Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Group Reads: 2017-2018

Book Group Reads: 2017-2018

Month Book Author Pages EBook Fresno Library
June 2017 The Light Between Oceans RL Stedman 343 Kindle
All Formats
July 2017 A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley Neal Thompson 421 Kindle
August 2017 The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu  Joshua Hammer 280 Kindle
All Formats
September 2017 Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads  Paul Theroux 441 Kindle
October 2017 Hidden Figures   Margot Lee Shetterly 349 Kindle
All Formats
November 2017 Dr Fiala from CSU, Fresno as possible author

December 2017 Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy   Ann Lamott 192 Kindle
January 2018 Man Called Ove  Fredrik Backman 337 Kindle
All Formats
February 2018 The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism  Doris Kearns Goodwin 910 Kindle
All Formats
March 2018 The Readers Of Broken Wheel Recommend  Katarina Bivald 394 Kindle
April 2018 Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner 569 Kindle
May 2018 How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture Francis Shaeffer 288 Kindle
June 2018 TBA

July 2018 The Last Season Eric Blehm  384 Kindle
August 2018 The Silver Chair  CS Lewis 243 Kindle
All Formats
September 2018 Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness  Eric Metaxas 256 Kindle

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Free Reign

Book: Free Reign
Basic Information : Synopsis : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words  : Good QuotesReferences

Basic Information:
 Author: Rosemary Aubert
Edition:Hardback from the Mountain View Public Library
Read: May 10, 2017
321 pages
Genre:   Fiction, Mystery
Rated: 3  out of 5

Synopsis  (Caution: Spolier Alert-Go To Thoughts):
A judge in Canada has been jailed, put in a mental ward, mostly because he cannot control his anger. When released, he drifts around until he leaves the inner city and resides in a valley cut by the Don River in the middle of Toronto.

He finds a severed black hand with a ring on it. He recognizes that there are only four other rings like it in the world and he has one of them. After graduating from law school, Ellis Portal and four others from his graduating class made a vow that they would always be there to help each other. This was sealed by each being given a ring, the ring which was attached to the severed hand.

The book then goes into the background of Ellis which is helpful, but awfully long. He has some street friends: Queenie and Johnny Dirt and some others. But the most important connection is Aliana, a newspaper reporter. She had done a sympathetic story on Ellis Portal when he was in the mental ward. It is her who he turns to to help him dig up what this hand is all about.

They trace what happened to the last of the ring bearers, Stow who is about to become a Supreme Court justice for Canada and his wife Harpur, who Ellis was infatuated.  It turns out that Stow and his wife are board members of a “hostel” called Second Chance. This is where well to do girls are directed to to take care of messy problems like abortions. The only thing is that some of the girls disappear

A storm comes in at the conclusion of Ellis’ talk with Williams, another ring bearer. This talk leads Ellis directly to the conclusion that Stow is up to no good and must be stopped, even if it means risking Ellis’ freedom. But before Ellis can act, the mother of all storms, at least for this area, comes in flooding the Don River. This causes many lives to be threatened; some are lost. Eventually this will include Williams. But not before we hear that Ellis found with the ring belonged to Matt West, Williams’ lover. The ring came from Gleason, the fifth ring-bearer, who was also Williams’ lover before he died in a car accident.

After Ellis has found redemption by being a hero in rescuing several people from the flood, he goes and confronts Stow. The whole story is then let out with a twist. The bottomline is nobody is murdered, even Matt West is alive, but without a hand. The whole Second Chance scheme is legal, but left with the question of is it moral.

When I first read the reporters exclamation of “we are connected to the Internet” like it was a new thing, I thought how cheesy. Of course you are. Then I realized the book was published in 1997, when it was mostly dial ups, not WiFi. Maybe not as cheesy.


In looking at the Google Earth of the Don River, I was thinking this area did not have too many places to hide, particularly for a long period of time. But what was it like 20-30 years ago? At least in 2002, it looked pretty similar according to Google Earth.

I thought that the explanation which Stow had for everything was a bit too coincidental. Such as Matt West being the homosexual partner of Williams who was one of the five ring bearers. Matt West being the guardian for Harpur who was also a ring bearer and the wife of Stow. There seemed to be many of these interlocking which would be a bit too complicated for real life, possible, but probable?

