Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Club Selections - book reviews

Our library book club read The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean several years ago, however quite a few new members have joined our group in the past couple of years, so it was chosen as one of the selections again this year. The book follows Marina, an elderly Russian woman who is losing her memory. Actually she has very vivid recall of events that occurred when she was a docent at the Hermitage during World War II and the German Army's siege of Leningrad. During those years, Marina created a "Memory Palace" in her mind to help her remember and visualize the paintings and other art pieces that were removed from the Hermitage for safe hiding during wartime. Descriptions of several of the art pieces from the Hermitage are interspersed throughout the book, typically foreshadowing the events of the upcoming chapter.

I remember reading this book back in 2007. I remembered the story of Marina in the Hermitage and the descriptions of the artwork and the trials she faced during that long winter of the siege. However, I laughed when I started reading and realized I had completely forgotten the part of the story about Marina as an older woman losing her memory. Like Marina, I didn't remember any of those "current" memories, just the story from her past. I was slightly disappointed in the ending to the story as Marina never shares her memories of the past with her daughter who desires to be an artist.

The leader of our book club actually brought in printouts of the pieces of artwork that were described in the book, which was an added bonus to our discussion. This is a great book that deals with memory loss and lifelong love and works of art and the history of Leningrad during the war, and I highly recommend it.

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley is the story of Ann Brooks and her family at the outbreak and during a pandemic caused by an avian flu. When the flu reaches their area, everyone goes into panic mode and rushes the grocery store to stock up on items. Ann has two daughters and her estranged husband returns home with his graduate assistant who has nowhere else to go as everything begins shutting down. The story follows this family and the decisions they make as the pandemic takes the lives of people all over the world.

This was a fairly good book because I definitely wanted to keep reading to see what happened next, however it did not have a satisfying ending at all. There was a prologue that wrapped everything else up with a glimpse of some of the characters several years later, however I felt the ending was rather abrupt. There were also things that seemed quite unbelievable in the story. Ann's husband Peter was a researcher watching this flu move from one area to another, yet they were an unprepared as everyone else when the pandemic arrived in their area. Also, they continued to have good water for a very long time, despite the electricity being off and many businesses and services closed down due to deaths. And, Ann was consistently cleaning everything with bleach throughout the story - really, how much bleach did she have on hand when this all started?

I just finished The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro. This book follows the story of two women. The first is Eva d'Orsey, a teenage orphan working as a maid in a New York hotel in the 1920s. The story of her life is interspersed with that of Grace Munroe, a London socialite in the 1950s. This is one of several books I've read this year with this type of format - one chapter tells Eva's story, then the next chapter jumps to Grace's story, and eventually the two stories come together in a twist that was never a surprise. While I liked the story, I did not enjoy the format because I already had the conclusion figured out very early in the book.

Part of the book jacket description reads: The Perfume Collector explores the complex and obsessive love between muse and artist, and the tremendous power of memory and scent. Eva inspires one of Paris' greatest perfumers, thus there are quite a few descriptions of scents and perfume-making throughout the book, which was somewhat interesting. Overall this was an ok book that was a quick read. I'm looking forward to the book club discussion in a couple of weeks to hear what others thought of it.

 Are you in a book club? Have you read any of these fiction books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. We belong to a wonderful book group of four couples---we've been meeting since 1990. We read lots of nonfiction, and there are always books I read for book club that I would never read on my own. We read The Madonnas of Leningrad several years ago, and all 8 of us enjoyed it.

  2. Oh thank you! I love the sound of that first one and I'll have to see if I can get hold of it here. It's only a couple of years since we got to admire the artwork in the Hermitage for ourselves. It was a place which made a huge impression on me

  3. Our book club it reading The Perfume Collector this month. I happen to love the format that each chapter is told by a different person. I find that it really helps me to keep the characters sorted in my mind. I'll have to let you know if I like the book!

  4. I'm not in a book club, but like reading your reviews to see what yours has been reading. That certainly sounds like a good book and I will put that on my list to read. You made me laugh with the comment about the lady with the bleach!

  5. I do love your book reviews, I'm always guaranteed to find something to add to my list, but this month it was 3!

    I've been in a book club for 13 years, we've read a diverse range of books in that time!


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