Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1)

November’s book pick was Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. This book pick was brought by Jill.

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Book Synopsis:

Henry VIII has ordered the dissolution of the monasteries and England is full of informers. At the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control with the murder of Commissioner Robin Singleton. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, and his assistant are sent to investigate.

Book Discussion: Recap curtesy of Jill.

Book club always makes my holidays happier!  
Fun evening as usual last night at the Village Tavern.  Our waiter, Andrew, was all business.  Well, to start.  Once he warmed up to us everything changed!  For those of you who couldn’t make it, we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have (where is Andrew from?, where has Andrew lived in Charlotte?, what hobby/art does Andrew’s partner do?, how much did Andrew make/lose on his real estate?, so many things we can tell you!).  And if you’re lucky, you’ll get some free whipped cream.
We kicked the night off with bubbles which seemed appropriate for the holiday season.  Please remember, Shobha, lotion and wine don’t mix. Crab dip and home made chips for appetizers.  Book discussion ensued.  Dissolution was met with an even split of thumbs up/thumbs down. More dislike than sympathy for the monks and the hunchback.  Agreement that having lived during that time in history would totally have sucked, though Americans are certainly among the “softest” of humans which could be why we think that.  We learned that many forms of hunchbackness (kyphosis) are curable with therapies but not all – thank you teacher Jenn!  So you know, Dissolution is the first in a series so if you are on the thumbs up side keep reading (they get better!).
Dinner was next – not big appetites; burgers and salads mostly and a switch to red wine. Most of us had not been to the Village Tavern in years so was fun to be back.  Food was goodish, dessert was super yummy – a giant pound cake fruity thing.  Sondra brought book picks. Thank goodness she hates themes because she was leaning towards a self-help theme to kick off the new year. My memory being what it is can not recall any of the books that did not win but I did cheat and bring the winning paper home with me so I am able to let you know the book pick for January is An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen.  
Last but not least…book exchange!  We voted no stealing and took turns alphabetically by middle name.  Unsurprising to some of us that one book was duplicated, Flowers in the Attic.  Amy and I both brought that as our favorite teenage book and I think Karie (or maybe Jenn) and Sondra went home with them (Sondra with the bonus copy that includes the next book Petals on the Wind).  I chose Shobha’s thinking I was getting a Harlequin romance but even better than that received The Thorn Birds.  Amy chose a book of poetry brought by Jenn. Shobha and Jenn were seated furthest from me and I am going to blame that on why I don’t remember what books they chose but I’m sure they were lovely.  Oh wait, Shobha got Karie’s book which was a lovely copy of Wuthering Heights (maybe)?  Well, you can see I have was having a lovely evening and I’m sure if you are interested someone else will share how the book exchange actually came out!
I hope everyone enjoys their holidays, safe travels, and I look forward to seeing you in January!
Jill

The Tale of Halcyon Crane

October’s book pick was The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb. This book pick was brought by Amy

Book Synopsis:

A young woman travels to uncover a past she never knew was hers in this thrilling, modern, ghost story. A letter upends Hallie’s life. She was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire. Her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently. Why would Hallie’s father have taken her away? What happened to her family thirty years ago?

Hallie travels to where her mother lived, a remote island in the middle of the Great Lakes. Islanders fix her with stares and unabashed amazement as they recognize why she looks familiar and Hallie realizes her family’s secrets are enmeshed in the history of this strange place. In “The Tale Of Halcyon Crane“, Wendy Webb of Minneapolis, USA has created a haunting story of thrills, vibrant characters, and family secrets.

Book Discussion: Recap curtesy of Amy

If you are early, you are on time! (Jill & Sondra)  If you are on time, you are late! (Amy)  If you are late, you are really late! (Jen & Shobha) If you are really late, they might keep the kitchen open for you (Karie & guest Meghan!)  If you are counting, that’s 6 people plus a guest so attendance was not too shabby, but we missed those who could not join us.

The book was The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb.  The restaurant pick was Cajun Queen…for its ghostly reputation.  

So first…best server ever! I think his name was John, but maybe it was Bob or Paul?  It doesn’t matter.  Right away, a wine bottle was at our table and he came by appropriately at the right time for appetizers, food and most importantly refills on drinks which made up nicely for the prior month.  As we finally got around to discussion questions, late comers (who maybe not so coincidentally did not finish the book) rushed to the bar to avoid spoilers.   That left three of us for discussion questions.  Well, three plus a baby screaming in the corner.  For once, we were not the loudest in the room.