Probably the biggest dilemma in the book is the actions which are legal yet are they moral? A a few is is more moral to break the law than to obey it at times? Neither are shown in a particularly striking fashion to cause us to rethink things.

Free Reign is an enjoyable read, starting a bit slow, but then progresses. If you are looking for a hardcore mystery, try someone else like Dorothy Sayers. But for an enjoyable way to spend a summer day, you could do worse.

Notes from my book group:

Why the title of Free Reign?
    There is a quote in the beginning of the book referencing the title.

What is the difference between Free Rein and Free Reign?  (From the Writing Explained web site)
  • free rein is an allusion to horses, not to kings or queens. This is an important distinction to make when you are looking for the correct spelling and it will guide us the rest of the way when comparing free rein vs. free reign.. free rein is an allusion to horses, not to kings or queens. This is an important distinction to make when you are looking for the correct spelling and it will guide us the rest of the way when comparing free rein vs. free reign.
  • Free reign is a spelling error, mistakenly used for the phrase free rein.. As a noun, reign refers to the period of time a sovereign rules. As a verb, reign refers to the action of holding royal office, being the best of most important, or holding a title.

  • Does this story work as a mystery? Did the ending seem fitting? Satisfying?  Hammish? Predictable?
    • Not a traditional mystery. Dust jacket calls it a suspenseful story. What is the difference between suspense and mystery?
  • Did you think that with the  description of Toronto, you could trace where Ellis was going?
  • Which character was the most convincing? Least? Which character did you identify with? Which one did you dislike?
  • Was there any philosophical underpinnings to this book? Any symbolism?  In what context was religion talked about in this book? Was there anybody you would consider religious? Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • When Stow’s story unfolded, did you change your mind about him? Did you think of and contrast with  John in Still Alice?
  • Would you read other Ellis Portal books-there are five of them?
    • Answered varied
  • What would you have done in Ellis’ place with Stow? Harpur?
  • What would you ask Rosemary Aubert if you had a chance?
  • What “take aways” did you have from this book?

As our discussion went, I thought this would have been a good question: Did saving lives allowed him to save his own?

New Words:
  • impegno (chp 12): Italian for commitment

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: My name is Ellis Portal.
  • Last Line: “Yes, Dad,” she said, “It’s a promise.”
  • ...anything fenced in is some kind of servant. (Chp 2)
  • If your English was indistinguishable from everybody else’s, nobody could ever accuse you of not belonging. (Chp 2)
  • A man with a bad temper can never be a free man. (Chp 4)
  • ...despite all my joy at my free existence, I was neither free, not safe, … (Chp _)
  • What we’re after is simple, Aliana. The truth. (chp 17)
  • no matter how fast a man moves to get away, he never outruns himself, (Chp 17)
  • All love ends in tragedy.  (Chp 18)
  • A person untouched by tragedy is unfit to judge others. (Chp 18)
  • the heart needs no reason to love.  (Chp 18)


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Book: The Other Wes Moore
Basic Information : Synopsis : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words : Book References : Good Quotes
: Table of Contents : References

Basic Information:
 Author: Wes Moore
Edition: eBook from the Public Library
Read: April 12, 2017
323 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5
As the title implies, the author whose name is Wes Moore tracks another Wes Moore who lived only a few blocks away from him in Baltimore. Both are about the same age and both are African-American. One ends up being a Rhodes scholar, the other in prison for murder.

You would expect in a book like this, there would be some prescription for how to make things better. But at the end, it sounds like Wes Moore is still sorting out his thoughts which is a bit refreshing, also a bit dissatisfying. The dissatisfying because you want the way to have things different. But refreshing because you realize that people come in so many different ways that doing one thing will never fit all people or even most of them.

Wes Moore leaves the prescription to others to state. Even then the answer given is to be involved. And that is the call to action. Not more government programs or more money or another organization, but individual involvement in individual lives.

The involvement of people close to the author made the difference between the two Wes Moores. Even though the other Wes Moore had his brother saying don’t go the way I did and a mother who was concerned. They were not effective nor energetic in keeping him away from running drugs.

The thoughts on manhood is interesting. The way the author was through the military’s way of owning up. It seemed like the other Wes Moore was still searching for what it meant to be a man. The South African story at the end is the author’s way of supporting that there is a need for ritual from when a child becomes an adult. Age does not make the difference, but outlook does.

