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Valsroad 2018 Book Club Ideas

I’ve been a book club member for over 20 years. The gals in my book club may come and go, but one thing stays constant, the love a good book. Looking back to those early years, I remember reading books like “The Pilot’s Wife” by Anita Shreve and “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden. Hundreds of books later, my book club gals still put in countless hours for our annual selection of reads. We usually narrow down 40 books to 12 for a year’s worth of reads. This year we had so many favorites, we picked 18. I’d like to share all of our hard work with you. Enjoy!

There is no friend as loyal as a book. –Ernest Hemingway

The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro Kazuo, Fiction, 245 pages
Here is Kazuo Ishiguro’s profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England. Stevens, at the end of three decades of service at Darlington Hall, spending a day on a country drive, embarks as well on a journey through the past in an effort to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving the “great gentleman,” Lord Darlington. But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness,” and much graver doubts about the nature of his own life.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, Fiction, 198 pages, (Short story collection)
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer 272 pages Fiction
Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson, 320 pages, BIOGRAPHY
Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family. Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors’ letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties.


The Liars Club by Mary Karr, Fiction 350 pages
“This book took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Karr’s comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us characters as darkly hilarious as any of J. D. Salinger’s—a hard-drinking daddy, a sister who can talk down the sheriff at age twelve, and an oft-married mother whose accumulated secrets threaten to destroy them all. This unsentimental and profoundly moving account of an apocalyptic childhood is as “funny, lively, and un-put-downable” (USA Today) today as it ever was.”


The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared By Jonas Jonasson (400 Pages) Fiction
After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he’s still in good health, and in one day, he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn’t interested (and he’d like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). So he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator, and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant).

My Beloved World — Sonia Sotomayor – 432 pages Memoir
The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

We Shall Not All Sleep, by Estep Nagy, 288 pages, FICTION
The entangled pasts of two ruling class New England families come to light over three summer days on an island in Maine in this extraordinary debut novel.
1964. The Hillsingers and the Quicks have shared the small Maine island of Seven for generations. Though technically family—Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick married Park Avenue sisters Lila and Hannah Blackwell—they do not mix. Now, on the anniversary of Hannah’s death, Lila feels grief pulling her toward Billy. Jim, a spy recently ousted from the CIA, decides to carry out the threat Lila explicitly forbid: to banish their youngest son, twelve-year-old Catta, to the neighboring island of Baffin for twenty-four hours in an attempt to make a man out of him.

Home by Marilyn Robinson, Fiction, 336 pages, Summary: (excerpt from a review)
“What does it mean to come home?” In one way or another, every character in Home is searching for that answer. Glory Boughton, now 38 and lovelorn, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Her wayward brother Jack also finds his way back, though his is an uneasy homecoming, reverberating with the scandal that drove him away twenty years earlier. Glory and Jack unravel their stories slowly, speaking to each other more in movements than in words–a careful glance here, a chair pulled out from the table there–against a domestic backdrop so richly imagined you may be fooled into believing their house is your own. Meanwhile, their father, whose ebullient love for his children is a welcome counterpoint to Glory and Jack’s conflicted emotions, experiences his own kind of reckoning as he yearns to understand his troubled son.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult 480 pages Fiction
This novel is based on the true story of a labor and delivery nurse who was prohibited from caring for a newborn because the father requested that no African-American nurses tend to his baby. In the fictional version, Ruth, the African-American nurse in question, finds herself on trial for events related to the same request made by a white supremacist father. Using the narratives of Ruth, the baby’s father, and the female public defender who takes Ruth’s case, Picoult examines multiple facets of racism. The topic of race in America is difficult to talk about, but in in an honest and revealing way Picoult allows readers to draw their own conclusions about how we see ourselves and others in the world. Small Great Things is an important and thought-provoking novel about power and prejudice that deserves to be read, digested, and shared with others.


Sing for Life: A Story of Race, Family & Music by Daniel Bergner 320 pages biography of Ryan Speedo Green
SING FOR YOUR LIFE chronicles Ryan’s suspenseful, racially charged and artistically intricate journey from solitary confinement to stardom. Daniel Bergner takes readers on Ryan’s path toward redemption, introducing us to a cast of memorable characters—including the two teachers from his childhood who redirect his rage into music, and his long-lost father who finally reappears to hear Ryan sing. Bergner illuminates all that it takes—technically, creatively—to find and foster the beauty of the human voice. And Sing for Your Life sheds unique light on the enduring and complex realities of race in America.


Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel, by Tom Perrotta Fiction 320 pages
Eve Fletcher is trying to figure out what comes next. A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve is struggling to adjust to her empty nest when one night her phone lights up with a text message. Sent from an anonymous number, the mysterious sender tells Eve, “U R my MILF!” Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life—serving as Executive Director of the local senior center by day and taking a community college course on Gender and Society at night—Eve can’t curtail her own interest in a porn website called MILFateria.com, which features the erotic exploits of ordinary, middle-aged women like herself. Before long, Eve’s online fixations begin to spill over into real life, revealing new romantic possibilities that threaten to upend her quiet suburban existence.


Delicious! by Ruth Reichl, 380 pages, FICTION
In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Fiction, 352 Pages
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, 181 pages, SATIRE
Finally, a novel that puts the “pissed” back into “epistolary.” Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby.

