Welcome to the Wichita Book Club!

Image courtesy of Abhi Sharma on Flickr

Welcome one and all to the new-and-(hopefully)-improved new website.

This page will have the latest news on the doings of the Wichita Book Club. Find out how to join in the About Us section.

If you have questions, concerns, comments, or feedback, let us know through the Contact Us page. If you want to see what books we are planning to read for the next few months you can check the following posts, our Goodreads page, or our Calendar (date, book, author, and time are listed – meeting location can be found under Upcoming Events in our Facebook Group: Ladies Love Books, once you are a member).

February Book Club: After Alice

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So its been a while since I did a book review. December’s book club meeting got moved to January and it was a book exchange so we didn’t read one particular book. After a suggestion from a fellow book club member, I picked “After Alice” by Gregory Maguire.

For those of you who don’t know Gregory Maguire, he’s the author of the book “Wicked” which was turned into the uber-popular musical “Wicked” (they changed a lot of things from the book to make it more palatable and PG-13). I had never read the book and was excited to see his take on Alice in Wonderland.

I’ll admit, I was put off by the first chapter. The style of prose was very old-fashioned, and, frankly, quite weird. Having read mostly modern style prose for the last 100 books I’ve read, it kind of threw me off that he was writing in this weird fashion. It took a while to adapt but I eventually managed to do it. The story was not from the point of view of any of the characters that were in the original Alice in Wonderland (at least not the version I’ve read), but from a few peripherally related yet original characters. Alice was never actually featured in the book, just talked about by other characters. They also had an interesting addition of a young boy from America who had been freed from slavery, and the current social attitudes towards him. I could have read an entire book based on this boy alone since his story seemed very interesting. The ending was very abrupt. I felt like it would perhaps have a sequel at some point and I hope it does because I really want to know what happens to him.

All in all, I think I would perhaps give the book a solid 7 for interest. Pacing needed some work but by the end of the book I was interested in knowing more, and that’s a good sign.

November book club: A Tyranny of Petticoats

I’ve read plenty of short story compilations in my time from fairy tales to horror stories. But none have quite taken me through the emotional rollercoaster t22020592hat was this book. When I initially read this title, I was expecting some of kind of legendary stories with heroines that kicked ass without being too realistic. Like many fantasy stories. I was taken aback by how human – and how real – these stories seemed.

The first story kind of threw me for a spin – I couldn’t tell if the main character was male or female. According to the book title she should be a female but the descriptions all made her sound like she was male. Turns out she was a female dressed a male because women weren’t allowed aboard ships in the olden times.

Many of the tales left me wanting to keep reading the stories to find out what happened: for example, the story with the woman who traveled to the rural countryside to get away from a rapist and started teaching young kids who really wanted the education but were often overlooked by the government since they lived in such a rural area. I wanted to hear more stories about her little school and the little students!

The story about the Southern woman who found out a family member was a traitor was an especially thrilling tale. I would have loved to have read more about her life after she had run away from home and how she survived.

I also wanted to read more about the supernatural story with the female (SPOILER: possible Medusa) and her friend, the djinn. It sounded like the opening chapter of an amazing novel! It was in this story that I learned that there was an especially horrific law during times of slavery in the US that allowed escaped slaves to be captured and returned to their slave owners. What was even more horrifying was that sometimes freed slaves were captured and sold, and since they had no rights they couldn’t defend themselves against such heinous acts. And to think that the Northern States actually agreed to this law (despite grudgingly) that the Southern States insisted on.

The most haunting tale for me was probably the story of the three fates as 3 sisters set in, what I assumed was, a Mexican town. This was another story that I wanted expanded. I wanted to read about how the sisters came to be there, how they grew up there, how they came to love the people around them, who told them which lives needed to be shortened, and the dynamics of dealing with their feelings versus their duties. At first, when I read this story, I thought they were meant to be metaphoric monsters with really poor self esteem. Slowly the revelation dawned on me who these three sisters were meant to represent. And with it, the horror of the duty they were required to commit.

The final story was set in far more recent reality of a demonstration against the Vietnam War. The horror of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators can be easily visualized and its impact on the war was especially apparent considering it was one of the first instances of media affecting national opinion (turned the American people’s support against the war). That these issues seem to be repeating themselves in modern history is horrifying and saddening and such stories are important to bring to light again to remind Americans and humanity of the devastation of war. The chilling protest called “Battle of Michigan Ave” can be viewed on YouTube:

October Book Club: From Little Houses to Little Women

This was a dive i22323273n to a genre we haven’t explored before but one of my favorites: literary criticism. The book “From Little Houses to Little Women” explored a topic close to my heart: my favorite books from childhood – especially ones featuring interesting girls.