Part I. Fathers and angels.
I was taught to remember, but never question. Wes was taught to forget and never ask why. The other Wes is so much sadder, much of it caused by the failings of a father. But I am not sure you can talk about the father's failings without understanding the father more. Was it fleeing a responsibility which he never wanted?

...pondering an absence [of their father]. This is a key meditation of our society. What has become of the fathers, and secondly, how can we be responsive to those who are fatherless?

Part II. Choices and second chances.
The author is coming to visit his namesake in prison. He stops and noted the daily miracle of my freedom. This is something we are so used, that I take it for granted.  It is only when we are faced with the loss of something which we appreciate what we have.

The other Wes asks the author, when did you become a man. The answer: when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me. But the author seems discontent with the answer, a bit too pat. He cannot identify a moment when he felt like he became a man.  The other Wes gets pretty close when he says that second chances are pretty fleeting.  There is a sharp edge between heading right and heading down. Author Wes Moore adds in about second chances and last chances.

Marking territory
The other Wes Moore wanted to be like his drug pushing brother; the brother wanted him to stay clear of that lifestyle. Sometimes it is the person who has made a mistake and cannot get out of it is the best person to keep us away from a problem. the “don’t do what I do, do what I say.” May seem hypocritical, yet it may be the best someone can do.

Part III. Paths taken and expectations fulfilled.
The other Wes Moore kept repeating his innocence, even though there was conclusive proof that he was involved. The author wonders, did he think if he repeated this enough times, he would be innocent? How about us? Do we repeat something about ourselves hoping that it is true?

Then there is a meaningful section about expectations. Is it our expectation of ourselves which forms us? Or those placed upon us?  The conclusion is that our expectations are influenced by those others have on us.

The land that God forgot
Books suddenly become alive for the author.  He was able to learn about various situations and imagine himself in them and see how he could work things out. The academic life grew on him.

Also the military school surrounding the author formed his thinking from easy ways to doing the right things.

excuses are the tools of the incompetent was pounded into the author by Sergeant Major Harry Harris. While I do not think this is an absolute truth, I know I perform better if I do not look for excuses.

The above can be contrasted with the other Wes thoughts about God. Where was God when things went wrong?  When bad things happen? The conclusion on this was, He certainly did not reside where this Wes Moore was.

The other Wes Moore never thought about the long term arc of his life. Do I think about where I am going and what I am doing? How does this fit in for the next five years? Ten years?

The author realized he had been very fortunate not to end up like his namesake. Others had been set onto the wrong path by tiny misfortunes-he had not been. He realized that his missions has to be to pull up others behind us. This was done for him and he wanted to do it for others. This is a good realization to have. Even for someone who was not from the projects. We cannot say that we are completely self-made as we are a product of our circumstances as well.

...admire the beauty and culture. But make sure you do not leave without understanding the history. That is something which we all should do wherever we are. When I am in Yosemite, it is not enough to see its beauty, but understand how we got to this place, so that as the future unfolds, we are not the slave to its past.

The author asked his South African host "how are you able to forgive?  ... How are you so able to move on?" The answer is less than intuitive: She gave me an easy half smile and took another sip from her mug. "Because Mr. Mandela asked us to."

I'd expected more. "I'd expected her to tell me that she was still working on her revenge scheme, ... But her simple and profound answer helped me to understand ubuntu  was not simply a word. It was a way of life. Her candor and exquisite simplicity framed the rest of my trip and helped me better understand the land I was living in. We are part of a community and must learn to live in one or we will self-destruct. Even if parts of that community has done us wrong.

There is a ceremony which the author’s host son will be going through which will mark him becoming a man. It will be painful. But the son says  it’s not the process you should focus on; it’s the joy you will feel after you go through the process. Wisdom from a young man.

As a note: this ties in with the question from the other Wes Moore-when did you become a man? In the South African case, it was after he had gone through the ceremony. Maybe that is what we lack. A boundary which says you are no longer a boy, but a man and now must take responsibilities as one.

The author talks about the camaraderie of being with fellow soldiers, those who have the same mission and understanding, along with the passion. He also talks about the fellowship of those who serve and who have commitment, integrity and sacrifice. There is not a sense of aloofness which you get in our society.

The author also talks about the process of writing this story. How he listen, took notes and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps of getting the story right. I am thinking about how we no longer have that passion for making the story right, but would rather twist our stories to fit our beliefs.

