Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

Author: Amor Towles

One-sentence summary: A Russian aristocrat is sentenced to confinement in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow during the Bolshevik Revolution for the rest of his life.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 6

Our favorite thing about it: The beautifully crafted writing.

Our least favorite thing about it: Not as much story as we were expecting. Not a big story arc.

Main Topics of Discussion: Bolshevik Revolution, Russia, Classes in Society, Change, Etiquette and Courtesy, Human Nature

Our favorite quote: “It is of interest of times to change, Mr. Helecki. And it is the business of gentlemen to change with them.”

Notes: Most of us liked this book well enough but thought that it didn’t have enough of a story to hold our attention. Things happened, but there was not a driving plot that kept us wanting to come back to find out what happened next. Aside from that, the book was enjoyable. And it had some of the best writing and beautifully crafted sentences. Other things we noted/discussed:

1. There were cliffhangers surrounding Nina and her outcome. We were slightly bothered by not knowing what had happened to her after she dropped Sophia off at the hotel. We recognize that this was just part of the times in Russia and it served to illustrate how tenuous thing were, but it also just bugged us.

2. We thought the political discussions, thoughts, ideologies, and tensions were fascinating. Whether it was Mishka, Osip, or the Bishop, the author used these people to illustrate what was going on in the country and in the minds of those who were setting up Russia for its communist years. And the Count’s thoughts and experiences of Tsarist Russia were interesting as well.

3. The theme of community at the expense of individuality was one aspect of the political landscape we discussed and found fascinating. Especially as it foils the polar opposite track of America where individualism reigns supreme, sometimes to the detriment of community. The issues of loss of identity also came into play here and brought up questions about erasing identity for the common good…and is that actually good at all?

4. It’s interesting that this author’s other book is called The Rules of Civility, because we found the Count’s own rules of civility to serve him quite well and we saw how the loss of that civility and courtesy can erode relationships and also a nation especially when it is not valued by leadership.
5. We loved the time period and were glad to read a book about Russia during this time – we did not thing we had read another book occurring during this time period so it was nice for a change and interesting to dive into.

6. The theme of Change was a big one and explored at length through all the changes (big and little) that occurred in Russia, the hotel, and in the Count’s life. This could almost be called the main theme of the book and watching how the aristocratic lifestyle was dismantled from the perspective of the Count was wonderful (albeit sad in places) and insightful.

7. The ending was not surprising to us, but it was interesting to note how much the Count had to have changed (mostly because of Sophia) to leave his beloved Russia after putting up with so much thus far. He came back DURING a revolution and stayed despite being in danger, but decided to leave for her sake in the end. We found this both believable and a satisfying end to his tale.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We met at Rachel’s house and made our own dinner…personal pizzas.

What We Ate: Cheese and crackers with wine, Pizza, and Peanut Butter Pie

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Monday, May 08, 2017

This Is How It Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel

One-sentence summary: A couple with 5 boys discovers that their youngest child is more comfortable being a girl, and their entire family has to deal with the trials and triumphs associated with that.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 8

Our favorite thing about it: The very interesting way the author let you “peek in” on a family dealing with a transgender child and all that encompasses.

Our least favorite thing about it: Some of us found the Grumwald fairy tale very annoying! And also certain aspects of Penn and Rosie.

Main Topics of Discussion: Parents and Children, Family Dynamics, Transgender issues in society, the Role of Culture, Fear of “Other”, Either/Or/Both

Our favorite quote:You tell your story. That is what we all must do.” “That’s not magic,” said Grumwald. “Of course it is,” said the witch. “Story is the best magic there is.”

Notes: There are two notable things about our particular discussion of this book:

1) We had some widely varying opinions on the same things in the book
2) We had a LOT to say about this book.

Overall we all really liked the book and were fascinated and empathized with the challenges Rosie and Penn faced in their unique parenting situations. We felt it was such an interesting topic to explore and very timely for our culture right now. As parents, we appreciated reading the book through the perspectives of the two main characters – who were speaking as parents. Some of the things we discussed:

As mentioned above, some of us really did not like the story-telling and fairy tale that Penn made up throughout the book. Some of us thought it was cheesy. Interestingly, almost all of us were confused as to the real meaning of the fairy tale at various points. That was universal. Some of us thought that it was a great metaphor for life and appreciated the symbolism of story.

Sometimes Penn and Rosie were annoying, but we couldn’t quite point to why. We mostly liked them and definitely identified with them as parents. But maybe they were a little too perfect?

Seemingly in contrast, we sometimes had a hard time identifying with the family. Again, maybe they were a little too perfect. We did acknowledge that sometimes families have to choose certain kids to focus on and make major decisions about – like Rosie and Penn had to do for Poppy – but we still didn’t like where that left the other children.

As specific as some of the scenarios were that the author presented as you moved through the narrative, the ending was almost irritatingly ambiguous. We got very little of what it would mean for Poppy in the future and how exactly they would tackle things to come. However (and that’s a big however), we DO acknowledge that that was sort of the point. They were going to be okay with the unknown and living in the middle for Poppy. And also, they would tackle things as they came.