Books can have such a profound effect on your worldview, that it’s interesting (and nostalgic) to go back and look at the ones that have stuck with you through time. Which is precisely what the author of this book did. I had no idea that the author was originally from Wichita, so imagine my shock and delight when she regaled memories of her childhood growing up there. Her book basically took us through a journey across the United States as she visited the settings of books that profoundly affected her growing up.

As someone who did not grow up in the United States, I was unfamiliar with some of the books she spoke about, including Little House on the Prairie, although I have heard of it before (mostly due to the TV series). Therefore, her analysis of those particular books did not connect with me as well as the others. I did find it interesting that she chose to highlight that the younger generation in the book seem more questioning than the older ones. However, since I had never read the books, I was not able to quite grasp or understand her insights.

Her analysis of the Anne of Green Gables series and Little Women were a bit abrasive and over-the-top in my opinion. I grew up on these series and felt more than a little protective of them. Of course, they have feminist issues but they were also set in a time period where such issues were commonplace. I wish she had highlighted some of the more important things that were remarkable in those books that had resonated with me: like Anne, being an orphan, was not only accepted by her adopted family and peers but prided herself in being the best in her class. Unlike today’s media that seem to imply that the popular girls should only care about looks, this book emphasized the importance and love of education. Not only was Anne a hard-working and smart student, but she actually enjoyed reading and learning. Even in the real world around me, excluding book club members, most people I know do not enjoy reading books and/or would rather watch a TV show or a movie. This baffles me to no end because a TV show and/or movie can only relay as much as can be seen and will not and cannot spark your imagination (the root of creativity) the way a well written book can.

It’s true that the later books wandered away from Anne as a writer (although her second book focused on it a lot) and more into a wife and mother, but not everyone is destined to become a writer, and in my opinion, there was nothing wrong with her choosing not to pursue it of her own volition. It’s not like anyone forced her to stop writing. Perhaps she grew out of it or her passions changed directions. Perhaps she writes as a hobby instead of a job. Nothing wrong with that either. I also found it insulting that the author criticized Gilbert for providing Anne with direction in her writing. I think that is exactly what she needed: she needed a fresh perspective from someone she respects who was not afraid to tell her what he thought of her writing. Her writing was indeed a little too flowery to be taken seriously.

In my opinion, I thought the books showed a nostalgic view of rural life but also a realistic one. Not everyone turns into a writer, and a lot of women become wives and mothers and value it as they mature. Her imagination, her temper, her silliness, and her clever and hardworking characteristics made for an interesting but flawed personality that all of us saw in ourselves. Which is why the book is still so popular, and popular around the world. It would have been lovely if she had become a writer, but I wasn’t disappointed when she didn’t. I enjoyed reading about her children, as much as I did reading about her own adventures. It’s fun to read about the progression of my favorite character throughout her life. How often do we wish we could read past the end of a book and see what became of our favorite characters’ lives: L.M.Montgomery gave us that chance.

I’ve always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island (along with Switzerland because of Heidi) and I twitched in envy reading about their visit and read with amusement at the touristy artifacts such as the red haired pigtailed wig you can buy to emulate Anne.

Little Women was another book that profoundly affected me growing up. Having a sister of my own, it was interesting to see the dynamics between the young ladies in the book and how they coped with the hardships of life. I, like many other readers no doubt, was utterly disappointed when Jo rejected Laurie, and was absolutely horrified that she chose to marry and old man! But I think she made the right choice: she and Laurie, in real life, would never really have been compatible. The author again criticizes the fact that Jo gave up her dream of being a writer. I see this as more of a reflection on the author’s own desire to pursue writing and wanting to see a role model in these books that she adored growing up. In my own case, I aspired to be a writer at one point, but decided not to pursue it for several reasons. Hence, it’s not as much a disappointment for me. Seeing as how my life has changed a lot since I was a child, and with the perspective of time, I have come to respect that people do not always know where they are going to end up and wherever they do does not necessarily have to be a bad place even if it wasn’t what they had originally dreamed.

In both these books, their respective authors placed more importance on marriage and family than on pursuing a dream or career. This is a reflection of the times. What’s more important to highlight is their ambition to reach their dreams and the lengths and means they took to try to achieve it. Which, again, I think is why these books are so popular and resonate with people even today. It’s a sweet and nostalgic look at the past.