He also talks about What made the difference [between the two Wes’s]? He does not have a ready made answer. One thing he does bring up is the place of strong mentors in his life at crucial times. There is also a need to give young people the opportunity to make the best decisions on their lives, along with the information and tools and support.

What changed the author? He does not feel going to military school was the changing point. But when he felt himself surrounded by supportive people-his mom, grandparents, and extended family.

He concludes that it is up to us, all of us, to make a way for them [boys and girls growing up].

Wes Moore points out that lives typically do not change at a single moment, but are an accumulation of events. But even more important is a person perceives themselves in their own story. To me it is a rare person who can understand themselves enough to both be on stage and see the part they play.

A call to action / Tavis Smiley
the battle of life is won in the trying and serving.
 Good book with interesting lines of thoughts about how two similar people can grow up to be two different men. The author does not leave us with a prescription to correct the situation, but advocates involvement in people, particularly at critical times in their development.  Wes Moore’s background is as a scholar rather than a writer. His writing is fair, but not with charm or excitement. So when you read this book, read for content not great writing.

Notes from my book group:
Some of the thoughts which came out from our OSHER group were:
  • Expectations
    • The expectation others place on us influences our own expectations and consequently our own results
  • Each person is different.
  • Do not give up on the person, even if they give up on themselves
  • Mental and physical health
    • This has a great bearing on what we are able to do.
  • Focus on the people around me
  • Hope Now For Youth
    • A local example of a group who are changing gang members.
  • Individual responsibility to be a solution
    • Just because we are ok does not relieve us of the responsibilities to others.
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Other Wes Moore:
1. How well does Moore describe the culture of the streets, where young boys grow up believing that violence transforms them into men? Talk about the street culture—its violence, drug dealing, disdain for education. What creates that ethos and why do so many young men find it attractive?
2. In writing about the Wes Moore who is in prison, Wes Moore the author says, "The chilling truth is that his life could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his." What do you make of that statement? Do you think Moore is correct?
3. Oprah Winfrey has said that "when you hear this story, it's going to turn the way you think about free will and fate upside down." So, which is it...freedom or determinism? If determinism, what kind of determinism—God, cosmic fate, environment, biology, psychology? Or if freedom, to what degree are we free to choose and create our own destiny?
4. The overriding question of this book is what critical factors in the lives of these two men, who were similar in many ways, created such a vast difference in their destinies?
5. Talk about the role of family—and especially the present or absence of fathers—in the lives of children. Consider the role of the two mothers, Joy and Mary, as well as the care of the author's grandparents in this book.
6. Why did young Wes, who ran away from military school five times, finally decide to stay put?
7. Why was the author haunted by the story of his namesake? What was the reason he insisted on meeting him in prison? Talk about the awkwardness of the two Weses' first meeting and their gradual openness and sharing with one another.
8. From prison, the other Wes responded to the author's initial letter with his own letter, in which he said, "When you're in here, you think people don't even know you're alive anymore." Talk about the power of hope versus hopelessness for those imprisoned. What difference can it make to a prisoner to know that he or she is remembered?
8. The author Wes asked the prisoner Wes, "when did you first know you were a man?" Talk about the significance of that question...and how each man responded.
9. Has this book left you with any ideas for ameliorating the conditions that led to the imprisonment of the other Wes Moore? What can be done to ensure a more productive life for the many young men who grow up on the streets?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
New Words:
  • Inshallah (Introduction)
Book References:
  • Fab Five by Mitch Albom 
    My American Journey by Colin Powell

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore.
  • Last Line: How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.  (quoted from William Ernest Henley)
  • excuses are the tools of the incompetent  (chp. The land that God forgot )
  • ...admire the beauty and culture. But make sure you do not leave without understanding the history. (Surrounded)
  • it’s not the process you should focus on; it’s the joy you will feel after you go through the process (Surrounded)
  • the battle of life is won in the trying and serving. (A call to action / Tavis Smiley )
Table of Contents:
  • Part I. Fathers and angels.
    • Is daddy coming with us?
    • In search of home
    • Foreign ground
  • Part II. Choices and second chances.
    • Marking territory
    • Lost
    • Hunted
  • Part III. Paths taken and expectations fulfilled.
    • The land that God forgot
    • Surrounded
  • Epilogue
  • A call to action / Tavis Smiley.