Thursday, March 17, 2011

Welcome to our Book Club Blog!

We have some very interesting selections for April 2011, and in an effort to entice you with variety, we have selected 2 non-fiction titles and 2 fiction titles.  Of course, you don't have to read them all, but you might want to!  Please post comments or questions about any of the books, however, we ask that you identify the book you are referring to clearly so that everyone will know what you're talking about.  We can't promise you that plots won't be revealed, so read only what you want to know about or blog after reading the whole book - it's up to you.  And most of all, let's have some fun with this! Happy reading!

The Big Short by Michael Lewis


By Michael Lewis

Customer Review
A Most Entertaining Read, April 26 2010
This review is from: The Big Short (Hardcover)
The Big Short is the best kind of investment book: it's entertaining, with larger than life characters in unimaginable situations; it's edifying (you won't even realize you're being schooled until after the fact); and it's a story no-one else has told.   …you'll likely not find another book like this one; a stunning and jaw-dropping account by one of the best authors in the business.

"The Big Short" is Lewis at his best.

By Ron H "Ron H" (Oakville, Ontario)
 This review is from: The Big Short (excerpt)
60 minutes did a piece on the author and the book that was very engaging. Michael Lewis takes what some people think is a very complex issue and breaks it down into a very understandable read for people fortunate enough to have the book. Essentially the story is there are a whole bunch of individuals maximizing their own individual outcomes, some know the house is on fire, some should know the house is on fire and some have no idea. End result is we are exposed to a system that is clearly lacking checks and balances and there is a basic want for the people on the inside to avoid any checks. It was an engrossing read that will make you shake your head.

(Dave Ramsey will be a Speaker at Leadercast Event on May 6, 2011 at St. Clair Centre for the Arts, Windsor, Ontario, Canada)
Customer Review
Dave Ramsey Will Help You Become Financially Fit
This review is from: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness (Hardcover)
I enjoy discussions about my finances about as much as I enjoy talking about my weight. I certainly need to work on both, but I'd prefer to avoid the topics if at all possible, thank you very much. Can I get an "amen"?
Dave Ramsey, radio talk show host, author and all-around financial guru, is no stranger to this ostrich routine. After his own bankruptcy he came to the conclusion that the key to financial (and physical) fitness isn't knowing all the tricks of the money trade; it's being honest with yourself. "If I can control the guy in the mirror, I can be skinny and rich," he says in his new book THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER.
In other words, you have to get your head out of the sand. Okay, I have to get my head out of the sand.
Leaving the skinny to other books, Ramsey is a prophet to those who want to be rich but would settle for being financially stable. It's clear that this is a large group, given the popularity of Ramsey's radio show and books. After reading THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER, I can see why they flock to him for advice.
Ramsey's principles are simple and straightforward. Pay cash. Pay off debts from smallest to largest. Create an emergency fund. He provides easy-to-understand answers to many seemingly complex questions about budgeting, retirement funds, saving for college education, and more.
Large pullout quotes scattered throughout the book offer bite-sized financial advice and factoids in Ramsey's typically direct manner:
"A new $28,000 car will lose about $17,000 of value in the first four years you own it. To get the same result, you could toss a $100 bill out the window once a week during your commute."
"Looking to spend $100 per month on life insurance? You could pay $7 a month toward term insurance and invest the remaining $93. But go with a cash-value policy if you'd rather have someone else earn interest on your investments."
"49% of Americans could cover less than one months' expenses if they lost their income."
"If your mortgage payment is $900 and the interest portion is $830, you will pay that year around $10,000 in interest. What a great tax deduction! Right? Otherwise, you'd pay $3,000 in taxes on that $10,000. But who in their right mind would choose to trade $10,000 for $3,000?"
All of this advice is helpful and eye opening, but what Ramsey really excels at is presenting inspirational tales of those who were once, but are no longer, in financial disarray. Their stories make up at least a third of the book, and the cumulative effect is that of a published pep rally designed to get people pumped up about saving money. And it works.
This is a must-read book for anyone whose looking for a little basic financial information and a whole lot of courage to finally put away the ostrich suit.
--- Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel



Customer Review
BY Jill Meyer
Helen Simonson's first novel, "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand", is so well written that I could barely put it away last night to go to sleep. I wanted to find out what happens. Of course, we all know how the book will end, as with any comedy of manners, but the fun part is how the author gets us there. And Simonson gets us there quite nicely.

