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Family Pictures
Jane Green

Jane Green is prolific.  She is contractually obligated to turn out two books a year, but her work--thank goodness--does not seem to suffer from the pressure.  Family Pictures is a thoughtful portrayal of two families dealing with the wreckage caused by the same man.

Green is fascinated by character and the strength of her stories speak to her skill.  I was able to hear Green speak about her process at a pop-up book club last week.  The gathering was the inaugural session for BooktheWriter, a new service that pairs authors with book clubs.

The experience of sitting in a living room with an admired author was a bit intimidating at first.  However, ultimately it's far more rewarding than a packed reading at a bookstore.  In this case, Green and the host were friends, so the discussion started on an intimate foot. As the discussion rolled on, it became clear that a couple of folks in the audience were writers as well.  On the walk home suddenly a proliferation of questions came to mind--next time!

Green's idea for Family Pictures has its roots in a neighborhood story about a marriage's demise in her hometown of Westport, CT.  English by birth, Green has gradually moved her stories locale and flavor to the Northeast.  While she does pick up ideas wherever she can, Green was very complimentary of her editor.  They had just met that morning to brainstorm ideas.  Green had also turned in her next manuscript, which will likely be published by year's end.

Jane Green is a former journalist for the Daily Express in the UK.  Her first novel Straight Talking became an immediate best seller in 1996.  Since then she has published numerous novels based on women's lives.  Her fifteenth novel, Tempting F

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Cheryl Strayed

In the book world, I am a latecomer to the "Wild" party.  I stayed away for a couple of reasons:  I couldn't relate to the writer's experience--not so much the hike, but how she ended up just escaping her life.  I also have an unearned suspicion (snobbery) about the Oprah book club.

Sometimes you have to be ready for a book.  My life has now been upended enough that Strayed's need to find herself resonated with this middle-aged woman.

The story is about Strayed's 1995 three-month hike along the Pacific Coast Trail.  The memoir has the wisdom of an older self, but the voice puts you back on that trail, almost 20 years ago.  Although she is so young at the time, many will be able to relate to her search for how she came to be in her predicament.  She has people to forgive and events to anchor in a place that allows her to move forward--literally.

She encounters great characters and real challenges.  I couldn't wait to get back to this book each day.

Cheryl Strayed has won many awards and been published in several magazines and newspapers.  She has served as a guest editor for the 2013 Best American Essays.  Wild will be out as a film starring Reese Witherspoon and a 


Isabel Allende

Ripper isn't a bad book, it just isn't Allende's best book.  Much like J.K. Rowling and The Casual Vacancy, Allende's adventure in the crime genre is a bit of disappointment simply because expectations are high.

As I first encountered the story of young Amanda and her online group of crime solvers, I wondered about the quality of the translation. Something seemed off--clunky. The characters are interesting, if a bit two-dimensional. Amanda's flighty mother Indiana and her cast of lovers, patients and friends is nice enough. The grandfather who accedes to the whiz kids wishes is ok. But nobody is fully drawn or comes alive beyond some occasional back story. Not what one expects from the lyrical Allende. Only toward the end, as the killer is revealed, does the story smooth out and get interesting.

The story is how the kids on-line game becomes a real life pursuit of a serial killer. Conveniently, Amanda's father is the deputy chief of police, so they have access to important data.  They also get caught up in the crime, which is a bit of a stretch.

I can't wholeheartedly recommend the book. It's not bad, just not good enough.

Isabel Allende is a Chilean writer, who makes her home in San Francisco. Her works include The House of Spirits and City of Beasts.  The award-winning writer is known for her "magical realism."

Same shelf: 
The Cuckoo's Calling
J.K. Rowling

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Contributed by JWPollack, co-founder.

The Oscar nominations for this year include movies inspired by literary works including “12 Years a Slave,” “Philomena,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Captain Philllip’s.” My favorite, “12 Years a Slave" is based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup. 

Admittedly some of the history lessons I remember best are those obtained from fiction. While fiction has the power to influence how we think about history and humanity, first hand account are the most revealing.  As I read Twelve Years a Slave, I was stunned.  I had learned about it, discussed it and studied it but, nothing prepared me for this. Essentially, I knew nothing about the breadth of injustice and shame America inflicted on its residents.  Just as seeing Shoah is a film viewed at religious schools, reading this book – not just seeing this film – really should be an obligation of every American. How is it possible that a freeborn man, married with a family, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the shadow of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

When reading this book, there will be times you want to shut it and in so doing shut it out. This book was a best seller in its day and then fell into obscurity only to be found again. I urge you to discover it and take a few moments to read about Mr. Northrup’s humanity when there seemed to be none.

Same Shelf:

"Philomena " based on The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

"The Wolf of Wall Street" based on The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street both written by Jordan Belfort

Captain Phillips  based on A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips