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April Chat’n’Chew Reviews


Welcome to the books our Chat’n’Chew book group discussed in April 2024. Hopefully, at least one book will appeal to you. Our next meeting is scheduled for May 15th from 12:30 to 2:00 in person in the Ellsworth Room. If you choose, you can also join us through Google Meet. Register through the calendar and you will be sent a link to connect for that day on Google Meet. We invite all those passionate about books and reading to join us. We have lively discussions on what we have all been reading the past month.

The Divorcee by Rowan Beaird

This is an engrossing historical fiction read about the divorce ranches that existed in Nevada during the 1950s. These ranches existed to provide wealthy women “quickie” divorces only after a 6-week residency. This story details an in-depth story of one woman, Lois. In her mid-twenties, Lois has been married to wealthy Lawrence for four years, but she has never been happy and doesn’t want children. Finally, she has found the strength to walk away and is sent to the Golden Yarrow, a divorce ranch for the affluent, by her disappointed father. When mysterious, glamorous Greer arrives with a bruise blooming on her cheek and gets her meals served on trays, information becomes currency to the girls who wonder if a movie star is in their midst, and curious Lois wants to be the first to know. The author described Reno with such depth that you might feel the heat and oppression of being in the desert and imagine yourself sitting by the pool with Greer and Lois listening to them chatting. An engaging tale of longing, learning, friendship, and personal growth.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende

An earlier work of historical fiction by this author. This is the story of Eliza Sommers who is found in a basket as a newborn baby in Valparaiso, Chile, home of Jeremy and Rose Sommers (brother and sister).  Rose is only 20 years old but resigned to being single and immediately feels compassion for the child, takes her in, and decides to raise her like a daughter. Then, fast forward this tale 16 years later and. Rose has brought up Eliza to be a young lady. Eliza encounters Joaquin Andieta for the first time and she is instantly smitten. Andieta is a bastard child with no future in Chile and succumbs to gold rush fever, leaving for California. But he leaves Eliza pregnant, so she decides to take all the jewels meant for her trousseau and runs away from home, determined to find her lover. In Eliza’s futile attempt to find Andieta, she stows away on a ship, miscarries, and is nursed back to health by a Chinese doctor named Tao Chi’en, who later becomes her life companion. Tao determines that Eliza should dress like a Chinese boy so as not to be discovered, thus beginning their life in America. Because the majority of gold seekers were men, prostitutes struck it rich as well. Eliza posing as a male piano player joins a traveling prostitution troop while Tao makes a name for himself as a healer in Chinatown in San Francisco. This book is well-written, researched, and hard to put down. 

The Music Shop by Rachael Joyce

This was a delightful read spanning twenty-one years. Set in 1988 the story is about Frank who owns a music shop selling only vinyl records – don’t mention CDs! He knows everything about music and always finds the right album the customers need. He gives them the gift of healing through music. Frank’s shop is located in a rundown building on an older street in London where the shopkeepers form a supportive, quirky community. A real estate company is interested in buying up the older buildings and is pressuring people to sell. The neighborhood is dying but the people who own their shops on the street are a family and Frank’s shop is a special place. One day a woman walks into his store and life – German Ilse Brauchmann, a mysterious woman in a green coat  – and from then on everything in his world changes. The Music Shop is not just about a music shop and music – it’s a love story unlike any other. The author writes about ordinary people and their often hidden struggles, celebrating their courage and resilience in the face of those struggles. This is a good read.