Despite the fairly lame questions in the back of the book (not a single question about the mysterious house keeper/witch) overall consensus was a thumbs up.  This is a quick fun read!  Just enough mystery, romance and supernatural and not a major time commitment.  Many of us read this in a weekend.  There was some debate as to whether Hallie jumped into bed too quickly with Will.  A determination was made that she lost her father, found and lost her mother, and inherited a haunted house all within a week so why not?  He’s hot, single and a lawyer. And it turns out they have a childhood connection so there’s that.

We were all waiting on pins and needs for Shobha’s mysterious ghost story about Cajun Queen.  Which turned out she did not see a ghost after all, but really just a weird hair standing up on the back  of your neck feeling when trying to retrieve a lost item from this establishment in the middle of the day.  Was it a a credit card?  A purse?  A shawl? The mystery still remains. Spooky.  By the way, Jill is all-in on a bookclub ghost hunter’s adventure overnight.  Sondra and I – nope. 

Well into our third bottle of wine guess who finally shows up?  Karie and Meghan!!  They lost their tennis match, but are still winners in our minds.  Our excellent server promptly brought their pre-texted meals (despite the kitchen shutting down) and dinner was rounded out by a delicious oreo cheesecake and so-so tollhouse cookie thing.  Jen then tries to wake the now-sleeping baby by yelling at it across the room.

So for next month’s picks, this is where I fail you.  It was Jill’s turn for them.  She brought four selections.  We picked the second one in her stapled packed and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it!  Somebody help me fill in the blanks! 

As always, it was a lovely evening and we missed those that could not join us.  There’s always next month

Where the Crawdads Sing

March 2019 Book:

Where the Crawdads Sing.                                                  Book Pick: Sondra

Book Synopsis:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Book Discussion:

The Dine and Opine ladies met at Krazy Fish. Apparently the meeting took place on Whiskey Night so the notes are a bit fuzzy. I, myself, was not in attendance so I will add my personal thoughts at the bottom of this post. Deciphering the notes shared here are some topics that where discussed:

Setting- Taking place in the Marsh of NC, how did that shape the novel? The descriptiveness of the marsh- was it helpful to those readers whom have never visited a marsh? If the area was not so remote- would she have been able to get away with her actions, and just living the way she did?

Education- The topic of how mean people where to her when she went to school. Do you think people should have been more understanding? Do you agree with her for not returning to school?

Demographics- The hierarchy that took place in the book. Where did she fall in the line? Why was she treated differently by different groups?

Time- Could you place a timeline on the book? When was this happening?

Friendships- Jumping and Mable are friendly and drawn to help her… why? Once thought was that they were all seen as outsiders.

Why did her mom leave?

How is Womanhood revealed throughout the novel?

Is Tate a good partner?

The book received a Thumbs Up all around! So Welcome to the Best Of list!!

Karie’s Thoughts:

Two words: UGLY CRY. I began reading this book and I was intrigued. I don’t think you need to have grown up in the Marsh to be able to connect with Kya. In society, as a whole, no matter where you are- there are hierarchies and I bet that even you have felt like an outsider. Reading about the struggle the siblings went through prior to escaping is not only heart-wrenching but fuses your own experiences with leaving a bad situation (Whatever that might have been) with Kya.

Reading the struggles Kya deals with regarding school, acceptance, loneliness and basic survival made me admire her strength and her stubbornness. When she choose to let people in, it was as if there was an innocence that captivated those around her. Almost a pureness. She was who she is. I think it must be refreshing to meet someone who is upfront and isn’t looking to “gain” anything. Just to be.

As I mentioned early… I started this post with 2 words, UGLY CRY. I haven’t ugly cried to a book in a long while. Oh- I have gotten misty eyed or cried a few gentle tears…. This book… I bawled. Like If I would have had on make-up- my face would have been washed away. I was reading this book while on Spring break with the family. One night everyone was going to bed. I wanted to read so I curled up in a chair with the reading lamp on and a glass of wine. I thought I would read perhaps just a chapter or two. Well, two chapters later I am crying (Trying not to wake anyone) and I poured myself another glass of wine. That night I finished the book (I was only about 1/4 to 1/3 into the book when I originally sat down). I finished. Sat the book down. Poured another glass of wine and went and sat on the balcony watching the waves (We were in Ft. Lauderdale) to just decompress afterwards.

