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?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Season at the Point: The Birds and Birders of Cape May by J. Connor (1994)

**This book was recommended to us from a friend, who is active in the FL Audubon Society.

Summary from Amazon:
Cape May Point, New Jersey, is home to a natural phenomenon of stunning proportions. Each autumn millions of migrating birds converge here on their annual flight to wintering grounds as far away as Brazil and Peru. Season at the Point, the rich and telling story of the birds and birders of Cape May, evokes the sense of mystery and excitement that pervades the Cape as birders gather to count owls by the hundreds, hawks by the tens of thousands, and shorebirds and songbirds by the hundreds of thousands.

Available on Google Books:
Discussion Questions:
1. Is it possible to really understand migration patterns? What information would be needed to obtain this?
2. What were the some of the different approaches to birding amongst the birders, such as Al Nicholson versus others?
3. What role does banding play? To what degree does banding answer the questions to migration? What are some of its limitations?
4. Discuss the variability and difficulties in counting birds. Why was this type of information not considered to be solid data historically? 
5. Discuss the role of migration, orientation ability and timing and what it takes to successfully migrate.
6. Discuss the different birders, who they are and what perspectives do they bring.
7. How did the radar based data generated by the Clemson researchers change the way the hawk migration was viewed?
8. What impact has the hawk platform, bird counts and other birding events had on Cape May?

A 25th Anniversary of the writing of the book was celebrated on May 21, 2016 at The Grand Hotel in Cape May. The author did a reading and then led a panel discussion including several birding experts, who were highlighted in the book, including Pete Dunn, Paul Kerlinger, Jeff Boulton, and 
Pat and Clay Sutton. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by A. Doerr

Summary from Amazon:
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

NPR Review:

Author's Website:

Interview with Author by National Book:

Interview with Simon and Schuster:

Interview with Scribner Magazine:

Reading Group Guide:

Discussion Questions from Simon and Schuster:
1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?

2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?

3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?

4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?

5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?

6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?

7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?

8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?

9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?

10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?

11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?

12. When Werner and Marie-Laure discuss the unknown fate of Captain Nemo at the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness is intentional and meant to make us wonder (page 472). Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?

13. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others? Can you relate to this? Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?

14. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

15. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All the Light We Cannot See is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Shetterly

Summary from Amazon: 
Whether we live in cities, suburbs, or villages, we are encroaching on nature, and it in one way or another perseveres. Naturalist Susan Shetterly looks at how animals, humans, and plants share the land―observing her own neighborhood in rural Maine. She tells tales of the locals (humans, yes, but also snowshoe hares, raccoons, bobcats, turtles, salmon, ravens, hummingbirds, cormorants, sandpipers, and spring peepers). She expertly shows us how they all make their way in an ever-changing habitat. 

Author's website:


Discussion questions by Heidi:
1. Discuss the format of the book and writing style. How does she compare to other nature writers such as Annie Dillard and Bernd Heinrich?
2. Shetterly has cared for many injured animals. Have you had any of your own experiences? 
3. Which story did you especially enjoy reading about?
4. Where does the author fit into the community?
5. What changes does she observe in her community and in the environment over time? What have you observed in your own community?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Cross Creek by M. Rawlings

From Good Reads:
Originally published in 1942, Cross Creek has become a classic in modern American literature. For the millions of readers raised on The Yearling, here is the story of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's experiences in the remote Florida hamlet of Cross Creek, where she lived for thirteen years. From the daily labors of managing a seventy-two-acre orange grove to bouts with runaway pigs and a succession of unruly farmhands, Rawlings describes her life at the Creek with humor and spirit. Her tireless determination to overcome the challenges of her adopted home in the Florida backcountry, her deep-rooted love of the earth, and her genius for character and description result in a most delightful and heartwarming memoir.

Literary Traveler Blog Article:

Author Obituary:

Rawlings Society

Discussion Questions by Heidi and John:
1. Discuss the different relationships Rawlings has at Cross Creek!
2. Which season did you enjoy reading about the most?
3. Do you agree with her concept of the ownership of land?
4. A consistent theme in the book was her struggle to have reliable help. How does she portray the African American community at Cross Creek? Why doesn’t she ever discuss this population in the context of their history and culture?
5. Discuss Rawlings quest for justice during the shooting and what the rest of the community wanted!
6. Who were some of your favorite characters of the memoir?
7. Which foods and recipes would you want to try after reading about them?
8. Discuss her relationship with her natural environment!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards

Summary from Amazon:
In its infancy, Google embraced extremes—endless days fueled by unlimited free food, nonstop data-based debates, and blood-letting hockey games. The company’s fresh-from-grad-school leaders sought more than old notions of success; they wanted to make all the information in the world available to everyone—instantly. Google, like the Big Bang, was a singularity—an explosive release of raw intelligence and unequaled creative energy—and while others have described what Google accomplished, no one has explained how it felt to be a part of it. Until now.

As employee number 59, Douglas Edwards was a key part of Google’s earliest days. Experience the unnerving mix of camaraderie and competition as Larry Page and Sergey Brin create a famously nonhierarchical structure, fight against conventional wisdom, and race to implement myriad new features while coolly burying broken ideas. I’m Feeling Lucky captures the self-created culture of the world’s most transformative corporation and offers unique access to the emotions experienced by those who virtually overnight built one of the world’s best-known brands.

Interview with the author: 

Discussion Questions: to follow