Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Genre Reading Group Recap: Salon Discussion

We had some truly varied selections this holiday season and they all made for entertaining discussions! January's topic is nonfiction on world cults. Read any book about any cult or secret society and come tell us about it Tuesday, January 25th at 6:30pm!

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy, the beloved American storyteller, is also a vora­cious reader. He has for years kept a notebook in which he notes words or phrases, just from a love of language. But read­ing for him is not simply a pleasure to be enjoyed in off-hours or a source of inspiration for his own writing. It would hardly be an exaggeration to claim that reading has saved his life, and if not his life then surely his sanity. In My Reading Life, Conroy revisits a life of passionate reading. He includes wonderful anecdotes from his school days, mov­ing accounts of how reading pulled him through dark times, and even lists of books that particularly influenced him at vari­ous stages of his life, including grammar school, high school, and college. Readers will be enchanted with his ruminations on reading and books, and want to own and share this perfect gift book for the holidays. And, come graduation time, My Reading Life will establish itself as a perennial favorite, as did Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

A funny, raucous, and delightfully dirty history of 1,000 years of bedroom-hopping secrets and scandals of Britain’s royals. Insatiable kings, lecherous queens, kissing cousins, and wanton consorts—history has never been so much fun. Royal unions have always been the stuff of scintillating gossip, from the passionate Plantagenets to Henry VIII’s alarming head count of wives and mistresses, to the Sapphic crushes of Mary and Anne Stuart right on up through the scandal-blighted coupling of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Thrown into loveless, arranged marriages for political and economic gain, many royals were driven to indulge their pleasures outside the marital bed, engaging in delicious flirtations, lurid love letters, and rampant sex with voluptuous and willing partners. This nearly pathological lust made for some of the most titillating scandals in Great Britain’s history. Hardly harmless, these affairs have disrupted dynastic alliances, endangered lives, and most of all, fed the salacious curiosity of the public for centuries. Royal Affairs will satiate that curiosity by bringing this arousing history alive.

Queen Elizabeth II: A Woman Who Is Not Amused by Nicholas Davies
An expert royalty watcher exposes the private lives of Britain's ruling dynasty, detailing Elizabeth's celibacy, Prince Philip's adulterous affairs, and the demise of Charles and Diana's and Andrew and Fergie's marriages.

Once upon a time, in 1930s England, there were two little princesses named Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Their father was the Duke of York, the second son of King George V, and their Uncle David was the future King of England. We all know how the fairy tale ended: When King George died, “Uncle David” became King Edward VIII---who abdicated less than a year later to marry the scandalous Wallis Simpson. Suddenly the little princesses’ father was King. The family moved to Buckingham Palace, and ten-year-old Princess Elizabeth became the heir to the crown she would ultimately wear for over fifty years. The Little Princesses shows us how it all began. In the early thirties, the Duke and Duchess of York were looking for someone to educate their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, then five- and two-years-old. They already had a nanny---a family retainer who had looked after their mother when she was a child---but it was time to add someone younger and livelier to the household. Enter Marion Crawford, a twenty-four-year-old from Scotland who was promptly dubbed “Crawfie” by the young Elizabeth and who would stay with the family for sixteen years. Beginning at the quiet family home in Piccadilly and ending with the birth of Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in 1948, Crawfie tells how she brought the princesses up to be “Royal,” while attempting to show them a bit of the ordinary world of underground trains, Girl Guides, and swimming lessons. The Little Princesses was first published in 1950 to a furor we cannot imagine today. It has been called the original “nanny diaries” because it was the first account of life with the Royals ever published. Although hers was a touching account of the childhood of the Queen and Princess Margaret, Crawfie was demonized by the press. The Queen Mother, who had been a great friend and who had, Crawfie maintained, given her permission to write the account, never spoke to her again. Reading The Little Princesses now, with a poignant new introduction by BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond, offers fascinating insights into the changing lives and times of Britain's royal family.

From one of England's most celebrated writers, the author of the award-winning The History Boys, a funny and superbly observed novella about the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading. When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

The Queen starring Helen Mirren
Winner of the Academy Award® for Best Actress, Dame Helen Mirren gives a spellbinding performance in THE QUEEN, the provocative story behind one of the most public tragedies of our time — the sudden death of Princess Diana. In the wake of Diana's death, the very private and tradition-bound Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) finds herself in conflict with the new Prime Minister, the slickly modern and image-conscious Tony Blair. THE QUEEN, also starring Academy Award® Nominee James Cromwell (Best Supporting Actor, BABE, 1995), takes you inside the private chambers of the Royal Family and the British government for a captivating look at a vulnerable human being in her darkest hour, as a nation grieving for its People's Princess waits to see what its leaders will do. Suspenseful, heartfelt and riveting, it's a fascinating story you won’t soon forget.

