A Few Good Books

I am in a lively book club called The Book Hunters. We’ve been meeting the third Monday of every month since 1989. Most of us were new mothers when we started. Now, many of us are grandmothers. We used to meet in the morning and drink coffee. Now we gather in the evening and drink things other than coffee.

One of my favorite book club meetings happens in January when spouses or SO’s are invited to join us. We try to pick a book we think will generate a thoughtful and energetic discussion. Memorable books for this expanded gathering have been titles such as Endurance, Undaunted Courage, and The Road. Last year, we read The Sympathizer, a story about the Vietnam War as told by a Vietnamese counterspy. It was so informative, my husband and I went back and watched the Ken Burns Series, The Vietnam War to get more context. This year, we are reading A Murder in Music City.

Once a year,  the Book Hunters get together for a luncheon and instead of discussing one book we come prepared with suggestions for the next year’s list. Afterward, a group of us get together and attempt to whittle down the selection to eleven books. At that meeting, we assign books to each other to read so we can get more opinions about specific books. A month later, we get together again and hear each other’s thoughts on the assignments. We book-lovers long for superlatives like “I loved it” or “I couldn’t put it down” or ” I learned so much” or “It’s beautifully written.” If the readers have high praise for a book, it’s in.

Yesterday, we left that second meeting super excited about the reading list we had come up with. When my mother was alive, I would always send her a copy of the list after this meeting. These days I email it to my friend, Gayl, in Napier, NZ where she shares it with friends in her book club, Chooks & Books. Gayl also sends me book recs that the Chooks have enjoyed. One of them, On the Edge of the Orchard, was read by our book club last March. The discussion that ensued was one of the best. For me, that’s the beauty of reading, sharing, and discussing books together; you get a glimpse into the soul of others when you hear what moved them about a story.

Here’s our list.

September: Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)

“Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!” —Reese Witherspoon

October: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)

“Beginning in 1910 during the time of Japanese colonialization and ending many decades later in 1989, Pachinko is the epic saga of a Korean family told over four generations. The family’s story starts with Hoonie, a young Korean man born with physical deformities, but whose destiny comes from his inner strength and kindness. His daughter, rather than bring shame on her family, leaves their homeland for Japan, where her children and grandchildren will be born and raised; yet prejudice against their Korean heritage will prevent them from ever feeling at home. In Pachinko, Min Jin Lee says much about success and suffering, prejudice, and tradition, but the novel never bogs down and only becomes richer, like a sauce left simmering hour after hour. Lee’s exceptional story of one family is the story of many of the world’s people. They ask only for the chance to belong somewhere—and to be judged by their hearts and actions rather than by ideas of blood traits and bad seeds.” –Seira Wilson, The Amazon Book Review

November: Circe by Madeline Miller (2018)

“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right.”―The New York Times

“An epic spanning thousands of years that’s also a keep-you-up-all-night page-turner.” — Ann Patchett

December: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (2015)

“I started this on Sunday and finished it on Monday. It was just one of those books that is filled with secrets of the past that you just have to know about and characters that you love as soon as you meet them and then you love them more as the author lets you see who they are.” Angela M for Goodreads. 

“A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets.” —Goodreads

January Couples Dinner: A Murder in Music City  by Michael Bishop (2017)

“Nashville 1964. Eighteen-year-old babysitter Paula Herring is murdered in her home. A few months later a judge’s son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, Michael Bishop, a private citizen, stumbles upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world’s top forensic experts–including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka “the living Sherlock Holmes”)–he uncovers the truth. What really happened is completely different from what the public was led to believe. In this true-crime page-turner, the author lays out compelling evidence that a circle of powerful citizens were key participants in the crime and the subsequent cover-up.” —Amazon

February: Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent (2008)

“A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery. An upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel. A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream. A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it. It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana . . . and an East Texas honky-tonk . . . and, without a doubt, in the heart of God. It unfolds in a Hollywood hacienda . . . an upscale New York gallery . . . a downtown dumpster . . . a Texas ranch. Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, this true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.” –Amazon

March: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (2018)

“A general’s daughter…Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A Founding Father’s wife…But the union they create–in their marriage and the new nation–is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all–including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle–to understand the flawed man she married and the imperfect union he could never have created without her…”  –Amazon

April: A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee (2000)

“A Gesture Life is the story of a proper man, an upstanding citizen who has come to epitomize the decorous values of his New York suburban town. Courteous, honest, hardworking, and impenetrable, Franklin Hata, a Japanese man of Korean birth, is careful never to overstep his boundaries. Yet as his story unfolds, precipitated by the small events surrounding him, we see his life begin to unravel. Gradually we learn the mystery that has shaped the core of his being: his terrible, forbidden love for a young Korean Comfort Woman when he served as a medic in the Japanese army during World War II.” —Penguin Random House

May:  Known as our “Free Read” luncheon where everyone gives suggestions for the next year’s book list.

