If you’re looking for book club recommendations, this is a wrap up, including ratings, of my book club’s 2017-18 book selections. Because life happens, we weren’t able to meet in April and will be discussing our final book of this year (Radium Girls) at our May.
I’ve got an older post that will give a quick history lesson on how we rate books and how we account for DNF’s or DNR’s here.
Here we go!
Thirteen Ways of Looking – 2.79 (Low: 2.75; High: 3.5)
This is the lowest a book has scored in our group a long time. Basically, the way we select books has almost ensured that books have decent ratings. In general, we felt this collection by an author we like had some bright points but the anchor story (that makes up most of the book) had serious shortcomings.
My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry – 3.78 (Low: 2; High: 4.75); Britt Marie was Here – 4.11 (Low: 3.25; High: 4.5)
The group opted to select and discuss these Fredrik Backman books together because many members had read one but not the other. We rated each separately, and Britt Marie came out slightly ahead. Feelings on Grandmother were more polarized. While not true in every case, people tended to prefer the book they read first. One comment from the discussion that resonated with me – the quirky voice of precocious Elsa that I loved in Grandmother (the one I read first) wasn’t that different from the quips that made Britt Marie interesting. So that may be more Backman than his characters.
Whisper of the River – 3.5 (Low: 2.5; High: 4.75)
The second book in Sams’ trilogy provided an interesting discussion, especially since many of the locations are familiar to us. But the overall sentiment (save the one low score and the one high score) was it was a decent read, but not great. We read the first one, Run with the Horseman, a few years ago. #onemoretogo
Blood at the Root – 4.41 (Low: 4; High: 4.5)
This is another local book – many of us know the roads, places, families described in Patrick Phillips’ non-fiction book about the 1912 racial conflict in a nearby county. And, we remember the events from the 1980’s when Forsyth County was beginning to be integrated. We thought his research and writing was well-done – better than many who write similar types of investigative non-fiction.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – 3.21 (Low: 3.5; High: 4)
Our group had an interesting series of reads that I scheduled intentionally – three consecutive books about racial injustice. Blood at the Root was an appropriate pre-read for Killers of the Flower Moon because Phillips made the point that it had been the racial cleansing of the Indians that set a precedence for the racial cleansing of African Americans in that county. This was interesting because it was a new topic for us, but in the end, the book ended up with a lower score overall because a couple of our members didn’t like it enough to read or finish. (See the post mentioned above on how we rate books.)
We Were the Lucky Ones – 3.93 (Low: 3; High: 4.5)
Everyone did read Georgia Hunter’s book based on her own family’s real life survival of the Holocaust. She alternates points of view and tells the events in the order in which they happened while peppering in some of the overarching details of WWII. Much of the criticism of this book hinged on the fact that it was neither novel nor memoir, and the variation in POV lacked distinction. That said, it is a remarkable story with new insight into how some bravely resisted and survived the impossible.
Anything is Possible – 3.77 (Low: 3.5; High: 4)
This collection of stories from Elizabeth Strout – like most collections – had really strong, amazing parts and others that fell a bit more flat. Overall and in true Strout fashion, she’s got vivid characters that make for a great discussion if someone takes a little bit of time to research discussion questions ahead of the meeting.
Memoirs of A Geisha – 4.78 (Low: 4.5; High: 5)
The highest ranking book of the year and possibly the highest ranking book ever, this selection is part of our group’s desire to go back and re-read some of our favorites. Personally, this books gets better each time I read it. There are others who have loved it as well from the first as they do now.
Enduring Love – 3.4 (Low: 3; High: 4.25)
This selection makes an argument that we need two ratings – one for how much we liked the book and a second for the quality of discussion. If your book group values quality of discussion more than what they actually think of the book, this is an excellent choice. There are problems with this book – no doubt – but McEwan is a master writer of psychological intrigue which makes the discussion delicious.
Radium Girls – 3.43 (Low: 3.25; High: 4)
This true story of the plight of factory girls painting watch dials with self-luminous paint is pretty amazing. I missed my book group’s discussion, but my prevailing thought is that in today’s litigious society, it’s hard to imagine how difficult it was to hold a company responsible for harm in the face of such glaring evidence. Like most non-fiction in this genre, my chief complaints are with the writing. Maybe she was trying to do too much, but I felt like the author left narrative hooks unanswered and many of the characters blended together.
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