Book Club
Longtime Seven Pines resident and Managing Editor of the Forest Flashes, Barb Brooks, contributes to the Seven Pines Book Club Reviews.  For more reviews and other essays, please visit her blog at www.discussthisbook.blogspot.com
Review of Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer

 No doubt about it, Jeffrey Archer tells a good story.  Now published in 97 countries and more than 37 languages, Kane and Abel was "recrafted" for its 30th anniversary but the plot remains unchanged. 
Abel Rosnovski is a Polish emigrant who endures severe adversity for many years, but his belief in himself and his dream of someday claiming the title of baron keep him motivated while building his international hotel chain.  His American counterpart, William Kane, born of privilege and money, is a wealthy banker focused on work and family until their paths cross, and an anonymous good deed tears their lives apart.  While the plot is somewhat predictable, we were not sympathetic to their personal feud which could have so easily been resolved.  We generally found it hard to believe that either man would sacrifice his own family for revenge.  With today's social media, the anonymous good deed would surely have been leaked.

We dinned alfresco surrounded by trees, flowers, and a waterfall with an international menu emulating Abel's Baron Hotels.  Our beverage selection was French Soda, Tavernello vin Bianco, Black Mountain Cabernet Savignon, and imported Goldschlager (cinnamon schnapps) which contained genuine gold flakes!  Our appetizer choices included dried apricots with honeyed goat cheese rolled in sunflower seeds (Turkey), cream crackers (UK), assorted chocolates (Belgium), and butter almond thins (UK).  Beef Wellington, a multigrain medley from Rio, and a capreses salad rom Italy made up the entree with Tiramisu (Italy) for dessert.  Abel would be pleased.


Review of The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg


Fannie Flagg has a flare for capturing the spirit and heart of the time. The All Girl Filing Station’s Last Reunion is a heart-warming story of Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama in the 2000s and her connection to the Jurdabralinski family of Pulaski, Wisconsin in the 1940s. Once she learns the secret her intimidating and egocentric mother has protected her from for some 60 years, Skookie slowly discovers how to truly be herself. Her journey is both emotional and highly entertaining. For one thing, her clandestine meetings with Dr. Shapiro usually involve Sookie disguising herself by wearing a hat and pink sneakers with pom-poms. After all, she couldn’t let anyone know she was seeing a psychiatrist.

 

Along the way the reader learns about a brave group of women known as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) who ferried airplanes directly from the factory to domestic bases during World War II. Many of the women died flying these planes and yet they received little recognition or appreciation. This spurred discussion among us about how far women have come in terms of opportunities for careers other than that of housewife.  

 

Another point of interest for our group was the adoption issue, in particularly whether or not adopted children are more curious about their birth parents when they learn late in life about the adoption versus being told from little on about it.

 

Our host did a fabulous job of being in-tune with the book.  Not only did she serve homemade pickle soup, but she dished up authentic Polish sausage, sauerkraut, and perogies all on heirloom china.  The Poppy seed cake surrounded with hand-dipped strawberries was irresistible.  Lenore would be so proud!  The German wine was quite a hit and the little china blue birds placed around the daffodils were a nice Sookie touch. 

 

Happy Reading,                    For more reviews and other essays visit my blog at

Barb Brooks                                     <www.discussthisbook.blogspot.com>

Review of The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Fannie Flagg has a flare for capturing the spirit and heart of the time. The All Girl Filing Station’s Last Reunion is a heart-warming story of Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama in the 2000s and her connection to the Jurdabralinski family of Pulaski, Wisconsin in the 1940s. Once she learns the secret her intimidating and egocentric mother has protected her from for some 60 years, Skookie slowly discovers how to truly be herself. Her journey is both emotional and highly entertaining. For one thing, her clandestine meetings with Dr. Shapiro usually involve Sookie disguising herself by wearing a hat and pink sneakers with pom-poms. After all, she couldn’t let anyone know she was seeing a psychiatrist.

 

Along the way the reader learns about a brave group of women known as the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) who ferried airplanes directly from the factory to domestic bases during World War II. Many of the women died flying these planes and yet they received little recognition or appreciation. This spurred discussion among us about how far women have come in terms of opportunities for careers other than that of housewife.  

