

As Ms. Winter tells the strange story of her family and growing up on the estate, Angelfield, I found myself drawn in along with Margaret.  These people were so strange – the beautiful Isabella, her doting father and her cruel brother, the red-headed twins who were left to their own devices to roam and live as they pleased, a ghost, a governess, strange experiments, and a fire.

Vida Winter’s story makes Margaret confront her own troubled past.

I love this photoshoot by palewinterrose inspired by the story.

And this one from Wickedmistress777.

I feel like this book may have been a little cursed.  Originally we were supposed to read this in July, but almost everyone had a conflict on our original date so I postponed it for a week, then the day before our gathering, I fell in a cycling accident and broke my wrist. I’ll spare you the beautiful X-rays and gory details.  But it was a doozy!

We finally met to discuss it in August.  It was a good book.  The writing is eloquent and elegant and so gothic and creepy and beautiful.

Here is a quote …
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

This was the first time we got a Book Club to Go kit from the library. It’s a ginormous canvas bag with10 paperback copies of the book and a discussion guide. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ruthie Henshall and Lynn Redgrave.

One of our funny ladies likes to read and float in the pool. Unfortunately, her book didn’t survive very well, at least not to the library’s standard! lol!  Our book club now owns this lovely book and we’re getting some mileage out of it!  One member who moved to California took it with her to read by the pool there!

There is also a BBC movie out starring Vanessa Redgrave, Olivia Colman, and Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones. But it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.  Boo!!

My favorite book club blog, Delicious Reads had a lot of fun with this book.  Read about their quotes quiz and cool bibliotherapy prescriptions!

Book Club Ideas: These Is My Words

Book Club Ideas for These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 from www.sweettnbooks.com

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

by Nancy Turner

Goodreads

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for September 2016

This is s a love story with a strong female protagonist set in the wild west. Our book club loved this book (most of us). It was a great book to discuss and I highly recommend it for book clubs.

We liked this book because it made us wonder what we would do in the same situation, in such a different surrounding than our own. We thought about whether we would want to be pioneer women, leading a life of adventure and terror! We loved it because it was a funny, sweet, heartbreaking and heartwarming story about love and family.

Told from the point of view of Sarah Agnes Prine over twenty years of her life from a girlhood traveling with her family on covered wagons through working a ranch in the Arizona Territories to forming her own family, it is a story of physical and emotional hardships. Life in that time was rough and short for many, especially children.

But it’s also a story of family, friendships, and love filled with humor and sweetness.

The beginning was CRAZY and confusing. You were hit with the chaos of traveling in wagons and Indian attacks and people moving around and dying before you really got to know any of the characters. I think that was a taste of what life was like as a settler in the territories back then. It certainly wasn’t quiet and routine. They were trying to survive and create a new home.

Sarah is everything. We were impressed by her general badassedness. She did everything the boys could do – and she did it better. She saved her friends from a terrible assault. She won a shootout with a bunch of grown men. She shot a rattlesnake that was inches from her tiny daughter. And the only thing that made all of this even better was that she was so modest, even a little embarrassed about all of these things. She was strong and fierce and skilled and tough and smart and resilient and sensitive and hopeful and scared and vain and real.

Sarah began unschooled and rough but she really wanted an education.  When she found an abandoned cart of books, it was a great treasure. Throughout the book strove to learn through reading. She built a shed to house and protect her treasured books. Her personal learning is reflected by the building of a school then university in town, the community’s learning institutions mirror her progression. Her language and writing improved and became more mature and educated

We set the scene with delicious settler themed victuals – chicken white chili and vegetarian chili,  jalapeno cornbread, a beautiful salad with make-your-own add-ins, trail mix, flaky apple pie, homemade apple berry cobbler, and banana bread. It was delish!

Cobbler and photo credit Sherry LaRose-Cooke.

We loved the Jack. He had a perfect blend of cockiness and gentleness. Sarah and Jack had such a strong relationship, but it didn’t change who they were as individuals. They needed each other, but they also still needed to be the people they were before they met each other. I love that Sarah took care of the ranch and her soap business by herself while Jack did his thing with the army. I appreciated that they weren’t willing to sacrifice the things that were important to them. They were fiercely in love but their relationship had its difficulties and trying circumstances.

This book made me feel the power of women. A member of an online book club I admire, The Life of Bon, said this.

“Feminism is multi-faceted. Sarah is tough and skilled like a man, and most of the men in her life treat her much like an equal. Savannah embodies more of your generally “feminine” characteristics with her mild temperament, “genteel” behavior, naturally nurturing inclinations and even dignified submissiveness. I loved both of these women. They were both strong, humble, good people, not to mention excellent mothers. Sarah wanted to emulate Savannah, thinking that she was somehow lacking what she needed to be a “real” woman and Savannah looks the same way at Sarah. She admires her strength and resiliency. She loves her so dearly, and she needs her.