Father of the Rain — Lily King 368 pages Fiction
Gardiner Amory is a New England WASP who’s beginning to feel the cracks in his empire. Nixon is being impeached, his wife is leaving him, and his worldview is rapidly becoming outdated. His daughter, Daley, has spent the first eleven years of her life negotiating her parents’ conflicting worlds: the liberal, socially committed realm of her mother and the conservative, decadent, liquor-soaked life of her father. But when they divorce, and Gardiner’s basest impulses are unleashed, the chasm quickly widens and Daley is stretched thinly across it.


The Light of the World — Elizabeth Alexander 240 pages Memoir
PULITZER PRIZE BIOGRAPHY FINALIST and Michelle Obama’s favorite book of 2015
Love – for a marvelous man, for her sons, for the textures and pleasures of the world – shines on every page of Elizabeth Alexander’s THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. This acutely observed study of what it means to lose one’s beloved is a profound and beautiful contradiction: a joyous book that faces head-on the deepest grief, written with art and courage, and with limitless heart.

Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward 305 pages Fiction
There are a lot of different ways to read Jesmyn Ward’s new novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, and one of them is as a stand-alone achievement: a beautifully written story of a family’s struggle through poverty, prison, and drugs, bound together by the tremendous protection of the love they feel for one another. If you read the book this way you’ll probably have a great experience with it.

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The Irony of Irma, Literally

I spent a week visiting family in Orlando and Eastern Florida shortly after Hurricane Irma. Other than debris and short power outages, I am thankful my family was spared. Much of my travel time was spent on the Florida Turnpike (no tolls, thank you Governor Rick Scott). As I drove, I saw many fallen trees pushed off to the side of the highway and lots of cattle in open pastures. I naturally thought, as any city gal would, how did they survive? I was told that they hunker down and ride out the storm.

Shown below are typical scenes. Some folks weren’t taking any chances with the other hurricanes swirling out there and kept boarded up. In front of every house you’d see piles of debris from fallen fences and tree branches.

irma house and trash

Irma boarded house

Irma side of road

Getting to the irony part of Irma, the turnpike and other major roads in Florida are billboard intensive. You see everything from “Jesus loves you and your unborn baby” to “Your wife is hot, get your air conditioning fixed.” All of those had been blown away or shredded by Irma’s fierce wind. Guess what billboards remained intact? Literally, only lawyer advertisements. I couldn’t believe that even Irma didn’t want to mess around with those Florida lawyers who will win you loads of cash for every imaginable lawsuit.

I recently read that the word literally is one of the most common overused words of 2017. See if you can go a day without using it. It is harder than you think especially since most of us are using it incorrectly. Literally means factually, exactly, or accurately. For example, “That novel was translated literally from Russian.” Most folks use literally to replace the words actually or really. So in my example above, I should have said “Actually, only lawyer advertisements.”

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Babbitt Road on Val’s Road

My daughter has been working for The Wilderness Society and knows I am always looking for great nature photos of roads for my blog. She found this gorgeous one of Babbitt Road for me. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Babbitt Road

The location for this shot is Tahoe National Forest which is located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada (California). The dirt road is flanked by aspens and leads to Babbitt Peak Fire Lookout. The lookout was built in 1937 and is staffed during fire season. The elevation at the peak is over 8,000 feet.

If you come across a beautiful road in nature and would like to share it on valsroad, please send it along through the Contact button at the top of my front page.

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Take me to Church – Winchester Cathedral

As a child growing up in the Sixties, I remember hearing my dad whistling the melody of “Winchester Cathedral.” The song was a huge hit by the British group The New Vaudeville Band. They performed the song on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1966.

With that nostalgia, I visited this beautiful church in Southern England. It’s no secret I love historic churches and this one didn’t disappoint. In addition to having the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, it is also the burial place of Jane Austen.

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If all that isn’t special enough, I was in for a double blessing. On my visit, the choir sang and was accompanied by the pipe organ. This huge, but delicate instrument, was installed in the Winchester Cathedral in 1854. Although the video isn’t super, I was able to capture the sound quite well. I hope you enjoy.

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How to Describe the Sagrada Familia

Some moments in life make lasting impressions:

The day Mother Nature amazes you with her palate of colors during peak foliage season or with a spectacular sunset.

Your heart skips a beat and you realize you’ve fallen in love.

You wonder at the marvel of life when your newborn is placed in your arms.

And then there are moments that you don’t expect at all. This happened on a visit to the Sagrada Familia, an unfinished basilica in Barcelona. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, an illustrious architect from Catalonia, I shook my head at the exterior. It reminded me of a huge sand castle.

It was the interior of the Sagrada Familia that took me by complete surprise. Unlike other churches with statues, stained-glass biblical scenes, and other religious symbols, Gaudi used light as his tool. Words like magical, dreamy, and heavenly aren’t adequate to describe the effect. Gaudi brought nature inside the church and it touched my soul.

I’ve included a couple of my photos, but even those on the Sagrada Familia’s website cannot replicate how awe inspiring it truly is.

Sagrada Familia 4

Sagrada Familia 3

Sagrada Familia 2

Sagrada Familia 1