The Henna Artist: A Novel

November’s book pick was The Henna Artist: A Novel by Alka Joshi. This book pick was brought by Shobha.

Book Synopsis:

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

Book Discussion:

Coming soon.

The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

September’s book pick was The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc by Kimberly Cutter. Book pick was brought by Jill.

Book Synopsis:

“Was she a saint or a witch? A visionary or a madwoman? Or an extraordinary peasant girl who, at God’s bidding, led an army, saved France, and paid the price by burning alive? . . . Kimberly Cutter’s portrait of ‘Jehanne’ as a strange, gritty teenage tomboy and true believer is compelling.” —USA Today

It is the fifteenth century, and the tumultuous Hundred Years’ War rages on. France is under siege, English soldiers tear through the countryside destroying all who cross their paths, and Charles VII, the uncrowned king, has neither the strength nor the will to rally his army. And in the quiet of her parents’ garden in Domrémy, a peasant girl sees a spangle of light and hears a powerful voice speak her name: Jehanne. 

The story of Jehanne d’Arc, the visionary and saint who believed she had been chosen by God, who led an army and saved her country, has captivated our imaginations for centuries. But the story of Jehanne—the girl whose sister was murdered by the English, who sought an escape from a violent father and a forced marriage, who taught herself to ride and to fight, and who somehow found the courage and tenacity to persuade first one, then two, then thousands to follow her—is at once thrilling, unexpected, and heartbreaking. Rich with unspoken love and battlefield valor, The Maid is a novel about the power and uncertainty of faith and the exhilarating and devastating consequences of fame. 

Book Discussion:

I think today seems like a good day for a recap!  I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats awaiting a recap from The Maid discussion in October so here it goes.
A few of us met early at Seaboard to give Shobha a chance to visit two of the many establishments in her new town of Matthews.  Shobha was enjoying a brew (Seaboard is a brewery and wine bar/shop) when the girls from Waxhaw arrived (just a touch late).  The weather was beautiful though I had been concerned about the temperature and had multiple conversations with the staff/owner at Sante, our restaurant destination, to determine the best dining area for us.  The owner finally convinced me that dining outdoors would be lovely for the evening and I chose the back courtyard.  He was right, it was perfect weather for dining al fresco and we had the courtyard to ourselves which is always a plus.  Since I’d had so much interaction with the Sante folks already I didn’t want to be late for the reservation so Susan and I manned up, chugged our wine and headed on down the street to Sante.  
Once everyone arrived, we ordered some appetizers as usual; luckily talking Shobha out of the escargot.  Wine all around and on to The Maid.  Generally everyone knew of Joan of Arc but not much about her or why she happens to be the patron saint of France. I found the story very interesting and we had a fairly in depth discussion about whether she was delusional, or was actually sent from God on her journey.  A mixed bag of feedback there that generally followed the level of religious faith each person has.  The more faithful among us do believe God has chosen ones to do his bidding (and I truly hope if that’s the case Susan gets picked next because I’ll know then she’s not crazy); while those of us with a more minimal amount of religious faith leaned towards the crazier side of Joan’s story.  Having said that, there is no doubt that she led troops to battle, she survived a fall from high up in a castle with no injuries, turned the tide of the 100 years war and in the end was burned at the stake.  As for the words we used to describe her (per Jenn’s inquiry) Brave, Crazy, Faithful…there are others but my memory…  The book was overall thumbs up with a couple thumbs down thrown in.  On to picks, hopefully you all know by now we are reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.   

The Language of Flowers: A Novel

August’s book pick was The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Brought by Suhanti.

Book Synopsis:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Book Discussion:

Venue was Suhanthi’s house screen porch.  Food was from Inchin Bamboo Garden. Jill, Amy and Sondra came on time. Amy brought flowers she picked from her garden – lilies (majestic) and dahlias (dignity/ elegance).  Thank you Amy. I placed a food order to be delivered for the very first time and it was a fiasco.  I ordered and was supposed to get a confirmation email, but never did.  So called the restaurant and the never received the order.  Then I place a takeout order for just the main course as the food would not be ready for 75 minutes.  

As children and their attitude towards household chores was being discussed, I whipped a couple of appetizers – peanut salad which was a big hit and pakoras. Waiting to hear how Jill’s version of the salad with cashews turn out.  As we talk about the book while waiting for Shoba to come to start the discussion per her request, I send Kamesh to pick the takeout.  While he is on his way, I receive a text that the food has been delivered on my front porch.  Then I had to argue with the restaurant about canctthe takeout, I was ready to start drinking.  Phew.  Never again am I ordering food to be delivered.  Now that I have acknowledged my challenged capability (rather the lack of) to order food let’s move on.