June: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (2017)

“Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.” —Penguin Random House

July: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women by Balli Kaur Jaswal (2018)

“Nikki, a modern daughter of Indian immigrants, has spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.  The proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn English, not short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of erotica and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories that they’ve held in for far too long. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing the creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.  As the class grows, a group called the Brothers, who have appointed themselves Southall’s “moral police,” threaten to reveal the class’s scandalous stories and the mysterious secrets lurking beneath this seemingly sedate, tight-knit community.” —Harper Collins

August: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2018)

“With Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan—who dazzled readers with her Pulitzer Prize-winning, A Visit from the Goon Squad—spins a classic historical novel. Classic in the sense that it’s virtually impossible to put down. Classic in its sepia-toned portrait of New York: set on the Brooklyn docks during World War II, when mobsters ruled, the war loomed, and a young girl dove her way into becoming the first female diver on the squad. Classic in its quintessentially satisfying characters: crooked gangsters, disappearing fathers, gritty sailors, and an intrepid young woman equally at home in a 200-pound diving suit and a green silk dress who unites them all. Classic in its revelation of the dangerous, altruistic and nefarious choices people make to support their family, their country and themselves. Manhattan Beach is classic in all of its American glory. “—Al Woodworth, Amazon

Since writing this post, friends havebeen sending the names of books they have read and loved. I’m starting a running list:

Educated, by Tara Westover. “I highly recommend it,” wrote three different people. I didn’t care for it.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste NgQuick and thought-provoking. Story takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I loved it.
The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan. WW2 from the viewpoint of the Italians. I loved it.
4 3 2 1: A Novel, by Paul Auster.
The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Nine interlocking fables about trees & people. Reading it now..

Related Stories involving The Book Hunters:
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
A Quick and Easy Baked Hummus and Feta Appetizer

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece

When my mother was alive, she would go out in my backyard, cut flowers, interesting greens, flowering branches, and even flowering weeds, and make the most beautiful floral arrangements. She would set them around my house in small vases. Even her choice of containers was unusual, antique blue bottles, ceramic jars, and porcelain or metallic bowls. Her sense of style and creativity was legendary.

Monday, I needed to come up with a floral arrangement for my book club, the Book Hunters’, annual luncheon. As I stood in my backyard early in the morning watering vegetables, I wondered WWMD? What would Mom do? I had gorgeous leaves of every shape, size, color, and texture. Some of my herbs were flowering. I got the idea to make an edible arrangement using one thing from every vegetable and herb growing in my yard. I got a bucket, filled it with water and started picking. I ended up with this.


Unfortunately, it lacked oomph.

I made a quick SOS call to my flower-arranging friend and fellow Book Hunter, Mary. Could she come over a little before the meeting and pretty this arrangement up? Mary, my mother’s name, by the way, arrived and got busy arranging while I searched the garden for more color.

I picked flowers, seed pods, garlic scapes and even a few flowering stems from my beloved Heirloom Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers pea plant. It was painful to cut that one knowing those flowers would have turned into peas. Purple peas, no less.

These purple peas become a focal point wherever they show up, whether growing on the vine, served as a side dish, or used in an arrangement. This a fun plant to grow, readers.
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By the time everyone arrived, Mary had worked her magic, and we had an arrangement full of color, texture and whimsy. And all of it was edible.
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Plants Used
Leaves: Winterbor Kale, Red Russian Kale, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Kookaburra Spinach, Red Romaine, Freckled Romaine, Red Oak Leaf Lettuce, Alcosa Cabbage, Red Clover, Red Ace Beet, Bull’s Blood Beet, Hakurei F1 Hybrid Turnip, Easter Egg Radish,  Lorane Improved Broad Fava Bean, Spring Onion

Plumes: Dill, Jersey Knight Asparagus, Calliope Blend Carrots, Scarlet Nantes Carrots, Purple Haze F1 Carrots

Shapes:  Sugar Snap Pea, Oregon Sugar Pod 2, Desiree Dwarf Blauswshokkers, Garlic

Flowers: Arugula, Sage, Red Meat Radish
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More flowers: Mustard, Pea, Parsley, Garlic
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Mom would have approved. The chickens did.

The story didn’t end there. Last night, I deconstructed the arrangement to make dinner. I placed parts to be sautéed in one bowl, parts for a salad in another, flowers for a small arrangement in a vase and stems and such in the compost bucket for the chickens.

I sautéed the vegetable and herbs with spring onions and garlic in olive oil, mixed in four cups of leftover cooked farro and added the meat from a rotisserie chicken. When the food was all mixed, seasoned, and heated, I squeezed lemon juice over all of it and stirred in grated parmesan cheese. We had it for dinner.

For more details about planting a spring vegetable garden, check out this post: Urban Farming: Spring Planting. I also have a post called Urban Farming: Fall Planting if you are thinking of taking the plunge into backyard farming this Fall.

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Other How-tos
How to Make Cork Bulletin Boards
How to Make a Freezer Thaw Detector


Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.