Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Club Broadens Horizons

The Bealeton Library book club, formed in 2005, has an eclectic focus. We read a wide range of genres and topics, including general, literary and historical fiction; mysteries; memoirs and other types of nonfiction. All agree that the book club has introduced us to works we probably would not have read otherwise and has broadened our horizons considerably.

One pleasant discovery during our first year of reading was Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Virginia author Dean King. This tome retells the tale of the 1815 shipwreck of an American merchant ship off the northwest coast of Africa, the crew’s capture by nomads, and their excruciating ordeal in the desert. King relies heavily on the ship captain’s written account, which was very popular with 19th century readers. King's writing updates the story for a contemporary audience and is a superb page-turner.

Another author of histories that read like novels is Erik Larson. Our group has enjoyed The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, which interweaves the creation of the 1893 Chicago world’s fair with the case of a notorious serial murderer, and Thunderstruck, which juxtaposes Marconi’s invention of the wireless telegraph with the hunt for another psychotic killer. We enjoyed Larson’s books so much that we chose another of his titles this year. At our February meeting we will discuss Isaac’s Storm, a graphic account of the deadly 1900 Galveston hurricane and the story of the meteorologist whose personal life was profoundly affected by this disaster.

In June we will read Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, a well-reviewed oral history about the depression of the 1930s. In addition to these history selections, we will also sample a mystery, two novels and a travel book during the spring and summer.

To inquire about the Bealeton Book Club, e-mail Beth Stenberg or call at 439-9728. New members are always welcome.

Beth @ Bealeton

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Have a spot of tea and British fiction

I’ve been on “British kick” lately with my reading, I can’t imagine why. It all started with my book club’s choice of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. It’s a great book to read, and to discuss with the girls.

Then, a title at the library caught my eye: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows, who also writes children’s books. This one is a wonderful fiction book with lots of British history. The library has in on CD and in large print also.

Because I enjoyed reading it so much, a fellow employee mentioned that I might also try Jacqueline Winspear. She writes a mystery series about Maisie Dobbs. I am not usually a fan of mysteries, but I couldn’t stop until I had read all six books in the series. I have recommended them to several people and everyone, so far, loves them.

Maisie is British, female, a private investigator and a psychologist, and all the mysteries take place after WWI. So, more England, history and fiction. We have these on CD and I’ve heard they are also very enjoyable to listen to. So, brew up “a spot of tea” and be entertained, while you learn.

Sheree @ Warrenton

Monday, January 4, 2010

Not Yet Time to Say Good-Bye

In October of 2009, the Mystery Book Club read the last novel written by Tony Hillerman who passed away in October 2008. Having been a fan of Mr. Hillerman for over 20 years, I wondered if this re-reading of The Shape Shifter would bring some type of closure to my relationship with this author.

In preparation for the book club discussion I also read Hillerman’s memoir Seldom Disappointed, which won an Agatha Award for best nonfiction work of 2001. This book revealed much about the author’s personal life, how his books were written and how outside forces influenced both. Consequently, no closure came, but rather the desire to re-read more of Tony Hillerman’s books, especially the early novels such as The Blessing Way, Dance Hall of the Dead and The Dark Wind.

Some authors continue to remain popular after they’ve died. Douglas Adams’(1952-2001) Dirk Gently and Hitchhiker’s Guide series are still required reading for science fiction initiates. In fact, fascination with Adams’ characters is so great that Eoin Colfer, author of the popular Artemis Fowl series for children, has just published an authorized new Hitchhiker novel called And Another Thing.

Books by James Michener ( 1907-97) and Taylor Caldwell (1900-85) still remain on library shelves. Ed McBain’s (1926-2005) titles might still be found at the library, but the bookstore probably won’t have any of his books in stock. Novels by Robert Lewis Taylor (1912-98), author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Travels of Jaime McPheeters, are getting hard to find.

William Hoffman, referred to as Virginia’s “least-known best writer,” passed away on September 13, 2009. I especially enjoyed his novels Tidewater Blood and Wild Thorn featuring Charley LeBlanc, the black sheep of a Tidewater family.

While it is sad that Hillerman, Michener, Hoffman and the others are gone, it seems to me that it is not yet time to say goodbye. If you’ve never read anything by these authors I encourage you to do so now. If you’ve read their books, but not recently, this might be a good time to enjoy them again.