Simply Books! February Meeting

Here’s a list of the books that we shared at our February Simply Books! meeting of the library’s adult book club!

“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver–this is the best book the reader has ever read. It’s one that really sticks with you.  It’s about a family of missionaries in Africa, and the story is told from each of their five perspectives. The description of Africa is so
rich that it doesn’t feel like fiction. The character voices are all wonderful, each one unique. It also makes for an interesting tragedy for the very religious character who, after conflicts, doesn’t really learn anything.

“Jade Dragon Mountain” by Elsa Hart–this is the first book in the Li Du mystery series (The White Mirror is the second). Set in18th century China, the story follows a librarian who’s been exiled from the Forbidden City, and ends up in a small town near Tibet, where a Jesuit astronomer mysteriously dies. There’s a fantastic sense of place, and the richness of the scenery and of the love and respect for scholarship in the culture really come through. It’s a very interesting time in Chinese history to read about, with the East India Company beginning to take over.

“Crime and Poetry” by Amanda Flower–the first in the Magical Bookshop series, this book is a very promising start. It’s well-written and very readable. The story is about Violet, who assists her ailing grandmother in her bookshop. Soon there’s a death that ties into an Emily Dickinson poem, and Violet has to solve the mystery. It’s a nice cozy mystery that blends a mystery with books and cats–a classic combination.

“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls–this memoir belongs on any list of books about people triumphing over the obstacles in their lives. Walls writes about her childhood, growing up with two parents who are likely mentally ill. They supported Walls and her siblings in intellectual ways, but let things like food and shelter slide. It’s not particularly well-written, but it is inspiring and compelling.

“Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson–this novel is a good young adult/adult crossover, about two girls battling eating disorders. Lia and Cassie are friends who are in a battle to see who can be the skinniest. Eventually Cassie passes away, and Lia feels guilty about her death. But Lia is still coping with her disorder, and the story describes her struggles and experience in a way that feels a lot more real and better than other similar stories. It’s very poetic and powerful, if a bit too swift and positive an ending.

“Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow–this novel is loosely based on the story of the Collyer brothers, two recluses in New York City in the 1940’s. In this book, Homer lives with his brother in their decaying brownstone, describing the trajectory their lives have taken and how they ended up where they are. The writing has an elegance to it, and Homer gives off the vibe of not being altogether quite “right.” It’s certainly an affecting story, particularly knowing the true story that inspired it.

“There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil
Rights” by Jason Sokel–historian Sokel examines the lives of middle and working-class whites in the south during the Civil Rights era.  The book explores how these white people dealt with the changes in their society, from resistance to acceptance and many other feelings in between. The issues discussed in the book really feed into issues
of today.

“Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrmann–Fuhrmann is a regular on PBS, and he’s published a couple of books outlining his thoughts on how focusing diet on greens, fruits, and grains can make an enormous difference to health. He also talks a lot about processed foods and how bad they are for us, and how the food industry keeps pushing them.

“The Elephant Keeper” by Christopher Nicholson–this historical novel is set in the 18th century, on a grand estate. The main character is a young man who serves as the elephant keeper on the estate, and his deep relationship with the elephant he takes care of. It’s a fascinating, slow burn kind of story.

“Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality” by Pauline
Chen–this memoir relates how Chen, a surgeon, came to the realization that surgeons should work more closely with and support their patients during end of life care. Surgeons generally disconnect themselves from end of life decisions, and it comes from a desire to save lives rather than deal with the end of them. While she didn’t really present her thesis very well, it’s still an interesting reflection to read about.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen–this novel is about the Vietnam war, including characters from South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and an American. It’s intriguing, a little bit of a spy novel, and a bit visceral about the horrors of war. It’s very plot driven, and the
characters generate interest but not a lot of sympathy. But the phrasing is great, with wonderful imagery and a real way with language.

“Stranger from the Sea” by Winston Graham–this is the eighth book in the Poldark series, and it’s just as engaging with just as good a sense of history and place as the others. In this installment, it’s 1810 and Poldark is in his fifties with nearly grown children. While
most of the story focuses on the children, the grander backdrop is the ongoing war against Napoleon.

“Maine’s Favorite Birds” by Jeffrey and Allison Wells–a must-have for birders when the birds come back to the feeders this time of year!  Includes the common birds seen in Maine, and accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Evan Barbour. Beautiful and easy to use.

“A Painted House” by John Grisham–this novel is unlike Grisham’s other books. it deals with cotton farmers in the Arkansas delta, and it’s very enjoyable. Much better than his law books!

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed–this memoir is about how the author hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo after some tough personal losses. It’s easy to admire her even if you’re not particularly outdoorsy or physical. She’s a great writer, too, and it’s clear she gained a lot of personal insight from her hike. One to stay up late and keep reading!

If you’d like to join us at a Simply Books! meeting, we hold them the fourth Saturday of every month at 2pm at the library. If you’d like to be on our email list (for meeting reminders and meeting summaries), please send me a message at


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