I think perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if she hadn’t analyzed it with such a critical feminist lens, and instead analyzed it within its historical context. However, it is still a very good read, especially if you have read all the books she takes down memory lane.

 

September Book Club: Treachery in Bordeaux

13932673_10100706117841342_679758531846614157_nThis was a venture into territory I wasn’t particularly comfortable in: wine. Originally I had picked a different book but I switched it out to this one because I thought it had too much historical details. I regretted my decision halfway through this book when I realized there was barely a plot (the fact that the book was as thin as an elementary school reading book should have been a dead giveaway). The best thing about the book was that it was very short.

The reason I had picked this theme was that I wanted to theme it with an outing to our local vineyard: Grace Hill Winery. An interesting place with a nice event room that would have been perfect for our wedding (had I known about it then). There was also a lovely view from the rooftop patio, where we ate our potluck lunch and discussed the book. I’m definitely a fan of themed book club events!

For a wine drinker, this book would have been an interesting introduction to a bit of history on wine country in France. The Billionaire’s Vinegar, which was my second pick, goes into it in much more detail and I felt was a more appropriate book for those who are interested in learning about wine. My first pick was a weird one, which featured a detective story focused on a murder. The interesting thing about that book was that each chapter featured a recipe for a meal eaten by characters in that chapter with a suggestion for a wine pairing. The book setting was in a vineyard in California I believe. The story was a bit amateurish, but seemed more fleshed out compared to Treachery in Bordeaux.

All in all, I do not recommend this book. The plot was very thin. It centered around the sabotage of a vineyard’s current stock of wine, and the motive for the sabotage was pretty disappointing. Even the reveal was anti climactic and I didn’t feel like we got to know any of the characters very well. In fact, the story was a non-story. I felt like it could have been written out as a 2 page essay and conveyed pretty much the same thing. During our discussion of the book, we wondered if some of the dryness and flatness of the plot was due to the fact that the book had originally been written in French and some of the flair and suspense been lost in translation.

August Book Club: The Life We Bury

20758175This book genuinely caught me by surprise. I was expecting a melodrama, bittersweet and tough to read. Shows you really should never judge a book by its cover, regardless of the cliche. Actually, I think I judged it purely on the book title and cover before even reading the premise. Once I read the premise about a college kid discovering the story behind a man convicted of pedophilia and murder, it truly aroused my interest because I’ve never before read a book like that.

Pedophilia is a tough subject to tackle. It’s a universally loathed crime, considered the bottom of the barrel as far as criminal activity, even by criminals themselves. It’s a subject where we chose to conveniently cover our eyes and ears to the background of the criminal because the crime is so horrific that we can’t see past it – not even to a background for the criminal who might have been abused themselves at one point. Society wants to bury these criminals and not look too hard, because the thought of people who commit these horrible crimes as people rather than monsters is unbearable. The thought that anyone could be a pedophile is unthinkable and truly terrifying. And the way society treats these convicted criminals is a testament to it – even murderers are further up the food chain even in prison.

So I genuinely thought that’s what the author was tackling. SPOILERS AHEAD! Unfortunately, he took the easy route and instead made the criminal wrongfully convicted. He does, however, create some nicely fleshed out characters (except for the main villain, who is very 2-dimensional unfortunately), all with moral gray areas to their characters, which make them very interesting. Even the main character’s mother, who seems a genuinely horrible human being, is fleshed out. She has a severe mental disorder: bipolar disorder, which was kept under control while her father, the stable force in her life was alive. When he died, her life literally spun out of control. The main character’s entire actions, including some very very stupid ones – like going to interview a suspect instead of letting the police handle it – were motivated by the guilt he felt over his grandfather’s death and his inability to save him. This guilt, no doubt, is the reason he lets his mother walk all over him, when in other ways he seems more in charge of his life. He possibly feels like the destruction of his family life was his fault because he allowed his grandfather to die without being able to save him.

Carl’s guilt is on par with the main character’s guilt. He, too, did not do anything that would subjectively be called wrong, but his guilt and PTSD was severe enough to destroy him until he felt he was able to recompense for it by taking responsibility even though he hadn’t committed the crime. I was, however, surprised that he didn’t have more defenders given that he was a well decorated veteran. I would have expected more sympathy and more people willing to believe in his innocence. However, the fact that he pushed for a speedy trial in itself didn’t help his case.

Mental disorders are seriously discussed in this book, with multiple characters experiencing some type of disorder. Carl = PTSD, younger brother = autism, mom = bipolar disorder, main character = PTSD, actual criminal’s father = depression, flatmate = PTSD, girlfriend of victim =depression and possibly PTSD.