There’s no “right” way to woman. Woman how you wanna woman, women! Sarah is amazing. Savannah is amazing. Even Mama with her mental illness is still pretty amazing. Women are amazing and when you see all they’ve gone through (which we usually don’t have the benefit of knowing) they are even MORE amazing.”

Now that’s a quote for you!

The author, Nancy Turner started this book as a community college fiction assignment when she was in her 40s. She decided to keep going, and These Is My Words was published in 1998.

It’s a fictional account of the life of her great-grandmother Sarah Agnes Prine, who died in Texas in the 1960s. The series was inspired by a handwritten 1920s memoir of Sarah’s brother, Henry Prine, who came to Arizona in the 1870s as a teen. I have also read the sequels, Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden and enjoyed them. When Nancy was asked if she would write more, she declined saying, once the story gets into the 1920s it would reference people who are still alive or whose children are still alive.

This was the book club where Sweet T was born! I told the group about a project for my graduate class in emerging media applications where I had to create a web site and social media about me as a brand and as a lifestyle. EEK! I want to make it about my love of reading and sharing books with others and book club. We brainstormed together and Angie burst out, “Sweet T!! You’re sweet, you’re southern, that’s it.”  And it is!  So, that’s me! My Granmama always told me to be sweet!

 

P.S. Here’s a fun Pinterest Board on the Arizona Territory from 1863 to 1912.

 

Book Club Ideas for Daring Greatly

Book Club Ideas for Daring Greatly from SweetTnBooks.comOur book club’s February book was Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

As I said in my Daring Greatly book review, “Quite simply this book helps give reasons to believe we are enough. It’s a guide for overcoming fear and living whole-heartedly. It is based on a solid foundation of research by Brown because of her own personal struggles with shame and vulnerability.”

There is so much in Daring Greatly for a book club to discuss, I feel like an hour and a half was barely enough time to scrape the surface of what we could have talked about!  We all felt like this was information we already know but it was good to have a reminder.  It was also interesting to see research backing up what we know and showing how many others feel the same way.

I think ALL the amazing ladies in our book club are already daring greatly in their lives.  From those riding hundred mile bike rides, doing triathlons, to some who walk or are just starting to run, we all are leading active and healthy lives.  Our girls don’t just step out of comfort zones, they barrel heart-first.  One competed in fitness contest for the first time over age 50 – wearing a bikini onstage in front of hundreds of people!!  And rocking it! And she keeps doing it!

Our gals are starting businesses and have amazing careers, are earning new college degrees, and traveling the world while caring for family and reaching out to those in need. Whole-hearted for sure and not scared of change and opportunity!

We talked about our incredible support groups and what Brené calls “stretchmark friends, those where “our connection has been stretched and pulled so much that it’s become a part of who we are, a second skin, and there are a few scars to prove it.”  or those who have seen our stretch-marks and don’t judge us for them.  I.e.  they know we’re dorks and we know they are, too!!

For this book club, some of my ideas were from the amazing Delicious Reads Book Club.  They always have interesting and creative ideas for book club food, decor, and parties.  Some of their ideas I straight up stole, some inspired me to do something else and one I meant to steal but left at work.  Ding dong! That was the sign for the front door.  Here is what was supposed to greet the ladies as they came in from the cold.  The beautiful quote from Teddy Roosevelt that inspired the title, Daring Greatly.  And a little invocation!

Before we met, I told everyone to bring an item of food that they loved. I said, “It can be anything. There is no shame involved. If you love a fountain drink Dr. Pepper from the gas station, then bring it. Brussels sprouts? Potato chips? No food or drink is a wrong choice. And it doesn’t have calories for this night! Be YOU and bring what you love. If we all end up bringing chocolate, well, we will have a lot of what we love! And we’ll be happy and hyper!”

Food for our Daring Greatly Book Club

I went to Wegman’s and got sushi because I love sushi, and a family sized side of roasted butternut squash with onions, cranberries and spinach – delicious! I was pinched for time and wanted some to have for leftovers so I bought it premade but it’s easy to make. I’ve made it from scratch before. Here’s the recipe. Wegmans is starting to win me over, especially as I go more organic. Thier convenience foods are just so much healthier.  And their cut up and spiralized veggies aren’t much more expensive.  I

Wegmans is so large and has so many choices, it overwhelms me but it’s starting to win me over, especially as I go more organic. Thier convenience foods are just so much healthier.  And their cut up and spiralized veggies aren’t much more expensive.  I swear, the key to healthy eating is chopping, cutting, slicing, and chopping some more.  Soooo much chopping!!

