Between the Lines Book Club: Nickel Boys

between the lines book club logoThis month our book club pick is Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. We will discuss the book in person at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on Saturday, Feb 22, 2020.

To get us started, here’s a great discussion from Literary Hub. Generally this book got great reviews – but not everyone liked it. In their series “Point/Counterpoint,” Parul Sehgal praises the book, while Clive Davis call it a “misery memoir.” Read their perspectives, and tell us what you think!

January, by William Carlos Williams

green pine trees covered with fogs under white sky during daytimeThank you to poets.org for sending January out with some bluster.

January

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
                                  Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
                                  And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.

The Harry Potter Tarot Deck

8466d6fa6ab44893625df02eac2b7ddcEvery year (well, two years in a row, and HOPING to be hired for next year) I read tarot cards for the teens at the Sacramento Public Library’s Yule Ball. The Yule Ball is Harry Potter themed and I go as Professor Trelawny. This year I treated myself to the Harry Potter Tarot deck to use at the event, and it was a hit with myself and my teen clients, as well as adult staff.

The Harry Potter Tarot deck consists of fan art from Ellygator, who can be found on deviantart.com and Etsy. This deck, which combines the Thoth and the Rider-Waite designs, has a Major Arcana made of Harry Potter characters. The Minor Arcana is divided into the four houses, represented by characters and by objects (Cups, Wands, Swords, and Disks).  Not only did all of the pairings make sense, but many helped my find new insights into the meanings of the cards. They also helped me find new meaning in Harry Potter and the franchise’s symbols.

Hermione and Buckbeak represent Strength

Readings were interesting and in at least several cases confirmed to be extremely accurate, which I credit less with my reading skills and more with the resonant quality of the images. The free pdf guidebook is extremely helpful.

This is not a licensed product and therefore is not commercially available. However, you can contact Ellygator through Deviant Art to request a special printing. My deck came in a black velvet bag. It is nicely sized – the cards are large enough to show fine detail but not too big for my tiny hands, with good glossy card-stick quality. I am thrilled with this deck – it deepened my appreciation for Harry Potter as well as my understanding of Tarot, and is an absolute joy to look at.

Want a reading in person, online, over Skype, or over FaceTime? Contact me at sessarego1@gmail.com for an appointment!

Last Hope Island and Audrey Hepburn

between the lines book club logoWelcome back to Between the Lines Book Club. Our next book club book is Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson. We’ll be discussing it at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on January 25, 2020. Please join us in person and/or leave comments below!

One of the people we meet in Last Hope Island is a young Audrey Hepburn. As an adult, Hepburn dedicated much of her life to international relief work, motivated by having received international aid at the end of WWII. In this article from Time Magazine, we learn more about her work with the Dutch Resistance. Here’s a sample:

 First and foremost, with the encouragement of Dr. Visser ’t Hooft, for whom she volunteered, she could dance. Audrey’s celebrity as a ballerina for nearly four years at the Arnhem city theater made her talents valuable to Dr. Visser ’t Hooft and the Resistance for illegal musical performances at various by-invitation-only locations. These events, called the zwarte avonden, or “black evenings,” had first been introduced by musicians as a way to earn money after they had been forced out of the Dutch mainstream by the Nazi union of artists, the Kultuurkamer. Soon the zwarte avonden were helping to raise funds in support of those sheltering the tens of thousands of Jews and other people in hiding across the Netherlands — including those in her hometown of Velp. They were known as black evenings because windows were blacked out or darkened so the Germans didn’t know of the activities going on inside.

“Guards were posted outside to let us know when Germans approached,” said Audrey, who reported that “the best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”

Hepburn dancing in 1942

Hepburn, 1942

For more about Hepburn during the war, check out Last Hope Island as well as Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen.

Book Review: City of Lies by Victoria Thompson

Cover of City of Lies
Every now and then I end up with some orphan reviews: things that don’t fit on another site. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and non-fiction about women’s suffrage. Here’s a review of a fun fiction: City of Lies.

City of Lies is a book with an awful lot going on. On one hand, it’s a historical fiction about American suffragettes in 1917. It’s also an enemies-to-lovers romance, as well as a thriller. I liked this book, but all the different parts worked against each other instead of together.

Our story begins as Elizabeth is participating in a con against rich asshole Oscar Thornton. When Thornton catches on and goes after Elizabeth, Elizabeth runs from him and throws herself into the middle of a group of suffragists who are being arrested. She figures that she is safe from Thornton as long as she stays in jail. She doesn’t count on the fact that she will form close friendships with her fellow suffragists and become enamored of the cause. She also doesn’t count on falling in love with Gideon, the brother of one of her new friends.