Some of the themes we discussed: story, secrets, fear

Dr. Tongo was also an annoying character to us. We could appreciate that the author was trying to show someone who, like a child, was simply not bothered by many of the intense issues that Penn and Rosie brought to him to discuss because he was fully accepting of all genders and types. BUT, he came across really flippant at times and dismissive of the real and tangible suffering that Poppy and her parents were having to endure. Many times he spoke the truth into the situation and it’s what they needed to hear, but when he calls difficulties “joys,” it also comes across as annoying.

This was not listed as our favorite quote because it was actually in the author’s notes at the end, but when she says that what the world needs is a “wider range of normal.” We felt like that perfectly summed up the way we feel about all of this.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We had our meeting outside by Christina’s new pool!

What We Ate: Moscow Mules and White Sangria, Crackers and Cheese Dips, Cucumbers with tomatoes and cheese/ranch topping - all for appetizers. For our main course we had grilled steaks with herbed butter, loaded baked potatoes (also with herb butter!), and sautéed zucchini and yellow squash. For dessert we had blueberries and strawberries with whipped cream.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

My Notorious Life

Author: Kate Manning

One-sentence summary: A fictional account of a midwife in the mid to late 1800’s who was persecuted for her care for women, which included abortions.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The history.

Our least favorite thing about it: It was a tad too long.

Main Topics of Discussion: Women, Abortion, Healthcare, History

Our favorite quote: “It always aggravated me to see how the men, most of them, did not want to be bothered for themselves. They wanted the lady to have all the bother.”

Notes: Overall we enjoyed this book, but there were a few things we picked at. First, we felt that the story was slow in places and the book was just generally too long. We thought that if the story was “cleaned up” and “tightened up” a bit, it would have been slightly more satisfying to read.

Also, we had trouble connecting with Axie. Her language, while authentic, may have made her feel separate. And her thought processes and the way she dealt with emotions did not always resonate with us – though those were also very natural for someone with her history. As a narrator as well as main character, we would have liked to be more connected to her somehow.

The history of abortion and also how people thought about it two centuries ago was fascinating. The stories and descriptions of womens’ lives – from all walks – was so interesting as it shed light on the very difficult decisions the women were forced to make. We realized we have taken for granted the ability to control certain aspects of our health with access to birth control. It’s amazing what it means for women when that is not an option.

Likewise the womens’ voices were very interesting to us. The wit and humor of Axie was fun and funny to read. She had a mind of her own and a set of beliefs born out of experience and we loved that about her.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We celebrated Stephanie’s birthday!

What We Ate: A chicken, bacon, and artichoke pizza for an appetizer. Josh also made salmon and orzo with tomato and asparagus. Dara baked an amazing s’mores bar for us!

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Executing Grace

Author: Shane Claiborne

One-sentence summary: Claiborne details some very compelling arguments for Christians specifically to be against the death penalty.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 8

Our favorite thing about it: Real life stories - the PEOPLE.

Our least favorite thing about it: If forced to pick, we felt it could have been shorter and still packed the same punch.

Main Topics of Discussion: Justice System, Penal Substitution, American History, Restorative Justice

Our favorite quote: “When we receive the gift of grace, it should transform us into grace-filled people who want to see other people given a chance, and other people loved back to life again.”

Notes: We loved the stories of real people in this book. Claiborne explains that this is a people issue and that getting to know actual people puts a face and name to an “issue.” We totally agree.

We felt the book was really well-written and laid out in a logical way, which was great. Claiborne makes a very compelling argument for Christians. Others who are not Christians may find the argument compelling too, but maybe not. Certainly the biblical texts that he invokes are well-selected for his argument and made a lot of sense to us.

This book is very educational too. Not only in the biblical sense, but also in the way it opens the reader’s eyes to the justice system and how it works. There were lots of things we didn’t know before we read this book. One of those things was the history of lynchings. We learned a lot about that.

The book, although a dark subject, is surprisingly hopeful. Though we still have the death penalty in the US, Claiborne explains that it is at its lowest and possibly on the way out. This is encouraging, but there is still work to do. Especially in our home state of Texas.

The last section – about restorative justice – was captivating to us. We loved it and the whole concept. While it seemed a little idealistic to us (and where do you start?!), we wholeheartedly agreed with the idealism. And also – we saw the merit in working toward it no matter how out of reach it seems. Exploring new avenues of justice that are restorative rather than punitive, was a great discussion.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We had our meeting mostly outside in Lindsay’s new outdoor space. The new string lights gave great ambiance to our discussion. It was such a beautiful night.

What We Ate: Crockpot Chicken with Potatoes, Homemade Hummus with Veggies and Pita Bread, Garbanzo Salad with Feta, Lemon and Basil. Brownies and Ice Cream for Dessert.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wishful Drinking

Author: Carrie Fisher

One-sentence summary: Carrie talks about her life, habits, and career.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The humor.

Our least favorite thing about it: Sometimes fell flat.