Jill as usual pulled out a list of discussion questions and ensured that we got through them all.  She had to bang on the wine glass to bring the culprits (Shobha and me)to get on track with the discussion.  This was one of those books which entailed a lot of discussion.  Final verdict was a thumbs up (3 thumbs up, one down and one sideways).  In ending, to answer the question about what flowers would you give to someone important in your life, Jill said she would give all the Dine and Opiners freesias as they signified lifelong friendship. Luna decided to interrupt the discussion to get some love and then eventually settled down to serve as footrest.

Shoba brought Kheer and I served Moong dal Halwa For dessert which were combined by some.  Jill was shushed into handing the book picks when she started providing context around her selection.  She handed the 3 and did not have to use the two titles she had as back up.  The winner was “the maid: a novel of Joan of Arc” by Kimberly Cutter.  If you haven’t seen the group text, it is available on Hoopla.

Everyone made their way home around 11 after making plans to get Henna done.  Was a fun evening.  

The Last Mrs. Parrish

July’s pick was The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine. Brought by Amy.

Book Synopsis:

Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.

To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne—a socialite and philanthropist—and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces. 

With shocking turns and dark secrets that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Last Mrs. Parrish is a fresh, juicy, and utterly addictive thriller from a diabolically imaginative talent. 

Book Discussion:

Wow!  What a gathering.  (still within state guidelines of course)  After a long six months of not seeing fellow Dine and Opiners, we finally got together in a large way.  So much has happened – graduations/colleges/school starting/a baby!  We definitely had a lot of catching up to do.

With the virus still hanging around, we opted for a backyard format with takeout from Deejai Thai.  We faced mosquitos and George the cat defecating in the flower bed, but let’s move on…

The dress code – black leggings seem to be a common theme.  I have only seen people from the shoulders up since March so I have noted this and already have a pair in my amazon cart.

The book – The Last Mrs. Parish – A two part psycho-marital thriller that everyone actually read and finished!  Most agreed that the part 2 (Daphne) made up for the less interesting Amber point of view.  We discussed the difference between a pyscopath and sociopath – the difference being that a sociopath has a small amount of empathy.  Most agreed that there were not a lot of characters we empathized with (maybe we’re the sociopaths?), but the Mom and Douglas were at the top.  I was really hoping that gun would be put to good use.  Shobha came in late and boldly declared she felt a little bad for Amber.  Let’s just say that was an unpopular opinion.  Overall the book was given a thumbs up- a couple of sideways and maybe a thumbs down.  It was a fun read and would probably recommend, but not sure it deserves a unanimous thumbs up so thank you to the dissenters among us.

The Baby – Baby Vaughn will be making her arrival in February.  Sondra is excited to plan a baby shower and of course there will be books involved.  Think of the books that you didn’t mind reading over and over and over again.  That’s what we’re going for.

The Picks – In true Suhanthi form, she gave us a lot to choose from including actual books.  Three fiction and three non-fiction.  The non-fiction books were all had the Gates name somewhere on them (written by Melinda or Bill endorsing them).  The fiction books included:

-The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

-Life by Lu Yao and others

-The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

We selected The Language of Flowers.

No book club evening would be complete without a picture and overstaying our welcome.  Mark finally got off his Zoom call and was promptly summoned for a picture.  After staying outside the entire evening, we all walked into the house loudly and Sylvia emerged from her room to yell at us. (she was in the middle of a meditation app and we took her away from her zen garden she told me this morning).  I do appreciate the direct feedback versus the usual dirty looks and lights being turned on.  Ahhhh…its great to have the band back together!

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

March’s Bookclub pick was To Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow. This book was brought to the club by Susan.

Book Synopsis:

In a dramatic account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance that could not be explained – until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood, to Washington, and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power – and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook the culture.

Book Discussion:

The Missing Sister

April’s book pick was The Missing Sister by Elle Marr. Brought by Jennifer

Book Synopsis:

In Paris, her twin sister has vanished, leaving behind three chilling words: Trust no one.

Shayna Darby is finally coming to terms with her parents’ deaths when she’s delivered another blow. The body of her estranged twin sister, Angela—the possible victim of a serial killer—has been pulled from the Seine. Putting what’s left of her life on hold, Shayna heads to Paris. But while cleaning out Angela’s apartment, Shayna makes a startling discovery: a coded message meant for her alone…

Alive. Trust no one.

Taking the warning to heart, Shayna maintains the lie. She makes a positive ID on the remains and works to find out where—and why—her missing sister is hiding. Shayna retraces her sister’s footsteps, and they lead her down into Paris’s underbelly.

As she gets closer to the truth—and to the killer—Shayna’s own life may now be in the balance…

Book Discussion:

An Anonymous Girl

December’s book pick was An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks. This book was picked by Sondra

Book Synopsis:

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.

Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?

But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking… and what she’s hiding.

Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?

As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?

An electrifying new novel about doubt, passion, and just how much you can trust someone. 

Book Discussion: Coming soon!

The Alice Network

September’s book pick was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. This pick was brought by D&O member Suhanti.

Book Synopsis:

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. 
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the “queen of spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose. 
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Book Discussion: Recap curtesy of Shobha

Thanks to Jill stirring up old old memories, I got home with this urge to recap our evening- my first since the unfortunate incident of ‘Lolita’. And as no one was in direct firing range unlike the last time, it seemed somewhat safe to give in. 

So let’s see- 
Book: The Alice Network

Restaurant: Cafe Monte, sweet, well intentioned but slightly ditzy mostly harried server, good food, very good bread, annoyingly dim lighting which even on a non book club evenings makes it hard to see what’s on your plate so just imagine Amy trying to read questions from back of the book written in 8 point Sans Serif font. She looked like a 17th century scholar holding a candle (albeit battery operated one) over an ancient manuscript i.e. adorable. Pictures to follow soon. 

Attendees: entire East Indian wing plus one (our darling Anisha) and two third of the West. If not for Anisha’s effervescent self, East made for a sorry sight: sleep deprived Suhanthi and Hetal, nauseous and cranky because of it me. In the absence of rowdy trio, West wing was low-keyed too, basically we didn’t drive any fellow diners away which was a pleasant change. 

Discussion: Alice Network received one of the most lackluster thumbs up that I had ever seen. It was hilarious now that I think of it- we all surreptitiously looked at each other just to see who’ll raise their hand first, forget the thumb positions! Amy’s was the only decisive thumbs down done in our signature D&O spirit: she came in liking the book but discussion turned her against it. I opted for sideways -trying to make up for my above mentioned crankiness. Plus Jill called me Katie! That hit me really hard, I was devastated- verra ..verra devastated. Don’t worry- she and I made up later over our mutual love for Twilight series. 

What was wrong with the book you ask? Let me count the ways…
 
1. ‘Questions were lame‘ (Anisha), ‘These are stupid questions!’ (Amy). ‘Didn’t we just answer all that?’ (Hetal) ‘Ok, anyone has anything to say about the book?’ (Jill) to which only Karie responded-though for the life of me I can’t remember with what. 

2. Cheesy romance- skin against sweaty skin (Eve w/René), legs hooked or wrapped around (all of them at some point!) errant lock of hair (Finn), lips Iocked (Eve/Cameron) lips lingering (Finn/Charlie) lean, sleek and smooth (René)

3. Disappointing leads- Jill and I hoped that besides Finn & Cameron aka Uncle Edward, René may turn out to be another romantic but flawed hero (he was good looking, excellent and surprisingly not so pervy in bed) ‘He satisfied her sexually!.’ (Suhanthi- cutting to the chase, always bluntly apt). We also thought maybe Charlie’s mom and/or aunt will turn out to have some connections to Alice Network -somehow tying in those infamous pearls as well. That didn’t happen. 

4. Lili’s mischievous smile/look over her shoulder in EV-UH-REE situation- on being told Eve had betrayed her, at the check points, over Eve’s sleeping with Rene, being dragged by the German officers- there was no end to her optimism and flirty French-ness. Then it was Rose’s rosy cheeks, blond hair, impish look, white summer dresses.. goddamn Yank, daisy, my pet, C-words thrown around, pansy, och lass, bonny wee, so on and so on —-ad nauseam, ad infinitum. 

5.  Lack of any secondary characters or sense of place other than maybe old lady outside the burned down church which apparently is word for word from her actual testimony.On a side note- Epilogue/ Author’s note made for much more interesting read. 

6. Clichéd and neatly tied up ending(s)- Eve not being the betrayer, Violette forgiving Eve,  René‘s hand smashed with the same Baudelaire bust, René killed symbolically by Eve, the perfect ever-after with perfect car and grandma’s pearls for Finn and Charlie (a cincher for Amy’s thumb down verdict), pleased and fluttering parents courtesy of car/pearls (to think it took Lord Grantham a whole season and half to accept Tom the chauffeur- but then he didn’t have a Bentley. Or pearls), Eve’s perfect job as a game hunter because killing René and being a spy made her realize how much she ‘liked to stalk, hunt and kill dangerous things’…
‘so random!’ (Anisha) and lots of eye rolls at that end of the table. 
Other than that and incomprehensible reason for all of them settling down in the dreaded town of Grasse (‘Why???’ -Anisha) everything else was fine. I highly recommend reading it, you get yo appreciate books like Lolita, Suite Francaise all the more for it. 

Our next book is The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb. 
We should find some haunted house to discuss it- that’ll be so much fun!

xoxo

SR

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