Cym Lowell’s Jaspar’s War Book Club

If women dressed as nuns disrobing and then running through the streets in order to detract attention from the bad guys whets your appetite, then Cym Lowell’s Jaspar’s War is the novel for you.  This manly man’s thriller topped with some testosterone and a side of C 19 H 28 O 2 has male written all over it with characters such as Henre Tremont, “world-famous grand prix driver . . . who moved like a leopard, the result, perhaps, of Olympic quality gymnastics routines” (40-41), Nulandi, whose “life as a commando started at about age 12”  (37), and Jason Brontus, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and “active Tae-Kwon-Do black-belt”  (19).  Hey, no complaints here.  Even Lowell’s visual imagery in the form of simile definitely connotes a male perspective, “In the silence the burp of a mouse would have sounded like a lion’s roar in the jungle”  (223).  Kudos for originality  . ..

The problems for me lie in the feminine presence in this read;  Jaspar, an upper class housewife and mother in a short amount of time is transformed into a physically agile killer with an insatiable sexual appetite for the purposes of the mission despite the misfortunes surrounding her husband and children.  I have difficulty believing this scenario despite my hub’s objections.  Furthermore, I feel she was too slow in her connecting the pieces of the metaphorical puzzle.  

In regards to grammatical errors, a comma splice on page 40, a split infinitive on page 136 missing the “to,” and awkward wording, “though with a new a cold set” (161) makes my toes curl and not in a good way.  

For the purposes of book club, a visit to Chief Bearstrike through gustatory perception with roasted trout filets, baked cornbread, “sliced vegetables, hummus, and pita”  (194) are sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Book Giveaway:  Interested in a FREE copy of Cym Lowell’s Jaspar’s War?  Describe your ideal macho man in the comments section below.  The hunkiest description wins.  Post by April 13, 2014. 

Nothing Personal Book Club

Do not let the title of Mike Offit’s Nothing Personal:  A Novel of Wall Street scare you off if you are not a fan of numbers, trading, and most importantly, Wall Street.  Offit is able to break down junk bonds, prepayments, and mortgage-backed securities in such a manner even I understood what was being discussed and wholeheartedly continued to turn the pages.

Hooked on page three by the characterization of a microeconomics professor teaching at Columbia Business School, I liked the subtle humor and accuracy in Offit’s writing:

. . . Corelli rarely tried to enliven the material, having long before decided that, even in so inexact a discipline as his, he would grade generously those who simply recited his lectures on all exams without thinking or dissension.  This practice would, he reasoned, prepare them well for life in most of corporate America. 

Furthermore, Offit’s descriptions of Pebble Beach brought to mind my friend Denta’s love of the Monterey Bay area:

The verdant green of the grass, deep blue sky, and boiling ocean water combine with the misty sea spray, salt-infused air, sunshine, and puffy clouds to make a tableau so rich and inspiring that a well-struck shot reverberates with the harmony of something divine.  (200)

The protagonist, Warren Hament, an up-and-coming salesman on Wall Street who finds himself entangled in a murder mystery is certainly likeable and has quite a way with the ladies.  Va va va and voom!

For me, the problem of Nothing Personal lies in the numerous mispellings throughout this novel [i.e. anecdotess (104), omlet (152), and drive (302) instead of driven] and awkard wordings “Just as long as are not connected . . .” (319) which detracts from the reading.

For the purposes of book club, crabmeat salad would be a welcome choice as it was Hament’s choice when schmoozing for the first time with an MD (managing director) from Weldon Corporate Finance after a game of squash.

Rasputin’s Shadow Book Club

Everything turned into a blur of claws and swings and shouts and punches until Maxim felt something warm in his hands, something he was absolutely compelled to squeeze until his hands met each other in the middle, and when clarity returned to his eyes, he saw Pyotr’s eyeless, bloodied face turn a livid purple as he snapped the man’s neck. (4)

If the above excerpt taken from Raymond Khoury’s Rasputin’s Shadow does not seduce you, I am not sure what will.  This historical fiction novel, ripe with espionage, intrigue, and vivid characterizations may turn even the most devoted admirer of memoirs (like myself) into a defector.  Having to keep this novel hidden between readings from my hub, a lover of spy fiction,  I embraced not only the complex storyline and subplots, but also the no-holds-barred descriptions:

Despite a skull that was so pulverized it looked like it had been made out of plasticine before some giant baby had squashed it out of shape, it was still clear that we were looking at a white male adult with dark, short hair, somewhere in his thirties and in good shape, at least before the fall.  (23)

The triple-XL Weyland Enterprises T-shirt stretched against the folds of his wobbling flesh as he grabbed the menu and started eating the entire thing with his eyes.  (67)

Need examples of visual imagery for a class you may be teaching?  Look no further . . .  Rasputin’s Shadow definitely exemplifies the “how to” for showing versus telling in writing.

Hoping for the presence of machismo in this novel?  Well, readers, you have a plethora of agents and hostiles from which to choose.  My favorite, of course, is Reilley, point man on the investigation with a generous sprinkling of sensitivity in regards to his four-year-old son Alex.  Because of him, I may just forgo the country omelet for the garden omelet as he does at IHOP.