I agree with the Thumbs up. This book is a wonderful read and I can’t wait to discuss it with others who have read this book. Did you read the book? Did you like it? Love it? Hate it? Let us know!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

February  2019 Book Pick

Eleanor Elephant is Completely Fine: A Novel

by Gail Honeyman

Synopsis:

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

 

Book Discussion:

Check back for Update!

 

My (Karie’s) Thoughts on Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine:

Where to start? There are so many points that should be covered in the discussion of this book. So let’s start with Eleanor. Well, I actually think almost every question that could be discussed probably includes Eleanor in some way. Let me just start from the beginning.

My first initial thought of Eleanor, honestly, was that she might have been on the spectrum for Autism. Having a nephew on the spectrum, I recognized a few similar traits. However, I believe I was wrong. The reason being that at the end of the book and learning everything about Eleanor- being socially non-immediately conforming is not a reason to believe that someone is on the spectrum. I actually was feeling quite mad at myself. See, for those that do not know me, I have a tendency to be a very up front, non-sugar coating, truth bomb type of person. I have always figured that if someone asks my opinion then I will give it. None of that “I love you but” bullcrap. COME ON…. the BUT cancels out the I love you part. Before I go off on some other thought tread lets continue, Just because Eleanor is up front with formalities and within the way she shares information shouldn’t have placed a label on her. I actually really love that about her character. Her straight forwardness, her attention to details and her bewilderment at the details that some choose to focus.

That brings me to my next point. The co-workers. I find it amusing that the co-workers (Raymond excluded) pretty much ignore and mock her…. until she starts adhering to the “Social Norms” i.e. wearing makeup, having newer/nicer clothes, hair done…. all the stereotypical woman magazine “Make Him Notice You” crap. I get it; I really do. We, as women, want to feel pretty. We fall into those traps. And what baffles me; is even though we will bitch and complain about it all, when someone doesn’t follow those “Rules” or “Social Norms” then some women will treat that person differently. Why? In today’s society it still baffles me that people, who aren’t the “Social norm”, must adjust their behavior to be liked or to make those around them comfortable. And this is only a 1 way road. Me, being me, I have never had someone change their conversation from some gossip to world news to make me feel included. I have been told to “be softer” or to “Say it nicer”. So why is it that it is expected for some to curve their personality and not others? If one is willing to bend- then others should as well.

On the flip side of this conversation- Because Eleanor decided to under go changes (Although it was for the “Project” i.e. a man) I wonder if she was ready for a change. After everything that happened to her and how long she has been harboring the details- I wonder if a part of her just wanted to rip out of her current shell and put on a new one- like a growing crab running out of space and finally reaches a point where it needs a new, bigger and brighter shell. I wonder if that is where the sudden onset of needing to change, to “fit the life style of what the musician would expect”, comes from. I think she might have needed a reason, to justify growing from the person who she was to who she wants to be.

Next discussion point: Mummy. This will be my last discussion point for a while. I am still making notes on a couple of things and actually I am excited for the Dine & Opine Discussion on this book. Many people are lucky enough to not have experienced anything traumatic. Unfortunately, there are those that have. How one deals with the events is different for each person. How I dealt worked for me… might not work for someone else. However, I think that a person, who has lived through something horrible, can understand why someone else might be dealing with their event in a certain way. Which is why I can kind of understand Eleanor and Mummy. Here are my thoughts:

Eleanor feels like she failed. No. Not just feel, in her eyes she did fail. She tried hard to be the perfect daughter, to make her mummy proud. Because I think she felt that if she could just make her mummy proud then all would be better. Mummy would be happy. When the fire happened and she learns that mummy set the fire on purpose- I think it broke her. Here she was trying, trying so hard to make everything right, trying to make her mummy happy and her mummy killed her sister and Eleanor was suppose to die- but survived. The guilt of not being able to save her sister, to live up to the crazy standards of mummy- standards that would never have been met, she blames herself. With the blame she keeps mummy in her head because she is scared to move forward. I think she was afraid to move on until the “Project”. I think her “project” was a way of breaking free and stepping out of her mummy’s shadow.

 

 

America is not the Heart

Synopsis:

How many lives fit in a lifetime?

When Hero De Vera arrives in America–haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents–she’s already on her third. Her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area, and he doesn’t ask about her past. His younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter–the first American-born daughter in the family–can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands.

An increasingly relevant story told with startling lucidity, humor, and an uncanny ear for the intimacies and shorthand of family ritual, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful debut about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history. With exuberance, grit, and sly tenderness, here is a family saga; an origin story; a romance; a narrative of two nations and the people who leave one home to grasp at another.

 

Discussion:

Dine & Opine is starting the 2019 reading year off with a bang. We hope that you can join us in the reading of Elaine Castillo’s America is Not The Heart. Check back for the recap on the discussion.

The Glass Palace Book Discussion

 

Book: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

Month: December 2018

Restaurant: Inchin’s Bamboo Garden

Book Synopsis:

“Set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885, this masterly novel by Amitav Ghosh tells the story of Rajkumar, a poor boy lifted on the tides of political and social chaos, who goes on to create an empire in the Burmese teak forest. When soldiers force the royal family out of the Glass Palace and into exile, Rajkumar befriends Dolly, a young woman in the court of the Burmese Queen, whose love will shape his life. He cannot forget her, and years later, as a rich man, he goes in search of her. The struggles that have made Burma, India, and Malaya the places they are today are illuminated in this wonderful novel by the writer Chitra Divakaruni calls “a master storyteller.””

Book Discussion:

Well, what to say? First let’s start with my initial thoughts and that begins with a few fun facts:

  1. I restarted this book 3 times…. that’s right… THREE times. I would start the book, then put it down. When I picked the book up to continue; I had to restart because I was a bit confused on where I was in the story.
  2. I still haven’t finish the book.

Now for my thoughts. I am not far into the book, (I seriously just reached into my purse and pulled the damn thing out) I am on page 95; 95 out of 470. Ugh. The story feels disjointed. I can’t place my finger on the exact cause of this feeling. After discussing the book last night (We met on Tuesday instead of Thursday due to scheduling conflicts), I think I figured out at least one reason. This book is classified as Historical Fiction, which is a genre I LOVE, however the book does fall on the more historical side of the genre. Which isn’t a problem. The problem, for me, is not understanding why the author choose some topics to go into GREAT detail about and not others, often time just dropping a topic. The greatest example is his long, detailed description regarding Anthrax and the elephants. If you want to lose your appetite then read pages 79-82. Why so much detail was given on the pustules on the rear of an elephant that grow to the size of a pineapple and then begin to leak a whitish ooze, which in turn, then become Rivulets of blood-streaked puss and not on more details regarding the oo-si in the story or even more history, is beyond me.

The Group Discussion.

Here are the details around Dine & Opine’s meeting.

  • We officially have a new rule (now we really don’t – but kind of do- have rules so we like to poke fun at ourselves) Rule 500 sub paragraph a under book discussions: Discussion questions must be under 3 sentences long. A half page question will, from this point forward, be skipped. (After food and wine; our attention spans are not that long)
  • This book was not a hard read. However, if you choose to read this story- please note that the characters are not developed enough.
  • Again- this book falls heavily on the Historical part of the Historical Fiction genre.
  • This story is for those who want to know history that learn better through Visual Literature.

 

As always we concluded our meeting with Book Picks! This month it was Jennifer’s turn to bring the picks. The picks were as follows:

  • Insurrecto
  • America is not the Heart
  • In the Country: Stories

The winner (most votes) is America is not the Heart. We hope you read along!

Venetia Book Discussion

Book: Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Month: November 2018

Restaurant: Carpe Diem

Book Synopsis:

“Beautiful, capable, and intendent minded, Venetia Lanyon‘s life on her family’s estate in the country side is somewhat restricted.  But her neighbor, the infamous Lord Dameral, a charming rake shunned by polite society is about to shake things up.

Lord Damerel has built his life on his dangerous reputation, and when he meets Venetia, he has nothing to offer and everything to regret. Though his scandalous past and deepest secrets give Venetia reason to mistrust him, a rogue always gets what he wants.

As Venetia’s well-meaning family steps in to protect her from potential ruin, Venetia must find the wherewithal to take charge of her own destiny, or lose her chance at happiness.”