 

Another point of interest for our group was the adoption issue, in particularly whether or not adopted children are more curious about their birth parents when they learn late in life about the adoption versus being told from little on about it.

 

Our host did a fabulous job of being in-tune with the book.  Not only did she serve homemade pickle soup, but she dished up authentic Polish sausage, sauerkraut, and perogies all on heirloom china.  The Poppy seed cake surrounded with hand-dipped strawberries was irresistible.  Lenore would be so proud!  The German wine was quite a hit and the little china blue birds placed around the daffodils were a nice Sookie touch.

Review of The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner is an interesting thoughtful book that just so happens to be greatly lacking in likeable characters. That being said, Herman Koch, a Dutch writer, cleverly weaves his story around a five course meal at a rather pretentious restaurant, giving ample time for two brothers and their wives to have a much needed conversation. Their sole purpose is to discuss how to handle a very serious problem their teenage sons have created for themselves. The story is narrated by the older brother, Paul, so we only get his perspective and after a while we begin to doubt his veracity and his ability to assess any situation.   He meanders back and forth in time gradually revealing his skewed values and his increasingly abhorrent personality.    

 

As one club member pointed out, Paul puts great emphasis on how everything he does is normal making the reader wonder who he is trying so hard to convince. He seems a bit desperate to believe that his son’s behavior is indeed normal, but by whose definition? Claire reasons “That we don’t have the right to take away their childhood, simply because, according to our norms, as adults, it’s a crime you should have to pay for, for the rest of your life.” Seriously?! Not surprisingly, Paul tries to blame the victim.  

 

Another reader admitted she was in a hurry to finish the book as she didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary with this family. Even so, this disturbing novel deserves our attention.

 

Our Dinner: the aperitif was a variety of Dutch and French cheeses, (Gouda, double-cream Brie, and fromage de Chevre) with green pepper jelly or Black Current Mustard as a topping. The main course was an Indonesian chicken dish made with Quinoa, dried apricots, and dates. Digestif was an amazing Strawberry Amaretti Bombe that was devoured long before any chance of melting.

Review of The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness          

by Karen Armstrong

In just under 300 pages, Karen Armstrong draws us into the bleak and brutal seven years she lived as a nun from 1962 to 1969. She includes vivid descriptions of how she suffered for years with undiagnosed epilepsy which made her transition into the secular world very difficult.

Her journey through self-doubt and skepticism presents many scenarios leaving us with “another impression to file away to think about later when [we have] time.” For example, “Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary.” Similar to the Golden Rule but, as Armstrong notes, “It takes more discipline to refrain from doing harm to others. It’s easier to be a do-gooder and project your needs and desires onto other people.”

Armstrong’s writing is somewhat repetitious and could use some levity but, when she talks about reawakening “that old longing for a more intense existence shot through with transcendent meaning” all is forgiven. Ultimately she was able to overcome her self-doubt and embark on a truly remarkable intellectual and spiritual journey and become a world renowned expert on religious affairs. Ms. Armstrong is diligent in her pursuit of finding God and we are the richer for it.

Thankfully our host spared us the hard-boiled egg and yogurt diet of the author and treated us to a delicious spread of Greek appetizers, beef and gravy over rice, salad and Christmas cookies. She even added a special gift bag of a home-made snack for each of us. Kudos to our host.

Review of Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House that

Herring Built by Mark Russ Federman

Russ & Daughters is a delightful memoir and genealogy of the Russ family. Their Appetizer store is over 100 years old and has a fascinating history having started as a pushcart operation in 1907 when Joel Russ and his family emigrated from Poland. They settled in lower Manhattan and have been there ever since. Russ’s daughter and a nephew, fourth generation Russes, now run the business and have brought it into the twenty-first century by automating the inventory and creating a website among other innovations while still retaining the original flavor of the store. Some might find the read a little repetitious in spots, but anyone interested in a good immigration saga is sure to enjoy this read.

Our hostess treated us with food directly from Russ and Daughters, (bagels, cream cheese, lox, and herring) along with making Mushroom and Barley Soup from their original recipe included in the book. We ended the meal with sugared fruit and homemade New York cheese cake. Yum!