Wegman's butternut squash

I also made cream cheese and pepper jelly but I made it a little different this time.  Usually I take a block of cream cheese and dump the pepper jelly on top. It’s really pretty like this example from Sometimes Martha, Always Mary.  But this time I mixed it together.  I saw it on Delicious Reads and had never done it that way before. It was good too!  It really is one of my favorite things.  It may not be particularly Southern, but I claim it as one of my Granmama’s Southern delicacies!

 

We handmade chocolates from our local Bomboy Candy in Havre de Grace!!  YUM!

 

We had Oatmeal peanut butter protein balls, trail mix, assorted cheeses with grapes and pears, veggies with an assortment of delicious dips.  We also had Gail’s quick but delicious and fascinating pringles shaped chocolates, covered with blue cheese and honey.  Try it, it’s incredible.

And what’s book club without wine!  I loved these from Middle Sister because they have such fun labels!  The Rebel Red says, “If anyone tells you they don’t like red wine, sto talking to them.  You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.”  The Drama Queen pinot grigio says, “I just rescued some wine, it was trapped in a bottle.” I love to shop for wine that complements the book we are reading.

And these napkins are fun, too!

There are many book club resources that provide reading guides and discussion questions for Daring Greatly starting with the multitude of materials on Brenebrown.com.

The Live Happier Book Club has a great set of Daring Greatly book club questions to ponder.

We always have quotes as part of book club and since this was basically a book filled with quotes, that was what triggered most of our conversation.  Each of us picked a quote or two that resonated, read it, and talked about what it meant to her.  That sparked a lot of conversation!  We are very good at that!  Here are more quotes from Daring Greatly.

I don’t think everyone loved this book as much as I did. More thumbs were sideways than completely thumbs up, but we had a great time discussing it! Our book club won’t be reading a lot of self-help books in the future but this was an interesting departure. I recommend it! Happy Reading!  Happy Living, y’all!

P.S.  In case you missed my review of Daring Greatly, here it is.

 

The Night Circus Book Club Ideas

The Night Circus Book Club Ideas from sweettnbooks.com

 Book Club Recipes

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was an inspiring book for book club!  Our lovely hostess, Angela, was amazing. The whimsical food and decor were so much fun! Of course, everyone dressed in the Reveur’s black and white with a splash of red! The food was inspired by the circus concessions and the black and white and red theme.  We had caramel corn and chocolate covered popcorn, black and white cookies, brownies with icing, apples with salted caramel dip and the highlight of the night, Heather’s homemade chocolate mice!!!  Squeeee!!!  She made them with Hershey’s kisses, cherries and almond slivers for ears!

Note to authors, when you write a book, include something unique and fun like chocolate mice in your story so readers can squeal in delight when someone brings them to book club! You can special order them from L. A. Burdick’s Gourmet but I like Heather’s better!  I spent way too much time looking at #chocolatemice on Instagram.  Click on that link if you have a little time to kill….a lot of time to kill?  There are a couple of entertaining mouse fails (really disturbing!) and a hilarious derp mouse with big ol’ crazy eyes! So funny!

There were also delicious pulled pork sandwiches with two kinds of cole slaw, kale and brussels sprouts salad with bacon and pecorino (here’s the recipe),  a center ring of brie and french bread, veggies and dip, cookies, guacamole, an herb and cheese baked bread amazement, and sauteed beet noodles with goat cheese and cranberries – for the touch of red!

Magic Tricks

Our hostess’s ten-year-old son performed magic tricks for us with assistance from Bebe, the dog (though I failed miserably at catching them on video!)

Quotes

Another of our book club rituals is Quotes!  Each person selects a quote (or two) from the book and attaches it to her wine glass.  Near the end of our discussion, we read them, and talk about what it means to us or why it was important in the book. I usually prepare them by going to the quotes section for a book on GoodReads.com.

Here are a few quotes from The Night Circus

Wine is bottled poetry, he thinks.”

 

The past stays on you the way powdered sugar stays on your fingers. Some people can get rid of it but it’s still there, the events and things that pushed you to where you are now.”

What a fun book club discussion!

I got a Book Clubs to Go kit from our Harford County Public Library.  It’s a set of ten paperback books and discussion guide in a canvas bag. The library also had it on audiobook apps and a Playaway device.  (Here’s my post on free audiobook apps, in case you missed it.) When I returned the Book Clubs To Go bag to the library, the canvas bag had a little wine stain on it.  Whoops!  Maybe every book club should add a different vintage of wine to give it book club authenticity and flavor!

