Friday, December 30, 2016

The Longest Road by Phillip Caputo

Summary from Amazon:
"Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he'd drive from the nation's southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.
So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as "Fred" and "Ethel") from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today's United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart."

Author's Site

Video about the book from the author:

Interview with the author:

Review from Boston Globe:

Discussion Questions to follow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

Summary by Goodreads:
"Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells."

NY Times Review:

Review in The Guardian:

Video by the Author on Youtube:

Conversation with the Author:

Discussion Questions to follow.

Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton

Summary from Amazon:
"Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inside look at the choices and challenges she has faced is “a subtle, finely calibrated work…with succinct and often shrewd appraisals of the complex web of political, economic, and historical forces in play around the world” (The New York Times).

In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, Hillary Rodham Clinton expected to return to the United States Senate. To her surprise, newly elected President Barack Obama asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. “Hard Choices is a richly detailed and compelling chronicle of Clinton’s role in the foreign initiatives and crises that defined the first term of the Obama administration…it teems with small, entertaining details about her interactions with foreign leaders (Los Angeles Times).

Secretary Clinton and President Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down two wars, and address a global financial crisis. Along the way, they grappled with tough dilemmas, especially the decision to send Americans into harm’s way, from Afghanistan to Libya to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. By the end of her tenure, Secretary Clinton had gained a truly global perspective on the major trends reshaping today’s landscape."

Simon and Schuster Website for the book:

NY times Review:

Washington Post Break down Chapter by Chapter:

Interview on C-Span:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Caravans by James A. Michener

Summary from Amazon:
"First published in 1963, James A. Michener’s gripping chronicle of the social and political landscape of Afghanistan is more relevant now than ever. Combining fact with riveting adventure and intrigue, Michener follows a military man tasked, in the years after World War II, with a dangerous assignment: finding and returning a young American woman living in Afghanistan to her distraught family after she suddenly and mysteriously disappears. A timeless tale of love and emotional drama set against the backdrop of one of the most important countries in the world today, Caravans captures the tension of the postwar period, the sweep of Afghanistan’s remarkable history, and the inescapable allure of the past."

Discussion Questions from
1. ---Is Ellen Jaspar a lost soul ? A "free spirit" ? An idealist ?

2. --- Do you think it is possible for a "ferangi" to become attached to an untamed - perhaps untamable - country like Afghanistan in 1946, or now for that matter, and to wholeheartedly embrace a different faith and culture ?

3. --- How do you feel about the narrator ? Is your impression of him changing as the story progresses ?

4.--- Is the violence that is so much a part of the Afghans' lives the (perhaps inevitable) result of their constant battles against the implacable forces of nature ?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Cape by Charles Whitecar Miskelly

Summary by Amazon:
"A British sailor is shipwrecked in the early 17th century off the coast of what is now Cape May, New Jersey, where he befriends and becomes an honorary member of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, the Cape's native inhabitants. Under the tightening grip of the white settlers, McJack finds himself in the unusual position of leading his tribe to safety. This riveting, beautiful story showcases themes of love, honor, and duty while offering a morsel of little-known East Coast history. It also reveals a chapter in mid-20th-century publishing practices, as a renowned publisher of the era was primed and ready to market the author Charles Whitecar Miskelly as another Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, or Jack London, if only Miskelly himself had understood that the typical editorial policies of the time were not necessarily diametrically opposed to his artistic vision. Decades later, this lost treasure of historical adventure is ready to be shared with the world."

Exit Zero Publishers: They have super fun stores and an excellent Indian Restaurant in West Cape May

Discussion Questions being developed:
(From the Philly Mag. story above) 1. Carlisle doesn’t know how his grandfather learned to write, or how he crafted a story about a group that didn’t even admit its own existence. Did he work with Native Americans at the shipyard? Did he have friends he visited on his long solo bike rides from Bricksboro to Cape May? Was he himself a descendant of American Indians? His ancestors arrived in the United States around the time of John McJack’s shipwreck. What do you think?
2. Where does this story take place? View the maps for clues?
3. What are some of your favorite deeds that McJack does?