Discussion:

I cannot tell a lie. I love Period pieces. I just do. I find it absolutely fascinating to read a book taking place during a different time, and losing myself in the ways of that period. Now, with that being said.. I enjoyed this book- however apparently I didn’t read the whole book. Back story:

I ordered the book from amazon (the local store didn’t have it and it would have taken weeks to get the book in). The book was suppose to be delivered within 7 days. THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. As the days went by, it became apparent that the book would not arrive in time for me to read the book prior to D & O’s meeting. ARGH!!! Luckily, one of the D&O ladies said that the book was available on Hoopla (Our local Library’s app). So I happily opened my app and searched. There it was… and even better (Since I really do not like reading on electronics – I stare at a screen enough) it was available on Audiobook! Be still my heart! So I downloaded that book and listened away.

Listen away I did… the whole like 5 hrs of the book. hmmm…. thought it would take longer… but I listened, I know the story, wish a couple more details would have been discussed, but liked the book. Time for D&O’s meeting. (By the way.. the book arrived that day before the meeting)

We begin discussing the book. All of a sudden there is talk of when she was picking berries… I say “You mean when she’s walking along the property?” YES… answered many…. I sat there thinking “Hmmmmm I don’t remember berries.” The discussion continues. Finally after a few mentioned scenes and I say “I think my audiobook left out parts.” SMH… it was then that I realized the audiobook that I listened too was the Abridged version of the story. Sigh. At least it was a good laugh and a very important reminder… Read the title fully. That being said. This book was enjoyed by many. The part of the conversation, (For myself) that I most enjoyed, was when we were discussing the question “IF you had to choose one character to be from the story, who would it be and why?”

 

D&O Ladies.. any thoughts y’all would like to share regarding this book discussion?

Book Discussion of The Broken Girls

June 2018

For the month of June we read the book The Broken Girls by Simone st. James.

WOW! We all want to thank Megan for bringing this book as one of her picks… and we want to thank ourselves for voting for this book to be the book of the month. For those of you who have not read this book- here is the synopsis:

“Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants—the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears…

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won’t be silenced…”

This creepy tale will have you hooked in a few chapters. The way the author builds and connects the stories that take place in 1950, 1994 and 2014 will bring a chill to you. Making this book a perfect beach read! As the characters evolve and the story lines deepen, you are left wondering what is going to happen. Even myself, who typically can spot an ending, was left in the shadows, trying to figure everything out.

I have already lent this book to a couple of friends and have passed along the name of this book to many more. This story is an easy read, with deep intertwining stories that will leave you reaching for a blanket to stop the chills.

Dear Mrs. Bird

September 2018

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

Let me start off by saying that everyone LOVED this book cover. And I do mean everyone. The letters- set like an old typewriter’s keys… come on? Who wouldn’t love that and the colors? This cover captured your heart and sadly, that is about it for this book.

When reading the synopsis and reviews for the book- you read words like Charming, Plucky and Fresh to describe this story. For those that have not read Dear Mrs. Bird- Here is the synopsis:

“Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are doing their bit for the war effort and trying to stay cheerful, despite the German planes making their nightly raids. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent, and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance; but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, renowned advice columnist of Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who many have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she begins to secretly write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.”

Seems Intriguing right? Once you start reading the book; you realize that 1- it is a very easy read and that 2- you think you like the book. Once you finish the book and actually begin to think about the story… you are left with this dread. With this “What the hell?” type of feeling. At first, I truly felt that it was just me; that the other D&O gals would say “WHAT?! Karie no! the book was good.” So the night of the meeting came and the verdict? Many felt the same. The story, although easy to read and you wanted to route for the characters left you unfulfilled. The main Character, Emmeline Lake, left you feeling like you wanted to knock some sense into her. The characters around her, that just let her get away with her antics, also left you questioning humanity (Not in a deep sense but in a “Would this really happen” way). She isn’t the go-getter that the synopsis would lead you to believe, instead she is self-centered, careless, immature character that really…. you want to smack up side the head and say “what are you thinking?”.

The end of the book leaves much to be desired as well. The author manages to wrap it up in a bow and the pieces that don’t tie up… are not mentioned. It really is sad that a book that we thought was going to be interesting/enjoyable left us not wanting more and truly not excited.

Any D&O’s out there that have any thing that they would like to add… please do! And for those of you reading along… what were your thoughts on this book?