Thumbs

The Night Circus was a great book for Sweet T’s ladies to talk about. Although I loved it and four others loved it, the feeling wasn’t universal. We have a book club ritual of giving the book thumbs up or thumbs down.  The majority of the thumbs were at 3 pm!  It made for great book club discussion, though. Sometimes when everyone loves a book, there’s a lot less to talk about. It’s more like, “Oh, I loved it.” “Yes! I loved it, too!” “You want more wine?”

Everyone agreed that the writing was magnificent, Erin Morgenstern captures moments with rich writing and amazing imagery. You feel like you’re there, breathing the air, smelling the scents, living in that world. And what an amazing, wondrous world! Wow!  It’s a circus that’s more like cirque de soleil than Ringling Brothers.  There are not elephant smells and philosophical animal cruelty questions to ponder.  But there are mysteries behind the scenes.  Mysteries and wonder and magic!

We talked about all the tents and which one we would most want to visit.  I think the Ice Garden and Widget’s scented jars of memory were the most popular. I found the cutest little light up trees at Michael’s to make our own wishing tree!

The Author

Erin Morgenstern is a painter and visual artist as well as a writer, that’s why the writing style is so visual. She studied studio art and theater at Smith College in Massachusetts. She wrote the book as part of three NaNoWriMos – National Novel Writing Month in November. NaNoWriMo is an annual writing contest where participants write 50,000 words in a month. Almost all of the 100,000 words written in Morgenstern’s first two years were rewritten. The first drafts didn’t even include Celia. It was more about the descriptions than a plot.

That makes sense to me because the plot does sometimes seem like an afterthought to the confection that is the circus and the characters. Though I found the story of the young enchanters’ challenge fascinating but slower to develop.  Some of our group didn’t feel like there was much of a plot at all.  But another said the author did a good job of building the characters as pawns in the game

Jen described it was a mix between Romeo and Juliet and X Men’s secret society!  We were not sure what genre to classify it as – fantasy? romance? mystery? literary?

I read the book twice, actually, I listened to the audiobook twice.  I read it last year and wanted to brush up on the finer details.  And quite, frankly, it’s a book that definitely gives you more the second time around (though Elizabeth wouldn’t agree).

My ears were buzzing that night because I listened to the audiobook on the Playaway device with headphones all day long –  literally all day long. I went to the grocery store listening to it. I was at work listening to it. I went to the bathroom listening to it. I fixed lunch listening to it. I ate lunch listening to it. Driving home listening to it, with probably, probably, 15 minutes to go, the battery died. OMG!!!

OMG!! If I hadn’t read it already and if I hadn’t read a synopsis online and prepared the questions I would be so mad.  Actually I was mad.  Fortunately the library was on the way home and I rushed in gasping, “Help me!  I’ve got 15 minutes and book club is in 2 hours and it’s dead!”  The librarian was such a dear, he said, “That’s why we’re here, to heal the books so don’t worry!”  He reached into a drawer and pulled out new batteries (I didn’t realize they ran on AAA’s – der.)  So yay Mr. Librarian! And Thank you!

The Night Circus Discussion Questions

I prepared discussion questions from the publisher’s web site, other book groups online, and my own little head.  Here are some of my favorite questions and some of our (mostly my) thoughts on them.