This book works best when it focuses on the suffragists. It makes sense that Elizabeth’s past experience and street smarts make her popular in the jail, where most of the women are facing their first arrests. It also makes sense that, once separated from her father and brother, Elizabeth will be drawn to a new pseudo-parent (Gideon’s mother, Mrs. Bates) and new younger sibling to protect (Anna, friend of Mrs. Bates). I enjoy learning about the suffrage movement and as as far as I can tell the sequences in jail are historically accurate. They are certainly well-written and immersive, with bits of humor and a lot of comraderie to relieve the tension of the situation.

Alas, the romance doesn’t work so well. Gideon, a lawyer, lives by what he sees as right and just. He’s a believer in truth and the courts. Elizabeth was raised in a community of con artists and believes in fending for herself and in fleecing the rich for her own benefit. Once out of jail, Elizabeth takes up residence with Anna and betrothes herself with lightning speed to Anna’s brother, David, who is also Gideon’s best friend. I never believed that Gideon would be in love with Elizabeth, nor that they would work as a couple, nor that they had anything in common other than a mutual appreciation of strong-willed women. Frankly, I thought everyone around Elizabeth forgave her awfully damn fast for all the lies she tells and manipulations she conducts during the course of the story.

However, despite her chronic dishonesty, I liked Elizabeth. Her character growth, as she learns to channel her intelligence into a cause larger than scamming people for money, is well done. It’s often entertaining to see her maneuver her way out of impending doom. Also, I very much enjoyed her relationship with Anna, especially when she introduces Anna to some of her more unconventional friends.

This was a story in which the supporting characters were much more interesting than the central characters. Elizabeth is fine, Gideon is a bit of a prat, and Thorton is a one-dimension super evil bad guy. However, The fiery Mrs. Bates is interested, and so is Anna who is underestimated by everyone around her but who demonstrates an iron will. I loved watching Anna come alive after Elizabeth introduces her to some of Elizabeth’s more unconventional friends. These friends allow Anna to consider new relationship models and new ways of living her life. It was a joy to see her development take place.

The other component is the con/thriller/mystery involving Thornton, who just keeps showing up. This element was completely forgettable because Thornton is just an awful bully who is also stupid. His defeat is inevitable and he has no layers whatsoever. He’s just a bad guy and therefore boring and therefore the parts of the story that focus on him are, it pains me to say, also boring.

There were parts of this book that I loved, and some that were just OK. None of it was outright bad, it’s just that the suffragist plotline, which includes the most interesting parts of Anna and Elizabeth’s character development, was the most cohesive and interesting. I suspect that in a month I’ll have forgotten everything about the romance, including the fact that there is one. However, I will remember Elizabeth making Anna laugh in prison, and Mrs. Bates patiently teaching Elizabeth about the suffrage cause. Oh, I’ll remember the clothes too. Once they leave jail, this book is very pretty. It just doesn’t hold together all across the board.

 

Between the Lines: Q and A with Lynne Olson

between the lines book club logoOur next book club book is Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson. We’ll be discussing it at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on January 25, 2020. Please join us in person and/or leave comments below!

Author Lynne Olson has an interesting website with links to various interviews. Of special interest to us is her Q and A regarding the book. Here’s a sample:

Most of the books you’ve written focus in one way or another on Britain and World War II. What prompted you to write this one, about the wartime relationship between the British and occupied Europe?
What really drew me to it is that it’s such an unexplored subject. No one else has looked at this in detail — how Britain, as the last European country to hold out against Hitler, provided a refuge for the leaders of a number of occupied countries, enabling them to set up governments in exile to help defeat Germany. In return, they and thousands of their compatriots made crucial contributions to Britain’s survival and the eventual Allied victory.

If that’s the case, why have historians paid so little attention to what they did?
Primarily, I think, because of Winston Churchill. Early in the war, he created the image of plucky little England standing alone against Hitler’s Germany, the greatest military power in world history. Throughout the war and afterwards, he kept promoting the idea that the British singlehandedly held off Germany until they were joined by the Americans and Soviets in 1941. His claim overlooks the fact that the countries of occupied Europe, from their base in London, were still at war, too. Without their help, the British might well have lost the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic and might never have conquered Germany’s Enigma code — all essential factors in Britain’s survival.

She also has a wonderful page devoted to the characters of the book. I highly recommend it – click on each photo for information about each person. Here’s the link.

See you on the 25th!