My Three Book Clubs: Unusual Scenery Distracts From February Snow | book reviews

Distinctive settings – a 12th-century abbey, a drought-hardened farming community in Australia and a village where men hunt sharks on the shores of Baja California – offered needed escapes for a cold, wintery February.


What I thought • “Matrix” ticked some boxes for me: historical fiction and a fearsome female protagonist. It is based on Marie de France, a 12th-century French poetess, although little is known about her, so it is mostly built on legend.

I especially liked the first two chapters of this book, so much so that I recommended it for the February selection for the book club. Marie, an orphan after her mother’s death and a bastard child of the king, is stubborn and, as a tall “maiden giantess” and with a face that “has no beauty”, is unsuitable for marriage. The solution: she will be sent to a royal abbey, but dilapidated, to become a nun. The book begins with a 17-year-old Marie, on horseback and almost a knight, on her way to the abbey, the place where, over time (the book spans over 50 years), the warrior Marie creates an island of women and an abbey that wields power like no other.

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Groff uses his own power to skillfully create this unique novel that is set in medieval times but has modern implications.

At the book club • Establishing a feminist history in the 12th century is not an easy task, said one member, and this novel “demonstrates the power that women could wield regardless of the era. There is brotherhood, love, war and sex, all entangled in the English countryside.

Groff also illustrates how much has changed for women but how much remains the same. Sometimes the hardest people for ambitious women are the women themselves, one reader observed. The ending also shows how “life is inherently meaningless…and it was all for naught,” said another member, who moved in front of the class with that statement and showed that it’s definitely a romance. that you can imagine discussing in a college literature class.

Even female readers who didn’t like the book enjoyed our lively and sometimes uninhibited conversation about the power and challenges of womanhood. Top notch snacks, including a delicious blueberry crumble, and wine didn’t hurt either.

'The Dry' by Jane Harper (copy)

‘The dry’

What I thought • “It wasn’t like the farm had never seen death before, and the blow flies didn’t discriminate. For them, there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse. Jane Harper captures your attention from the opening lines of “The Dry”, setting the scene for desolate – the sun beating down on this rural Australian community, in the midst of a drought, and withering in despair under the suffocating lack of rain.

Aaron Falk returns to his hometown after 20 years for the funeral of his former best friend, Luke, and his entire family. Police say Luke cracked under the stress of farming and financial difficulties and killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself.

Lured into the case by Luke’s parents, who don’t believe their son is a killer, Falk discovers that secrets are surfacing, marrying the past to the present.

It’s not a fast-paced thriller, and the plot and outcome aren’t particularly stunning, but the atmosphere and mood that Harper creates in his writing is what makes this story great.

At the book club • Some readers understood the ending, but everyone agreed: Harper knows how to direct. The author really grabs you and pulls you into this dark tale. She “did a great job creating the atmosphere of an isolated town suffering from drought,” one member said. “I would say the setting was almost a character in itself.” She also portrays the male characters particularly well.

That this was Harper’s first novel surprised us – the book was published in the US in 2017 and is part of a three-book series following investigator Aaron Falk. “Force of Nature” was released in 2018, and the third book is expected to be released next year. (Harper has also published two other novels.) This club plans to read the second in the series.

“A Day Like This”

{h4}By Kelley McNeil{/h4}

What I thought • Sci-fi? Mystery? A film in the making for life? I don’t know how to classify “A Day Like This” by Kelley McNeil. The premise is intriguing. Annie Beyers is living an ideal life in the countryside with her husband and daughter when she is involved in a car accident on her way to the pediatrician. She wakes up hours later, confusing the doctors when she starts asking about her daughter.

They tell him that the girl, Hannah, doesn’t exist. And the last five happy years that she remembers so well? They did not take place. She is divorced, lives in Manhattan and is now best friends with her estranged sister. This book reminded me a bit of “The Midnight Library” – imagining what life would be like “what if?” — but with less charm. It also ended too cleanly for me – perfect for this Lifetime movie.

At the book club • Some readers enjoyed this novel (even the clean and tidy ending), saying it was an example of how your past shapes who you are. This led to an interesting discussion about the “forks in the road” in life and how the decisions could change your life, your career, who you marry and where you live. Usually when we think about different paths in life, we assume that our lives will be better, but that’s not always the case.

Bonus Books

• After reading “Mexican Gothic”, I was intrigued by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in 1979 in Baja California, “Untamed Shore” – classified as a dark thriller – is a dark coming-of-age story. It’s the summer of 1979 when three wealthy tourists arrive in Desengano, a remote town that most tourists avoid and where men hunt sharks, but not much else happens. Viridiana, an 18-year-old too smart to be stuck in a small town, but whose head is filled with romantic ideas, is immediately smitten by strangers, who hire her as a note-taker and personal assistant.

In “Mexican Gothic”, mushrooms featured heavily both metaphorically and literally. In this novel, they are sharks. The author called it “a little book I love but few people read” and the only one she’s tempted to write a sequel to – a book I’d look forward to reading to find out where Viridiana’s journey will take her. then.

"The Last Waiter"

• I am not the target audience of the intermediate level reader “The Last Cuentista” but I still enjoyed the story of Petra Pena, a young girl who embarks on an interstellar journey in 2061 because the Earth is about to be destroyed by a comet. Her family and others are suspended to travel hundreds of years through space to another planet where they will build a new life, but when Petra wakes up she finds she is the only person who remembers. of life on Earth. A book that emphasizes the importance of storytelling – it blends Mexican folklore and science fiction – Donna Barba Higuera won the 2022 Newbery Medal of Children’s Literature for this novel. This is the third book by Higuera, optometrist by day.

Norma Klingsick is a former designer and editor at Post-Dispatch. She can be contacted at

Saturday, March 5, 2022


Saturday, March 5, 2022


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Alycia R. Lindley