  1. Who are your favorite characters?
  2. What are your favorite parts of the circus? What tent would you most want to visit?How many tents can you name?
  3. Marco asserts that Alexander H. is a father figure to him (though his paternal instincts aren’t readily noticeable). In what ways does Alexander provide for Marco and in what ways has he failed him? Hector Bowen IS Celia’s father. What do you think of his fatherly prowess and shortcomings?
    1. We felt like Alexander was at least up front with Marco.  He never misrepresented himself.  When Marco asked, “What’s my name. ” He said it doesn’t matter.   And at the end, he seemed more fond of Marco and of the circus in general. He felt more human. Hector Bowen was abusive, self-centered, and obsessive, as it showed in his disappearing himself.
  4. What are the differences between Marco and Celia? Between Marco’s magic and Celia’s magic?
    1. Celia makes true transformations. Marco creates illusions that exist only in the mind of the beholder. Celia has innate talent where Marco has learned skill. Celia is on the inside of the circus, Marco is outside, in London.
  5. Listen to this quote and think about how it applies to both the circus and the competition?“Chandresh relishes reactions. Genuine reactions, not mere polite applause. He often values the reactions over the show itself. A show without an audience is nothing, after all. In the response of the audience, that is where the power of performance lives.” Which audience is more valuable: one that is complicit or one that is unknowing?
  6. Celia emphasizes that keeping the circus controlled is a matter of “balance.” And Marco suggests that the competition is not a chess game, but rather, a balancing of scales. However, both the circus and the competition get disordered at times—leaving both physical and emotional casualties in their wake. Is the circus ever really in “balance,” or is it a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the next?
  7. What do you think of the competition? Do you think it’s fair that they didn’t know the rules? Being bound to it as children?
  8. What do you think of Friedrick Thiessen? He says he thinks of himself “not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to the circus.” He is a voice for those unable to attend the circus and suggests that the circus is bigger than itself. What role do the reveurs play in keeping the spirit of the circus alive outside of the confines of the circus tents?
  9. Is it feasible for the rêveurs to be so obsessed with the circus that they’d define their lives by it? What kinds of groups are there like that? Have you ever been part of a group like that?
    1. We came up with real-life groups of people who are the same: Trekies, Groupies, Whovians, Rennies, Parrot heads, Deadheads, Cyclists.
  10. From the outside, the circus is full of enchantments and delights, but behind the scenes, the delicate push and pull of the competition results in some sinister events: i.e. Tara Burgess and Friedrick Thiessen’s deaths. How much is the competition at fault for these losses and how much is it the individual’s doing?
  11. How do you view the morality of the circus in regards to the performers and developers being unknowing pawns in Celia and Marco’s competition? Do Celia and Marco owe an explanation to their peers about their unwitting involvement? Discuss themes of good and evil. Free will versus being “bound” Why do you think some people, like Mr. Barris, don’t mind being trapped by the circus while it drives others, like Tara Burgess, mad?
  12. Isobel is a silent, yet integral, partner in both the circus and the competition. She has an ally in Tsukiko, but seemingly no one else, especially not Marco. How much does Marco’s underestimation of Isobel affect the outcome of the competition? Was she good? Bad?  A victim?  A perpetrator?
    1. I think she finally understood it in the end.  How many young people think they’re in love when they’re not. I certainly did.  Or really, they may be in love but it’s more of an infatuation than true lasting commitment.  I don’t like to belittle anyone’s feelings.
  13. Tsukiko is aware of Isobel’s “tempering of the circus” from the outset and when Isobel worries that it is having no effect, Tsukiko suggests: “perhaps it is controlling the chaos within more than the chaos without.” What, and whose, chaos is Tsukiko alluding to here?
  14. Were you surprised at Tsukiko’s identity?
  15. What did you think of the ending?
    1. I really don’t think you can say it was a predictable story.

 Want more ideas for your The Night Circus themed book club party?

Check out my Pinterest board and some of my blogger friends.

Check out this beautiful table setting for a midnight dinner party from Home is Where the Boat Is.

The Night Circus

I think Delicious Reads always has the most spectacular book club ideas!

Vacuuming in high heels and pearls had some great ideas too!

The Circus Setting

Here’s a list the circus tents and acts in The Night Circus.

Tents

The Ticket Booth
The Elaborate Iron Gate: Opens at nightfall. Closes at dawn. Trespassers will be exanguinated.
The Tunnel: Directly beyond the ticket booth and the only public entrance to the circle. A black and white, twisting tunnel with black velvet curtains either end.
The Central Cauldron: contains a white, constantly burning fire. This is also the source of the spell that binds the performers and Marco to the circus and protects them.
Friedrick Thiessen’s Clock
The Menagerie
The Carousel
The Hanged Man Acrobatic Display
The Illusionist’s Tent: Celia’s tent
The Wishing Tree
The Fortune Teller: Isobel’s tent
The Labyrinth: Marco and Celia’s collaborative work
The Ice Garden
The Stargazer: A slow roller-coaster allowing visitors to look up at the stars
The Cloud Maze
The Scented Jars: Widget’s tent
The Drawing Room: a tent surrounded by blackboards and with buckets of chalk provided for guests to draw
Creatures of Mist and Paper: an exhibit of animated paper creatures inside a misty tent
The Pool of Tears: a silent pool of water surrounded by black stones, which visitors can toss into the pool.
The Hall of Mirrors: contains small individual mirrors which are not full-length, some of which show reflections of people who are not there, and finishes with a gaslight surrounded by mirrors
The Fire Tent: Includes a fire eater, fire stick twirler, and a fire sculptor who turns fire into shapes.

Freestanding Circus Acts

The Kittens: Poppet and Widget’s performance of somersaulting kittens
The Juggler
The Sword Dancers
The Contortionist: Tsukiko’s performance
The Living Statues: The Empress of the Night, the Black Pirate, the Lovers, the Paramour, and the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen bears an unnamed memorial, actually to Tara Burgess

Concessions

Cocoa, optionally with spice or cream topping
Popcorn, optionally with caramel or chocolate topping
Caramel apples
Sugar flowers
Cider and eiswein and tea, in the Drinkery tent
“Delicious little cinnamon things”. Cinnamon twists with icing
Chocolate mice with almond ears and licorice tails
Chocolate bats with delicate wings
Dumplings
Edible paper with illustrations matching the flavors
and that was just in the circus, it doesn’t cover the midnight dinners!