For the purposes of book club, though, a variety of food choices may be necessary in order to represent the different cultures in this novel.  Perhaps, a medley of Russian pastries with shots of the Sledgehammer’s preferred brand of vodka as well as Korean pastries with green tea (but definitely pass on the poisonous vino) in order to encourage discussion over Rasputin’s Shadow.

Luanne Rice’s Secrets of Paris Book Club

I’m always curious as to how someone discovers a new read.  Was it due to an intriguing review?  A friend’s suggestion?  A gift?  In this case, I stumbled across Rice’s Secrets of Paris while perusing the bookshelves at the condo where we were staying in Florida.  I was hoping for a light read, and this is exactly what I found in the pages.
This novel is a story of a married couple who recently transferred to Paris after a tragic death in the family.  What ensues is betrayal, discovery, and a new lease on life.
As stated above, Rice’s novel in question is light and perfect for reading while on the beach or resting between outings, but I found when it was over, the novel, overall, lacked development in both characterization and plot.  The familial tragedy mentioned above was never fully explained, the betrayal occurring in Paris had a nice neat conclusion after a brief discussion, and a full-blown besties friendship bloomed after a brief passing of the sugar in a cafe.  Although a quick, entertaining read, I wanted more from the pages when it was all said and done and wished for a main female protagonist with more backbone.
For the purposes of book club, a Paris backdrop complete with French delicacies would certainly set the mood:  crusty bread, assorted cheeses, macaroons, and profiteroles.  Oooh la la!

Luanne Rice

Amy Hatvany’s Heart Like Mine Book Club

Amy Hatvany’s Heart Like Mine is a complex tale of the lasting effects suppression of emotions can have on not only an individual, but also an extended family.  Through her writing, Hatvany methodically unfolds essential elements of the story to further peak the reader‘s interest and keep the pages turning.  Told from the perspectives of three characteristically different women, the reader is allowed to weave together these differing viewpoints in order to form the truth of the situation.
For the purposes of book club, Hatvany generously offers open-ended questions and topics for discussion at the end of the novel.  In addition, a section titled Enhance Your Book Club allows book clubs to delve deeper into the novel by experiencing it either through the rewriting of a scene or creating one’s own recipe which has significance behind it much like the first recipe Grace and Ava attempted together.  To borrow from Heart Like Mine, book club members may want to channel Grace and Victor’s first meeting by sharing a meal of “creamy lemon butter sauce . . . served over grilled chipotle-spiced halibut” (52) or the trials and tribulations of Ava’s adolescence with a meal much like Whitney’s consisting of “organic chicken slices, mixed greens, and some kind of cookie made with agave nectar” (29).  For dessert, though, a pumpkin cream cheese Bundt cake is a must in order to encourage conversation about Ava’s mother, Kelli.

Amy Hatvany

Cheryl Strayed’s Torch Book Club

Having recently inhaled Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I was then eager to read her first novel, Torch.  With similar life experiences as the female protagonist Claire- a parent who suffers a gruesome death at the hands of cancer, various familial dysfunction, and a previous longing for the consummate romantic relationship- I bookmarked passage after passage which seemed to have come from my own thought processes during my near-identical life experiences:  
Years passed. . . Slowly, stingingly, she forgave them [her parents] without their knowing about it.  She accepted the way things were- the way they were- and found that acceptance was not what she’d imagined it would be.  It wasn’t a room she could lounge in, a field she could run through.  It was small and scroungy, in constant need of repair.  (52)

Strayed does not romanticize life, but, instead reveals it in all its awkwardness, ugliness, and blessedness.
In addition, Strayed is not only author, but also neologist with the creation of parentified– “‘ . . . where a child who is still a child doesn’t get to be a child entirely because he or she has to take on things that children shouldn’t have to take on . . . common in single-parent families- where the child has to look after younger siblings, cook meals, and stuff like that'”  (56).  Recalling my own childhood, I can easily see how my older sister was definitely parentified,  and certainly not of her own volition at the tender age of fourteen.
For the purposes of book club, an assortment of vegetarian dishes in honor of Teresa Rae Wood would be appropriate.  Perhaps a scalloped potato casserole with peas along with herbal tea would be ideal items offered at your book club discussion.

Cheryl Strayed

Carol Galusha’s The First to Fall Book Club

Carol Galusha’s third novel, The First to Fall, released June 2012, fails to disappoint.  Much like Ms. Galusha’s first novel The Same Birthday, The First to Fall is geared for the young adult, yet engages not only the adolescent reader, but also the adult reader through her written word.  The novel begins by introducing the reader to five childhood friends of differing races in the segregated early 1900s.  This historical time frame does not distance the young or mature reader, but draws him/her in with the exploration of enduring friendships despite familial and cultural influences.  The plot does not cease there, though, but instead branches out to include a bounty of themes such as dealings of the corrupt, consequences of revenge, and life after reinvention all while transporting the reader to the present day.
What is interesting to note is Ms. Galusha’s clever use of the non-written word allowing the reader to infer necessary detailed conversation, rising action, and dealings of the heart through surrounding descriptions.  These thought-provoking conversation starters are not only ideal for book club, but also for the reluctant-to-volunteer secondary classroom student.  In addition, Ms. Galusha again generously provides on her website a literacy guide to accompany The First to Fall making life easier for not only the overworked educator, but also the underappreciated book club facilitator.

Carol Galusha