So Many Books, So Little Time

Violetta Armour

For the readers on your Christmas list, you might be looking for a good book. This month, rather than review one book, I’m doing a short recap of some of the favorites of my book club (that started over 30 years ago in my Ahwatukee bookstore). We’ve discussed some wonderful books—and, of course, a few “lemons.” I’ll spare you those.

The first book we read has remained dear to my heart: A Town Like Alice, by Neil Shute. You may know Shute as author of On the Beach. Jean Paget, a young English woman, is captured by the Japanese Army in Malaya during World War II. She is forced on a brutal march across the country with a group of women and children. During this appalling ordeal, she befriends Joe Harman, an Australian soldier who risks his own life to help the women. This has been made into a movie also (keep tissues handy).

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, American author of Pulitzer prime fame. Our group loved this book so much we discussed it twice, as new members joined the discussion. The premise of Crossing to Safety seems simple: Two young couples meet in 1937 as lowest-rung members of the University of Wisconsin faculty at Madison. They fall into friendship and for the rest of their lives, through ups and downs, remain deeply bonded.

For science fiction fans, The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, was an interesting discussion, even for those who don’t normally read sci-fi.

A visionary work that combines speculative fiction with deep philosophical inquiry. The Sparrow tells the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a scientific mission entrusted with a profound task: To make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The mission begins in faith, hope, and beauty, but a series of small misunderstandings brings it to a catastrophic end.

Corelli’s Mandolin, by Louis De Bernieres. Extravagant, inventive, emotionally sweeping, Corelli’s Mandolin is the story of a timeless place that one day wakes up to find itself in the jaws of history. The place is the Greek island of Cephalonia, where gods once dabbled in the affairs of men and the local saint periodically rises from his sarcophagus to cure the mad. Then the tide of World War II rolls onto the island’s shores in the form of the conquering Italian Army.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. This was his first book before Gentleman from Moscow and The Lincoln Highway.

On the last night of 1937, 25-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

And if I may take the shameless liberty of recommending two of my books for the Mah Jongg or pickleball players on your Christmas list:

A Mah Jongg Mystery and A Pickleball Poison, where murders abound in a retirement village. Available on Amazon with 5-star reviews!

I hope some of the above books will be new and pleasurable reading for you or your friends if you missed them the first time around.

Happy Christmas and Happy Reading!