You’re still reading!?

WOW!!  Thank you!  I’m very flattered. I hope you enjoy this book and book club ideas. Did your book club do something interesting?  I want to know!  Send me an email or connect with me on social media and tell me what you did!  Here’s me, with my clipboard, leading the discussion, talking and drinking, drinking and talking.  I always seem to be a little tipsy when they take these pictures of me and my big ol’ smile!  Happy Reading!  Tarah

December Book Club: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

3-4-bookthief-collage

Our December book club was wonderful!  The book was great!  We didn’t really do any recipes or menu based on the book this month but everyone brought cookies to share in addition to the deliciousness of minestrone soup, butternut squash with cranberries, artichoke dip, meat and cheese antipasti, cream cheese pinwheels, cheese and crackers and, wine, of course.

 

cookieswine

and we had a Wilson’s Farm Market Fruits of the Forest Pie.  (Do you think we could get them to sponsor book club?  Maybe throw in a pie each month! Haha)

wilsonswilsons2
wilsons3

Most of us finished the book or at least watched the movie though it was agreed that, “THE MOVIE DOES NOT COUNT!” The movie was good and it was a good representation, it just left out a whole whole lot.

Almost all of us gave it a big thumbs up.  There were two almost up and one sideways.  I still don’t quite understand why they didn’t like it.  Something about it starting slowly, dragging and lacking an actual story.  I’ll let them explain because…

I loved this book.  I listened to the audiobook and just loved Allan Corduner’s rich voice. I thought it was perfect for the sarcasm and dry humor, it reminded me of Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Severus Snape. I think I need to watch all the Harry Potter movies over Christmas break.  2017 may be the year I reread all the books.

I got lost in it. I loved the story and the characters and, oh, I loved the words, the beautiful lilting words, the richness of them, the imagery, the loudness of them and the quiet.

Unfortunately, one of the girls found the audiobook too much like the Frankenstein narrator and that ruined it for her! Dangit!  She watched the movie, though, and liked that.  Her other excuse is that she just finished reading The Help so no matter what she read afterward, it was bound to be a disappointment.  I call that #nextbookdepression.  I’m currently going through that a little myself.

We loved Hans Hubermann.  We adored him because he is the kindest papa. And in a different way, we loved Rosa Hubermann for her gusto and perseverance. We all know someone like Rosa. Someone who is gruff and curses and calls her loved ones terrible names. We really liked the character, Ilsa Herman, too.

Some didn’t like that death was personified.  I think it was a wonderful way to narrate this story and spread a bleak tone to the whole period of time. Death, whether a person or not, hung over the people of Europe during WWII.  It was a constant fear, making it the one who told the whole tale from the first death to the last wrapped it all in a darkness that allowed Liesel’s hope to shine through more brilliantly.

There are many stories that personify death.  Meet Joe Black, the movie with Brad Pitt that was based on an earlier movie, Death Takes a Holiday.

meetjoeblack deathtakesaholidayposter

I’ve read a few books with Death as a character.  A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore is a hilarious piece of satire.  Years ago, in college I read a whole series by Piers Anthony where Death, Time, Fate and Nature were characters.  The first was On a Pale Horse where the main character accidentally kills death and has to take over his job of measuring souls for good and evil and sending them to heaven or hell.  He rides a pale horse that can take on the forms of a car, plane or boat. I don’t remember much but I remember really enjoying it.

dirty-job  images

Here’s a list of other books on Goodreads with Death as a character

It is ironic and interesting that Death, exhausted and overworked, is “haunted” by humans.  That he can’t reconcile humanity’s capacity for evil with its capacity for good.

Marcus Zusak was born in Sydney, Australia to an Austrian father and a German mother, both of whom experienced World War II firsthand in their native countries. Zusak has said that The Book Thief was unlike anything he had written before and largely inspired by stories his parents told him as a child about wartime Munich and Vienna. He singled out two stories his mother told him, one of the bombing of Munich, and one of Jews being marched through his mother’s town on their way to the Dachau concentration camp.

His mother told of “Jewish people were being marched to Dachau, the concentration camp. At the back of the line, there was an old man, totally emaciated, who couldn’t keep up. When a teenage boy saw this, he ran inside and brought the man a piece of bread. The man fell to his knees and kissed the boy’s ankles and thanked him . . . Soon, a soldier noticed and walked over. He tore the bread from the man’s hands and whipped him for taking it. Then he chased the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. In one moment, there was great kindness and great cruelty, and I saw it as the perfect story of how humans are.”