Main Topics of Discussion: Rehab, Addiction, Acting, Famous Families

Our favorite quote: “Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”

Notes: Overall we enjoyed this book. It’s interesting to note that those of us who listened to the book (which is read by Carrie Fisher) had a better impression of the book than those of us who just read it. Half of us read it and half of us listened to it. We think that the delivery made a huge difference on the written word.

The book is written in a conversational tone, which makes it easy and fun to read. This is also probably why it’s better to listen to it…the writing lends itself to that kind of delivery.

We all laughed out loud at several parts. The humor could be forthright or dry and we loved both.

It was eerie at times listening to and reading about Carrie talk about her (future, of course) death…since she has recently passed away.

Carrie gave us entertainment, a glimpse into her industry and life, and seemed very down to earth. We enjoyed the book, but definitely recommend the audible version!

Memorable Meeting Moments: This was Amberly’s birthday month.

What We Ate: Stephanie made fondue for us! We had cheese, meat, and then chocolate fondue with lots of different items to dip!

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Amberly's 40th Birthday Dinner

We took Amberly out for dinner to celebrate her 40th birthday this weekend. Her birthday is not until next month, of course, but February is strangely really busy for all of us. We had a hard time finding a meeting date for February, so we sneaked her birthday celebration in at the end of January instead. 

We picked a restaurant that was on our to-eat-at list and that was new to all of us except Dara:  Ida Claire in Addison. 

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We all loved the quirky, cozy dining room and the fun menus that looked like hard cover books. Love that cover art and the vintage-looking dishes!

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For starters, we ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes (not pictured), which were divine. We also ordered the biscuits with bacon gravy, herbed butter, and jam - amazing. Yum. And for dessert, we ordered two slices of Vice cake. was so much better than we expected from the description in the menu. Delicious. We also all had a round of cocktails from their fun, vintage-inspired drink line-up. They were all great. 

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This was just one of our entrees. It's the Chicken in a Biscuit. Dara had the Shrimp and Grits, Amberly, Christina and Lindsay all had the Red Snapper, and Stephanie had the pork chop. There were no complaints about dinner, that's for sure!

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We had a fun and very tasty meal celebrating our Amberly and her milestone birthday!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Small Great Things (January 2017 Meeting)

Author: Jodi Picoult

One-sentence summary: A veteran labor and delivery nurse is put on trial for the death of a baby after she was asked by her supervisor (and the baby’s parents) not to touch the baby because she is black.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 9

Our favorite thing about it: Everything. It’s just so well done.

Our least favorite thing about it: It’s a tough topic and parts of the book were really uncomfortable to read.

Main Topics of Discussion: Racism, Grief, Justice System

Our favorite quote: “What if the best thing for Ruth isn’t winning this case?...What if the reason this is so important to her isn’t because of what she’s going to say…but rather the fact that she is finally being given the chance to say it?”

Notes: The thing that impressed us most about this book is just how well researched it seemed. Picoult must have done her homework because we thought each of the three main perspectives presented in the novel were so honest and spot-on. Of course, that’s the opinion of 6 white women, so we can definitely speak to Kennedy’s perspective. For the other two – they seemed very real to us. This whole book is tough. You cannot dodge the social commentary that Picoult is throwing out. So, at times, it was hard to pick up. On the other hand, we could not put it down. It goes without saying that Picoult knows how to write. But the fact that she chose this topic and did it SO well is just fantastic. We finished reading and felt much better off for having read the book. Here’s a few points of our discussion:

  • One minor criticism about the ending – it was almost too neat. Almost. Having Turk do a 180 and encounter Ruth again was nice to see because it gives us hope that change really is possible. Brittany’s ending is enough of a downer that we guessed having a hopeful and full-circle ending for Turk is allowable!
  • The insight into the white power movement, while hard to read, was interesting and enlightening. Choosing young people who have terrible family lives and then taking them in, indoctrinating them, and giving them a place to belong made so much sense.
  • Kennedy’s perspective was possibly the most interesting to us because she could have been us. Her sometimes selfish motives, her obliviousness, but also her desire to help and to change. Walking through this trial with her and learning with her along the way was probably our favorite part of the book. This is just a novel, but man does it teach!
  • Picoult doesn’t let Ruth off the hook either. She learns and grows as well. She has her assumptions challenged and she makes a brave decision about the direction of her trial that could have changed her life forever.
  • As much as we didn’t want to sympathize with Brittany or Turk, we did. When their baby died. Picoult does an excellent job of shining a light into the dark world of grief. It’s shattering and also hard to read about. But so real.
  • One thing we realized about Turk and the white supremacists in general was that theirs is largely a story about anger, not hate. They choose to channel their anger (about many things – this time the death of a baby) into hate instead of actually dealing with it. When Turk figures this out, he’s finally able to let go of his hate and tackle his anger in more productive ways that don’t destroy himself, his family, or others.
Memorable Meeting Moments: This was Rachel’s birthday month so she got birthday books, cards, and a balloon drop. 

What We Ate: Amberly made us a huge crockpot full of chili with all the toppings we could want. And three types of Fritos. Sweet potato slices topped with avocado, bacon and other yummy things were our appetizer. She also got us Nothing Bundt Cupcakes for dessert!

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