The ending was a bit too neatly tied up – come on, $100,000 reward for information on capturing a criminal? Why would the police have given the entire reward to the kid, given that the main character didn’t even know the connection to the second dead girl? It was just a convenient way to create a happily ever after for the main character without much realism. Also, I get that the girl was very involved in the case towards the end of the book, but to me they didn’t seem close enough for her to get over her fears of intimacy and PTSD and sleep with him. Plus, I genuinely don’t see the relationship continuing without the lynch pin of the autistic brother. Her ease at being around the autistic brother probably stems from the fact that she sees no threat in him, as he does not seem capable of manipulating and taking advantage of her.

All in all, a very interesting book with some good character developments and a few disappointments. Recommended for a good read.

July Book Club: Some Girls Bite

4447622This is not a book I would have ever chosen on my own. Let’s face it, I’m not a vampire loving kind of girl. Before the Twilight craze I would have been neutral towards the subject, but post-Twilight, it’s now cool to be all snobbish against it (all joking aside, I did watch the first movie and was kind of bored by the story, and the accounts of obvious emotional abuse in the book horrified me enough and my distaste for boring female characters was enough to turn me off from attempting to read it). So I approached this book with obvious ambivalence. And this is the best thing about a book club – books you never would have chosen to read that you end up actually liking.

It was a fun summer read and I was able to finish it in a few days, much faster than I usually read books these days (which tells you how much it sucked me in). I also really like that the main character is a kick ass female. Let’s face it, this genre reeks of the desperate female clinging on to the strong male to protect her from “ze evil ones”. Not so with this book. The author actually realized that women like reading about strong females and made her main character both mentally and physically very strong (I’m really not sure I would have remained sane, let alone taken on a leadership role, if I had been forcibly turned into a vampire). Her story resonated because she was a woman roughly my age, adjusting to life as an adult (who isn’t these days…sigh), when her life gets turned upside down by an unfortunate event.

I was not a fan of the main male character. However, he could have been written a lot worse (hint: more like Edward from Twilight), so I was at least grateful that the main female character put up some resistance to his charms.

Other than some of the writing being a bit odd (use of the word genuflecting used in everyday dialog took me aback given the casual tone of the rest of the book – mystery solved when I found out the author was an English major). I see a bit of a the first time writer influence (character has some resemblance to the author and embraces a few ideals which many women, author included I’m sure, aspire to), it was nonetheless a very compelling read. If you don’t mind some light fiction and vampires don’t completely turn you off, I’d recommend at least giving it a try.

June Book Club: Wool by Hugh Howey

12932709_10100626150915702_7703324142725230352_nI had heard of Wool before but never knew it was a sci-fi book until I picked it up for this book club. One word of advice for anyone who’s going to read this book: definitely read book 2: shift, and book 3: dust, as well if you want to understand the world more completely and have all the questions answered.

I must say, when I first completed this book, I was highly disappointed by the lack of answers. At the time I wasn’t aware that it was part of a trilogy and my disappointment was only alleviated after I found out there was more to the story, which thoroughly delighted me.

For a first book it was decently written. Good world building that sucked me in and had me questioning why the dystopian world was the way it was (which was the same mindset as some of the characters living in it). The little teasers as to the backstory of this world had me very interested and very frustrated when they weren’t answered in this book. Book 2: Shift, is a prequel and answers a lot of the questions raised in book one and really questions the morality of “means justifying ends”. I wasn’t even sure if the bad guy really was the bad guy even though he did very many questionable things, purely for the fact that his end goal had some understandable reasoning behind it. However, I did also see how he was rationalizing his need to stay in power (I’m drawing parallels to a manga I’m currently reading called Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, where the seemingly bad guy has some good intentions at heart).

Book 3 completed the trilogy and tied up all the loose ends very neatly – in a good way. I wasn’t left disappointed and I felt like the author took the story as far as he could without destroying its integrity. Book 3 is very bittersweet though: be prepared to shed a few buckets if you’re the emotional sort.

Overall, I’d rate the series as a very good series, book 2 as the best of the series, and book 1 as possibly the weakest – but that’s only because it’s his first attempt at writing. Some of the parts of book 1 had some pacing issues – like the diving scene in the last third of the book had me wanting to skip whole pages with the whole scenario of breathing bubbles breaking immersion. But the rest of the story was tightly written and intriguing enough to keep me going. The first book also did not have as much character development but I feel like the author more than made up for it in book 2 and 3, and we some deep characterizations of major characters in both books.

Highly recommend the series to anyone interested in science fiction.