Evelyn Harbinger sees nothing wrong with a one-night stand. At 149 years old, Eve may look like she bakes oatmeal cookies in the afternoon and dozes in her rocking chair in the evening, but once the gray hair and wrinkles are traded for jet-black tresses and porcelain skin, she can still turn heads as the beautiful girl she once was. Can’t fault a girl for having a little fun, can you? This is all fine and well until Eve meets Justin, who reminds her so much of a former lover that one night is no longer enough. Eve’s coven has always turned a blind eye to her nighttime mischief, but this time they think she’s gone too far—and they certainly don’t hesitate to tell her so. Dodging the warnings of family and friends, Eve must also defend her sister, Helena, when another beldame accuses Helena of killing her own husband sixty years before. As the evidence against Helena begins to pile up, Eve distracts herself by spending more and more nights—and days—romancing Justin as her former self. There are so many peculiar ways in which Justin is like Jonah, her partner behind enemy lines in World War II and the one true love of her life. Experts in espionage, Jonah and Eve advanced the allied cause at great personal sacrifice. Now Eve suspects that her Jonah has returned to her, and despite the disapproval of her coven and the knowledge that love with a mortal man can only end in sorrow, she can’t give him up. But can she prove it’s really him? In this captivating tale of adventure and timeless romance, novelist Camille DeAngelis blends World War II heroics with witchcraft and wit, conjuring a fabulously rich world where beldames and mortal men dare to fall in love.

Irene Gut was just 17 in 1939, when the Germans and Russians devoured her native Poland. Just a girl, really. But a girl who saw evil and chose to defy it.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever. Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home. What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms. For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’s no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle. Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds—against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn’t fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa or Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix readers everywhere.

The show about people who remember every detail of every day of their lives was "Endless Memory" on CBS 60 Minutes. Click here to watch. Thanks Mary!

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg
With the same incomparable style and warm, inviting voice that have made her beloved by millions of readers far and wide, New York Times bestselling author Fannie Flagg has written an enchanting Christmas story of faith and hope for all ages that is sure to become a classic. Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten. After a startling diagnosis from his doctor, Oswald T. Campbell leaves behind the cold and damp of the oncoming Chicago winter to spend what he believes will be his last Christmas in the warm and welcoming town of Lost River. There he meets the postman who delivers mail by boat, the store owner who nurses a broken heart, the ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who do clandestine good works. And he meets a little redbird named Jack, who is at the center of this tale of a magical Christmas when something so amazing happened that those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Once you experience the wonder, you too will never forget A Redbird Christmas.

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Ree Dolly's father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn't show up for his next court date. With two young brothers depending on her, 16-year-old Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive. Living in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, Ree learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. But, as an unsettling revelation lurks, Ree discovers unforeseen depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost.

Cy Parks is the Electric Michelangelo, an artist of extraordinary gifts whose medium happens to be the pliant, shifting canvas of the human body. Fleeing his mother's legacy -- a consumptives' hotel in a fading English seaside resort -- Cy reinvents himself in the incandescent honky-tonk of Coney Island in its heyday between the two world wars. Amid the carnival decadence of freak shows and roller coasters, enchanters and enigmas, scam artists and marks, Cy will find his muse: an enigmatic circus beauty who surrenders her body to his work, but whose soul tantalizingly eludes him.

Stay by Allie Larkin
Savannah "Van" Leone has been in love with Peter Clarke ever since she literally fell head over heels in front of him on the first day of college. Now, six years later, instead of standing across from him at the altar, Van's standing behind her best friend Janie as maid of honor, trying to mask her heartache and guilt as Janie marries the only man Van's ever loved. Before Van's mother died, she told Van never to let Peter go, but as the couple exchanges vows, Van wonders if her fairy tale ending will ever come true. After the wedding, Van drowns her sorrows in Kool-Aid-vodka cocktails and reruns of Rin Tin Tin, and does what any heartbroken woman in her situation would do: She impulsively buys a German Shepherd over the Internet. The pocket-size puppy Van is expecting turns out to be a clumsy, hundred-pound beast who only responds to commands in Slovak, and Van is at the end of her rope... until she realizes that this quirky giant may be the only living being who will always be loyal to her, no matter what. Van affectionately names her dog Joe, and together, they work to mend the pieces of Van's shattered heart. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Joe's vet is a rugged sweetheart with floppy blond hair and a winning smile. But when the newlyweds return from their honeymoon, Van is forced to decide just how much she's willing to sacrifice in order to have everything she ever wanted, proving that sometimes life needs to get more complicated before it can get better. Warm and witty, poignant and funny, Stay is an unforgettable debut that illuminates the boundlessness of love and marks the arrival of an irresistible new voice.

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