"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Favorite Book Club Selections From 2022

2022 was a weird year for book selections in both of my book clubs. In my opinion my first book club, SOTH Ladies, none of our choices were outstanding, and a few of the choices were downright bad. The unfortunate aspect to that is I'm the one who chooses the library book kits we use, so I have no one to blame for poor choices other than myself. My second club, RHS Gals, had seven excellent choices and four clunkers. Now remember a book can be good, fun, or literary and still be a book club clunker because it doesn't help generate a good discussion. I did ask the members of each club for their input for this list. In club #1 the votes were all over the place, I don't think anyone felt there was a clear winner this year, either. Group #2 had three clear favorites, though all seven of the good books got votes.

1. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. The Lincoln Highway was not only the #1 pick of the RHS Gals group but it was also my favorite book of 2022. It's an exciting adventure story, and it's also a road-trip novel, a coming-of-age tale, and a mystery of sorts. It is also a bit of love story and definitely a story about friends and families. From the title I was sure it would be a novel about a road trip, driving along the Lincoln Highway toward a western location. "But as it turns out NOT reaching the intended destination becomes the point and power of this mischievous, wildly entertaining novel" (NYT).  (#1 choice, RHS Gals-March)

2. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. Sometimes we have the good fortune of hitting a home-run when it comes to picking our next book club selection. The Island of Sea Women is one such fantastic choice. This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a unique and unforgettable culture, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce female divers of Jeju Island, off the coast of South Korea, and the dramatic history that shaped their lives. Based on actual history and present-day events. We had the best discussion of the year with this book. (#2 choice, RHS Gals, July)

3. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Everyone in the RHS Gals club loved this book and was surprised by it in equal measure. The book seems, from the cover and the opening few chapters, to be a silly, humorous book about working women in the 1960s. But it turns out to have a strong feminist message about how capable women really are and how they should not be undervalued in the workplace. It does have some very funny scenes as well. This was another personal favorite for the year. When asked, this is the book I recommended most often in 2022. (#3 choice, RHS Gals, November/December)

4. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I've read The Dutch House twice, once in 2019 for the RHS Gals Club, and now in 2022 for the SOTH Ladies club. I am a fan of the book, especially the audiobook, read by Tom Hanks, but I honestly cannot remember either discussion. Described as a dark fairy tale on the book jacket, the story takes place over five decades and tells the tale of how two smart siblings, Danny and Maeve, cannot seem to overcome their past and at the center of the story is the odd but beguiling mansion, the Dutch House. (#1 Tied Choice, SOTH Ladies, January)

5. The Soul of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery. This a nonfiction book by a nature writer who really got to know a lot about octopuses by volunteering at the Boston Aquarium working with the octopuses; diving in Mexico and seeing octopuses in nature; and visiting the Seattle Aquarium to witness a Valentine's Day tradition -- to witness (hopefully) octopus sex. I was a little surprised that this book was selected as the number one choice of the SOTH Ladies this year, tied with the Dutch House. Three ladies picked it as their favorite of the year. It was very interesting and Sy Montgomery is a good writer. I always try to find good nonfiction selections for our club as some gals only want to read real stuff. This would be a fabulous selection to pair with Remarkably Bright Creatures by Van Pelt. It is a fiction story that involves an octopus at its center. (#1 Tied Choice, SOTH Ladies, December)

6. Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh. I confess that Mercy Street was not a favorite book for me but it generated an excellent discussion, one I have thought back on many times. This book couldn't be anymore NOW if it tried. No issue is always right and always wrong as we see through the characters in Mercy Street. Abortion providers aren't out there providing abortions joyously and anti-abortion people aren't necessarily kind, loving, and gentle people. Folks who buy and use drugs aren't always big money-grubbers, nor are all the people who use the drugs awful people. I saw in Mercy Street what I could see in my own community if I looked hard enough -- a lot of polarized people who think their position is right, often without context or compassion. The topics often made me uncomfortable and honestly, angry. But then that was part of excellence of the book. (RHS Gals, September)

7. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I was tremendously impacted by the events in Take My Hand, probably because I knew the story was based upon a real event involving two young girls that were sterilized without their or their parent's consent and that led to a court case, Relf v. Weinberger, which made such things illegal. The book also dealt a bit with abortion as Roe v. Wade had just became law the year before in 1972. The timing with what is happening here in the US with the courts striking down Roe and all the problems this has caused made the read very timely. We had an excellent discussion on Take My Hand, focusing a lot on the question: What does it mean to live a dignified life? (RHS Gals, October)

8. The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocomb. Growing up Black in North Carolina, Ray McMillian breaks the mold by aiming for something beyond a minimum wage, low skilled job -- he wants to be a world class classical musician. He has the skills to succeed but cannot seem to catch any breaks due to his race and his poverty. When he discovers that the fiddle his grandmother gives him as a gift is really a priceless Italian violin, everything changes. He is even invited to participate in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Things are really looking up... then the violin is stolen. Ray's back story is more interesting than the mystery itself. Slocomb, a Black classical musician himself, shines a light on a form of racism in the classical music world. I think I liked this book better than most of the other group members but I am still recommending it here. (RHS Gals, August)

9. The Silent Patient by Alex Michealides. I always have trouble "reviewing" mysteries because just about all the details will be spoilers. So let me say this -- the book is very good and there is a plot twist I didn't see coming.  In fact, since it was a book club choice, I can report that none of the gals in club saw it coming either. Both my husband and I enjoyed listening to the audiobook together. When the plot twisted, we both turned to each other with a look of 'what just happened?' on our faces. Even if you don't read this for book club, read it for yourself! (SOTH Ladies, April)

10. Maid by Stephanie Land/ So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. These books have little to do with each other but I am identifying them in a grouping because both are nonfiction and both have to do with the way we treat people we deem as "other". Maid is the account of a woman who works as a maid in people's homes and is made to feel like a ghost for her poverty and the lowliness of her job. So You Want to Talk About Race is written by a Black woman who identifies ways we can be better people when dealing with people of different races. Both of these books should have generated better discussions than they did, I am sorry to say. I am not sure why, but I will keep trying to bring forward topics which make us squirm but hopefully so we can become better ancestors! (SOTH Ladies, March and June)

Looking for even more suggestions?

Click the links to check my past book club favorites by year:





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