As Death said, “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”

Or

“So much good, so much evil. Just add water. “

I loved this book.

“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.”

My rating 5 out of 5 stars (and introducing the *new* *pink star* ratings!)

pink-starpink-starpink-starpink-starpink-star

Coming soon!  All about our annual Dirty Santa Book Exchange!

November Book Club: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

3-3-ove-collage

Book club means laughing.  Celebrating two years of our very own book club multiplies laughing exponentially!  Especially when we vote on our favorite book selections from the year and add silliness like the #mannequinchallenge!  They’re lucky this fad will pass by December or I would video every month!!

Because our book, A Man Called Ove, is Swedish, I made a special trip to Ikea for Swedish meatballs. I thought they were pretty good, though they didn’t turn out like I thought they would. There was a LOT of sauce with a LOT of sour cream. That happens a lot when I cook, it’s just not quite what I had in my head. I think I’ve gotten past where I was a few years ago, though.  That was when every time I turned on the oven, I burned myself, burned the food and set off the smoke alarm.  It was telling when the friend who got there early to help me out, looked at the meatballs I had pulled out of the oven to cool and said, “you know they’re cold, right?”  Thank goodness for microwaves.

I love the IDEA of cooking, it’s the execution that gets me a little sweaty.  I mean… it gets me glisteny. Granmama says Southern ladies don’t sweat they glisten! (not sure if Southern ladies do hot yoga or run too much, but anyway.)  I so admire those who can cook a and I want to be one of those bloggers who makes these wonderful, beautiful, easy, cheap, delicious, fast meals for their whole family from vegetables I grew myself and locally raised animals.  But I’m not quite that girl (yet). So I try to make one little special something that’s not too hard for book club and invite my amazing gourmet chef friends who bring these delicious treats they’ve made from the abundance of healthy things they’ve grown in their back yards! Or purchased from the most amazing Farmer’s Market with the best pies! Or they go to the food paradise known as Weigman’s.  I’m intimidated by Weigman’s.  It makes me glisten.

3-3-ikea2(Did you know Ikea has an emoticon app with Swedish meatballs?  Amazing what you can learn when looking for a picture for your blog!)

So like our book, the Swedish meatballs were Swedish and they weren’t too bad. We also had Swedish cheese, and Swedish fish.  I’m also clever enough to have invited my Swedish friend and she made a real contribution with Jansson’s Frestelse (translated as Jansson’s temptation), a creamy potato and onion dish with a tiny hint of anchovies.  It was yummy! I’m not sure of her recipe but this recipe from cutie Anna at Door Sixteen (she designs book covers) is similar.

janssons-frestelse

There was also a wonderful salad, pumpkin dip, apple cranberry pie from Wilson’s Farm Market, a delicious apple, walnut feta salad, homemade pepper jelly with cream cheese, a tiny little chocolate cake…  We should have taken a “before” picture, all that was left was crumbs! I could go on and on about the food….

crumbs

So this month’s book was loved by most though there were a few who thought it was just ok.  Sure it’s a story that’s been told before.  A grumpy old man, depressed and feeling like his life has no meaning is rescued by a family of sorts. I loved the characters and their connections to each other. I enjoyed learning about Ove’s past as it unfolded in relation to present day events.  It emphasized that you never know what other people are going through or have been through.  A little kindness can be bigger than you know.

Ove likes good tools and well-built things.  Everything should have a purpose and be useful.  He has a hard time when he no longer knows his own purpose.  Sometimes as people age or lose someone close to them or something prevents us from doing something the way we used to – an accident or injury, the whole world is different. It’s frustrating to know one’s place in the world.  Things don’t make sense the way it used to.

Ove sees the world in black and white.  There are rules that should be followed.  He has daily rituals he dogmatically follows. I wondered if there was a touch of Asberger’s or obsessive compulsive disorder or if his behavior was a result of the hardship he faced growing up. I think it’s some of both. If we don’t have a congenital mental illness, we all have times in life where we deal with emotional disorder or mental fatigue.  We all have touches of neurosis.

We talked about fathers, and grandfathers and grumpy old men we knew. Both of my Grandaddys were quiet, sometimes ornery fellas with a special place in their hearts for a sweet oldest grandaughter. I also saw some of Ove in myself.  I’m mostly a rule-follower.  I mostly think there is a correct way things should be done.  I get really frustrated when people don’t do what they’re supposed to. I think most of us are loyol to our world view, whether it’s thinking the idiot in front of us should speed up and drive faster or that crazy lunatic should slow down in the neighborhood because someone could get hurt.