Major Ernest Pettigrew, a widower at age 68 with one grown son, lives in the quintessential country English village, set on the sea, south of London. He has lived there since leaving the British Army, raising his son with his late wife, Nancy, and enjoying his life as a retired military man. He golfs and engages in other local activities and interacts with his fellow, English, villagers. He's lonely and without the resources to know exactly why or what he should do to help ease the loneliness. He falls into first friendship, later love, with a local widow of Pakistani origin. Actually, Mrs Ali was born in Cambridge but is part of a large English/Pakistani family which stretches from London to Lahore. Their "friendship" stirs up feelings among his fellow villagers who don't know what to make of the blossoming relationship. The inter-racial and inter-religious relationship of the two is disconcerting to both the English and Pakistanis who view it. Ill feelings among the villagers begin to show, while the Major and Mrs Ali are not accepted on the Pakistani side, either.

Simonson is an excellent character writer. There's not a stereotype among her characters, though, in a lesser writer's hand, there probably would be. Her minor characters are as well-drawn as her major ones. All are shown with the nuances that make people seem "real". There are a few silly plot points, but not ridiculously so. Everything comes together in the end, as a good "comedy of manners" should.

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Cathleen Schine's new book, "The Three Weismanns of Westport". I gave it four out of five stars because I felt that, somehow, it was a "forced story". Schine, setting out to mimic Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility", needed to make her plot and characters mirror those of Austen's. Which sort of put her in a bind. Simonson, here in "Major Pettigrew" does not give rise to the same expectations that Schine unfortunately did. HER "comedy of manners" is her own creation, not mimicking anyone else's writing.

"Pettigrew" is an amazing study of the people and the times.

By Louise Penny

Customer Review
E. Bukowsky “booklover10”
This review is from: Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Hardcover)
"Still Life," by Louise Penny, takes place in Three Pines, a small rural village south of Montreal. This placid and beautiful hamlet is shaken to its core when a beloved and gentle seventy-six year old woman named Jane Neal is shot through the heart with an arrow. Was Neal's death the result of a hunting accident or was it murder? If it was an accident, why has no one come forward? If Jane was deliberately slain, who could have wanted her dead? One suspect is Jane's estranged niece, Yolande Fontaine, a cold, unfeeling, and greedy woman who is desperate to get her hands on her aunt's property. In addition, Yolande's husband is an obnoxious boor with a criminal record, and their son is a known delinquent.

In charge of the investigation is Chief Inspector of Homicide, Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec. Although he is in his mid-fifties, "violent death still surprised him." Gamache is a man of integrity with keen powers of observation, and he is an excellent listener with an uncanny ability to make people reveal their innermost thoughts. Assisting Gamache is Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, who has been Gamache's second-in-command for over ten years. Agent Yvette Nichol, an arrogant and impulsive young woman, is new to the team, and she quickly annoys her superiors with her irritating and smug attitude.

The varied cast of townspeople includes Clara and Peter Morrow, who are local artists; Clara, who was extremely close to Jane, is devastated by the old woman's death. Olivier and Gabri are gay partners who run a bistro and a bed and breakfast, and early in the book, they are victims of a vicious assault by three boys who mock the pair's sexual orientation. Myrna Landers is a former psychologist who has deep insight into the human condition. Ben Hadley has been Peter Morrow's close friend for years; Ben's mother, Timmer, died a month earlier after a lengthy battle with cancer. Ruth Zardo is a brusque curmudgeon who is not terribly popular, since she consistently says whatever is on her mind. Phillipe Croft, a troubled and surly fifteen-year-old boy is a suspect, as well, since he knows how to shoot with a bow an arrow and had a recent altercation with Jane.

Louise Penny has written a dryly humorous, thoughtful, and engrossing study of a network of close-knit friends and relatives who celebrate their successes and mourn their losses together. Who among them is harboring evil intentions? This book is reminiscent of Christie's Miss Marple mysteries, in that a snake suddenly rears its head in an apparently benign Garden of Eden. Until the snake is found and destroyed, anyone could be the next victim. The author's delineation of the individual personalities is remarkable. The plot is nicely constructed, with enough red herrings to keep the reader off balance. Penny is a gifted descriptive writer and the dialogue is lively and fast-paced. Gamache, far from being superhuman, makes mistakes but tries to learn from them, and he is an appealing protagonist. The title has a dual meaning. First, it refers to a painting by Jane Neal, called "Fair Day," which may point to the identity of her assailant. Additionally, "still life" is a metaphor for a person whose life is emotionally stunted and who blames others for his problems, instead of developing into a mature and productive adult. All in all, "Still Life" is an auspicious debut novel by a promising new author.