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia

This nonfiction bestseller was written by Peter Attia, a doctor who became frustrated with the typical approach to illness and medicine. His focus is on proactivity rather than reacting to a diagnosis. Changes your thinking on all sorts of health topics. Forget living a long time, the goal is to have a healthy body for as long as possible. Dr. Attia emphasizes how important exercise is to remaining healthy as we age, and he pushes strength training hard, making the point that if we do nothing to retain muscle mass as we age, we will lose strength through a natural process of atrophy. Attia also pushes the need for aerobic training because of the clear benefits to the vascular system and brain. There are two sections on nutrition, and then a section on the importance of good sleep and how to get it. Finally, he deals with emotional health. This book is recommended to anyone who is trying to improve their fitness, their health, and their chances of living into old age as an active and healthy individual. This is one of the most comprehensive, yet digestible books on medicine, improving your life and aging well. 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmond 

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim are four friends who live in a quiet retirement community. Elizabeth, with an unspecified, but rich, background, Joyce, a retired nurse, Ibrahim, a psychologist, and Ron, a labor organizer. They have a weekly get-together, The Thursday Murder Club, in the Jigsaw Room, where they try to solve cold-case murder cases. You can imagine their utter delight when a recent murder occurs, with ties to their retirement community. Now, they are on their first live case. Working with the police, they must all have their wits to catch the killer. This is a cast of charming, witty, loveable, and unforgettable characters. Fun, humorous, and thoughtful with a layered mystery. It has an old-fashioned feel but is still modern and fresh. This is the first book in this popular mystery series; it is a cozy entertaining read.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

This is a story of a family, who seem cursed over generations. They are cursed by the water that surrounds them, as well as other issues that plague them. This is a family with a peculiar affliction where someone in the family dies by drowning or is deathly afraid of water. At over 700 pages, across eight decades and three generations, The Covenant of Water weaves history and medicine into an enormously powerful story of human connection and frailty, of secrets and triumphs. It is set in the Kerala Estate of India, in South India’s Malabar Coast, spanning the years from 1900 to 1977. The story deals not only with complicated family relationships, friendship, and love but also with social issues like the caste system and the right of a nation to be free to rule itself. Although this is a long story it is still an example of epic storytelling at its best. Because Abraham Verghese is a physician, the medical background and science in this book is phenomenal. This beautiful book is a tribute to the progress of medicine.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is the true story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken without her knowledge, which later came to be known as HeLa cells, considered one of the most important landmarks in cancer research. The cells were also used to develop the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and a host of other medical treatments. Henrietta was an African-American woman who was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors. After marrying, she had four children. In the early 1950s, Henrietta Lacks checked into the ward for black patients at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and was found to have a particularly malignant case of cancer. Her cervical tumor grew at an alarming rate and when doctors went to treat it, they took a sample of it. No one could have predicted that those cancer cells would be duplicated into infinity. Rebecca Skloot, the author became fascinated by the human being behind these important cells and sought to discover and tell Henrietta’s story. But first, she had to gain the trust of Henrietta’s surviving family, including her children, who were justifiably skeptical about the author’s intentions after years of mistreatment. An important and startlingly original classic because so many issues are covered: race, class, gender, genetics, property rights, and the social ends of science and our technological choices. A startling and fascinating read.

The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang

This book is centered around female relationships and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Gemma, Alice, and Suling have closely connected stories, but they manage to find each other and build friendships leading up to the earthquake – and to run afoul of one Henry Thorton, a shady millionaire and railroad magnate with an interest in Chinese antiques and the owner of the Phoenix Crown, a priceless relic. The Phoenix Crown is a relic of Beijing’s fallen Summer Palace that he shows off at his mansion Octagon House. Gemma is an opera singer with a golden voice who is stuck in the chorus through bad luck. Suling is a young Chinese woman with fabulous embroidery skills and a driving need to escape an arranged marriage. Alice Eastwood is the director of the Botany department at the California Academy of Science and all are inevitably tangled up in Henry Thorton’s evil web of lies and deceit. These women, strong and resilient, developed their talents to achieve success in the fields of opera, art, fashion, and science. This is a survival story, all of the women rising from the ashes, not letting one greedy man get away with the numerous crimes he committed, getting justice, and not giving up.  A fast-paced read and thoroughly enjoyable.

Two thumbs up to the books West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge and Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon. Since we all read different books, there are times when another member might read what was suggested during a previous meeting. These books have been reviewed and discussed in the past and are highly recommended.