This book gave us other perspectives, too, through the supporting characters.  It didn’t seem anything in the world could upset the lanky one – Patrick. It’s good to have a few of those people in your life, though sometimes it’s frustrating when nothing rattles them! I loved how the whole group of neighbors were connected and worked together to help each other.

Parveneh seemed like such real person, she laughed, she got annoyed, she pushed Ove’s buttons, she was kind, she argued with her husband, she barged right into life whether there was a mailbox or a closed door in the way or not.

Someone talked about being annoyed with her at the beginning.  I wanted to talk more about that but the conversation went down another path and didn’t come back. I wish we had come back to that topic but I love the way book discussions jump from one topic to another. We’ll never cover everything because books are like life. The stories grab each of us by our own experiences and none of these are the same.  That’s why sharing it together makes it so much better.

I have some very dear friends who are like Parveneh; they are often loud and rude and demanding but they make you food without you asking and they love you with all their hearts and I love them back, fiercely.

There was a quote in the book I loved, “You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away.” I think this was referring to Ove’s wife Sonja. But I saw Parveneh as that ray of light.  Her whole family were sunbeams but she, as most mothers are, was the catalyst, the connector.  She opened the window to let the light in.  I now have this quote on my desk with my own addition – be that ray of light.

ove-quote

It seems like I’ve read a lot of books about older people this year: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (also Scandanavian), The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, My Grandmother Wanted to Tell You She’s Sorry (also by Backman), At Home in Mitford, Etta and Otto and Russell and James,  Perhaps they’re not always grumpy but definitely have a sense of being out of touch in some aspects and so incredibly in tune in other ways. In fact, I didn’t write this blog post by HPB Blog but I could have: If You Liked A Man Called Ove, You Might Also Like… I’ve read 5 of the 11 and liked them all.

I adored the relationship Ove developed with the mangy cat, a kindred curmudgeonly spirit. Fredrick Backman had a fun sense of humor and the translator nailed it. Backman is a blogger and has said this novel grew out of a blog he wrote. The character was based partly on him, partly his father.  There is a movie with English subtitles currently playing in a few theaters around the country. It’s in Annapolis this weekend if you’re local!  You can buy it on Amazon.

3-3

Happy Reading! Here’s me enjoying some chocolate cake and wine after everyone left…

me

P.S. Don’t you just love the photos at the top!  They are from A Latte for Thought, a blog about “books, food, coffee, coffee,and coffee.” I love her review of Ove!

2014-15 Book Club Picks

Our First Year of Books

The Light Between Oceans by     The Jane Austen Book Club by     Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by    The Kitchen House by

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by     Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by     The Paris Wife by     A Moveable Feast by

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1) by     Paper Towns by     The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by     Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by

Our first year of book club was so amazing!  There were winners and losers but mostly winners.  We had such a good time reading and discussing and eating and laughing.  There was a lot of laughing!  Have you read any of these?  What do you think?  Look for more detailed reviews of some of these in the future.

up September The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
What a great first book for our group.  It was emotionally wrenching and thought provoking.  We had great discussions.  Can’t wait to see the movie.

down October The Jane Austin Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
This was such a disappointment.  We think Jane Austin would be underwhelmed. 

unimpressed

up November Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes
Another emotional sob-fest. Another movie we can’t wait to see.

up December The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Boyoboy we had emotional covered in our first few months.

up January The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg always makes me laugh. Fun and interesting characters – this is where we christened one of our own members Winged Victory.  We also learned about the WASPS, the gritty women aviators in WWII and the lives of women during the war.

up February Wild by Cheryl Strayed
While we had mixed feelings about Cheryl Strayed but our discussions about her life-changing trek on the Pacific Crest Trail were great.  This is a great selection for book clubs. The book was better than the move (duh).

down March The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
As a group many had a hard time stomaching Hadley Richardson Hemingways’s lack of standing up to Ernest. A few people appreciated her character for her time in history.  Some also felt like it was more of a timeline of her life than an emotionally deep narrative.

down April A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
We read this as a companion to The Paris Wife.  Our group really doesn’t have much of an appreciation for Hemingway’s bullish machismo.

up May The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
We loved this quirky autistic Sheldon Cooperish character and his adventures in finding love.

meh June Paper Towns by John Green
Let me introduce you to the meh thumb.  Yes, no we didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.  There are a lot better John Greens.  The movie was terrible.

up July The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
What a wonderful book. Yes, it was made for book clubs with all its references to great books but at its heart it is a heartwarming story of love and family.

up down meh August Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
There was love. There was hate.  There was confusion.  There was meh. Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess has a strong voice and a strange life.  It made sense for some of our ladies and not for others. Lots of taxidermy.

small-bloggess-mouse-by-le-heart