Maurice River Bluffs (Photo by Mike Crewe)

(Cape May Point)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Short History of Nearly Everything by B. Bryson

Summary from Random House:
"In A Short History of Nearly Everything, the bestselling author of One Summer, confronts his greatest challenge yet: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as his territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. The result is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it."

NY Times Review

Bookrags materials

Random House Teacher Guide:

Author's Website:

Discussion Questions from Litlovers:
1. This book presents science as a series of questions—mostly unanswered. Is this surprising to you? How was science presented to you when you were in school?

2. Bryson mentions that, several times in the past, scientists thought that all the big questions were answered. Some even believe we have reached that point today. Still others wonder if we might soon reach the limits of our intellectual ability to understand the strangeness of atomic particles or explore multiple universes. Any thoughts?

3. A major theme of the book is resistance to new scientific ideas despite solid evidence for them. Bryson gives a number of examples—the Big Bang and plate tectonics are two. What other theories faced initial rejection?
4. Follow-up to Question 3: At the same time, Bryson addresses the idea of scientists clinging to widely accepted but disproven ideas—a young earth and Ether are two that come to mind. What are some of the others in the book?
• Why do you think scientists are resistant to change?
• Are scientists any different from lay people in their resistance to change?
• What current widely held idea do you think might be disproven in the future?
5. Bryson often cites examples of global crises that may have influenced the Earth in the past—meteor strikes, salinity crisis, volcanoes, changes in solar output. How does this relate to the current consideration of global warming?

6. Follow-up to Question 5: Considering the Bryson's examples of powerful global forces beyond human control—including hurricanes, plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and ice ages—do you think differently about human ability to control what happens on earth? To what extent are we "masters" of the earth?

7. What is the connection between human beings and extinction of other species? Consider, for instance, how the dodos and passenger pigeons became extinct? Bryson makes a number of statements on the subject. What do you think?
• Over the last 50,000 years or so, wherever we have gone, animals have tended to vanish, in often astonishingly large numbers.
• The people who were most intensely interested in the world’s living things were the ones most likely to extinguish them.
• It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and it’s worst nightmare simultaneously.
•  We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even to make it better.
8. How has this book affected your thinking about evolution? Do you agree that evolution may be "a lottery" or that, as human beings, "we are not the culmination of anything”?

9. Do a little research into Drake’s equation for the possibility of  life on other worlds. Do you think life in the universe is inevitable or rare? Why? How about other complex (multi-cellular) life? How about intelligent life?

10. Bryson presents scientists as human beings with very human stories. Many died unhappy receiving no recognition or credit for their work. How would you feel if this happened to you? Which story touches you the most?

11. Consider the common question: “Why are there so few women scientists?” Does this book agree there is a shortage, or does it tell us why we don't hear about female scientists? Consider doing some research on Mme Lavoisier, Curie, or Franklin.

(Questions adapted from the Penguin Random House Teachers Guide.)

A Sail of Two Idiots by R. Petrillo

Summary: A couple from Arizona, with no sailing experience, sell everything, buy a sailboat and off they sail. The book is about their adventures, the many problems they encounter and the lessons they learn. They share excellent information of what to do and not do. They sail from Miami to Grenada and share about the islands, that they visit along the way.

Book blog site:

Facebook page:

Top 10 Sailing Books 2016:

Summer Reads for Sailors:

Author's Blog site:

Discussion Questions:
1. What difficulties did the author and her husband experience on this sailing adventure?  How much could have been avoided, if they had been experienced?

2. Do you think, if given the choice, they would do it again?

3. What events did you find surprising? Cost of used boat and keeping it running? Broker and captain experiences? Weather? Variability of islands, ports and harbors? Anchors? Cat?

4. Do you think the book and story would persuade or dissuade others from trying a similar experience?

5. What are some of the positive experiences they had? Did they outweigh the bad, in your opinion?

6. After reading this book, which islands would you like to visit?