Archive for the ‘Discussion Books – 2013’ Category

House of Silk, Holmes & Horowtiz

Last Thursday we gathered at Meeting Room B “Baker Street” to partake of our annual Holiday Yule Cake, and to discuss the fascinating tale related by author Anthony Horowitz called The House of Silk. Those who were particular readers and fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories of Sherlock Holmes and his best friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, were not disappointed in reading Horowitz story – authorized by Doyle’s estate. In fact, that is understating the response: everyone loved this story! To paraphrase one member: ‘I kept waiting for him to blow it; to put things in that Holmes or Watson wouldn’t say or do, or to break with the period [the story is set in 1890s London] but he maintained the flow and the story just kept building – I couldn’t put it down!’

We talked about how both in language and period Horowitz does an outstanding job of capturing the feel of the original Doyle stories, while adding some depth of social consciousness, and even humanity to Holmes that is seen through pursuit of the killer of Ross, the young boy who’d been a new “Baker Street Irregular”. This group of street boys (or “ragamuffins” as Mrs. Hudson refers to them) act as Holmes eyes and ears in the more questionable parts of London, and in the “lower class” social circles he is not a part of. We talked a bit about these social circles, and how completely the enfranchised rich and aristocratic had power over the general population – and even Holmes himself.


The whole setting up of Holmes for the murder of Sally Dixon, Ross’ sister, and the lack of voice that he has as a defendant during the English prison court trial, showed a frightening lack of control over one’s personal life overall, and how criminal prosecution could so easily work against an individual if he was not part of those in control.

…End of SPOILER!

We really liked the layering of crime and social issues of the time and mentioned how it was reminiscent of Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries (which we’ve identified to be added to our titles for the next MAF Planning meeting in August!) This consciousness is expressed by Watson in particular about how little he’d thought about what the affect of being a Baker Street Irregular might be for these young boys. It certainly was not something on Holmes’ mind in a significant way until Ross is killed. We talked about how some critics have said that this death affected Holmes too much, and wasn’t believable given his solitary and unsociable style. We countered that it is completely within his character to become obsessed with justice for the boy – not only from a personal responsibility aspect, but because finding the true killer in a murder investigation is integral to what Sherlock is all about.

Patti mentioned a comment made on the New York Public library’s discussion on this book about how it employs a structure often used by Doyle of having Holmes solving “double mysteries”. In this case it is the adventures of The Man in the Flat Cap, and The House of Silk. Using this technique, Watson relates two criminal situations which appear to be completely unrelated, and part of the revelations that gives them such a fun twist, is seeing how very wrong that appearance is.

The group liked the timeline used by Horowitz to let us know that the story, while written in 1890 according to Watson, is not published until 1915 due to the scandalous nature of one crime – and the people involved in it – in particular. We felt it emphasized how despicable and horrific this crime would have been given the era when it occurred, and that, for his own well-being, Watson would not have been able to publish the story while certain key characters were still alive. Patti brought in a couple of other interesting incidents in history that would have taken place during this time frame, and have informed Doyle about both the social situation of street boys in London, and a pertinent trial that occurred between the story in 1890 and the publication in 1915 that relates to the scandal in the House of Silk: the first was the publication in 1839 of Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist, (and the celebrated status of Dickens as a writer of fiction with social commentary), the later is the 1895 trials of Oscar Wilde.

We also spoke of some of the interesting places and characters that are mentioned here and used elsewhere in Sherlock Holmes stories. There will be links in the “Author Docket” on Horowitz and this story to such things as: the Diogenes Club, Gentlemen’s clubs, the prison at Holloway (where Oscar Wilde also resided for a time) , and a great article that one member sent to “The Ten Rules for Writing a Sherlock Holmes Novel”. That link is also here: http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2012/10/05/1557/.

The other two characters we spent some time on were Mycroft, and the Mysterious Mathematician (as we call him in our Cast of Characters list!) Members new to Holmes wondered if we ever got background information about Holmes upbringing and family, and how he came to be a “consulting detective”. While he arrives on the scene in A Study in Scarlet in 1887, Holmes is already a consulting detective and details about his past are slim to none. It takes a while to even find out he has a brother at all! Having Mycroft in this story was in fact a very nice touch on Horowitz’ part as it helps to round out newcomers’ understanding of Holmes – plus the first exchange between the two is such a fun piece of observational one-upmanship:

“ ‘My dear Sherlock!’ Mycroft exclaimed as he waddled in. ‘How are you? You have recently lost weight, I notice. But I’m glad to see you restored to your old self.’

“ ‘And you have recovered from influenza.’

“ ‘A very mild bout. I enjoyed your monograph on tattoos. Written during the hours of the night, evidently. Have you been troubled by insomnia?’

“ ‘The summer was unpleasantly warm. You did not tell me you had acquired a parrot.’

“ ‘Not acquired, Sherlock. Borrowed. . . . You have just returned from Gloucestershire.’

“ ‘And you from France.’

“ ‘Mrs. Hudson has been away?’

“ ‘She returned last week. You have a new cook.’

“ ‘The last one resigned.’

“ ‘On account of the parrot.’

“ ‘She always was highly strung.’ ”

— Courtesy of a Washington Post article.

As you may tell, the group highly enjoyed this excellent addition to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes – and was very pleased to hear that there’s at least been a tweet that says Anthony Horowitz is working on a sequel. We can’t wait!

In the meantime we look forward to The Sherlockian, our January selection, where we’ll be taken into the world of today’s “Baker Street Irregulars” – the literary society that honors the works of Conan Doyle’s most famous character, and his unparalleled portrayal of the friendship of a lifetime he shares with Dr. Watson. If you would like to make comments on Holmes, Watson, or The House of Silk, please add them here!

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Author Andrew Gross

Last night’s meeting on The Blue Zone by Andrew Gross held a few surprises, some raucous laughter, and lively commentary from all attendees. Our phone call with Andrew was postponed, but because he is a true gentleman, we are going to have a second chance at getting together with him by phone in July. We’ve scheduled a book discussion on his novel No Way Back for the third Thursday in July: July 17th.  Andrew also let us know that this book is being made into a TV series, possibly premiering in the fall of 214 – so we’ll get an early glimpse of what that has involved as well!

Once we got over Patti’s startling footwear, and the protagonist’s name in Jo Nesbø’s mystery series, discussion turned to The Blue Zone, and everyone had something to say. One of our members is a long-time fan of Andrew’s books, and this one is a particular favorite. Group members overall agreed that they’d enjoyed the book and that it filled the #1 requirement of good thrillers – it was very hard to put down!

There were a few comments made about points that were troublesome for readers. One comment mentioned that it was hard to believe that Kate would chance harm to her family by searching them out once they went into the witness protection program without her. There was some discussion on whether Kate’s decision to stay with, and marry her fiancé, was believable — which the group decided it was. This led to talk about her husband Greg and the twist in the story involving his personal background, the shock it brings to Kate, and if we thought they had a chance at making it as a couple. (We think they do!)  This brought up the topic of the main theme of the story, family – and what defines a family. At its most scary interpretation, Mercado and others offer the belief that fraternidad (where blood washes blood) is the most important aspect of family. It is certainly the driving force behind Ben’s motivation and more than one member found it difficult to relate to such a different concept of family, and family honor,; leading, as it does, to the deaths of two mothers, and the attempted death of two daughters, as well as the agents killed along the way. We also felt that the commitment to the “fraternidad” was intermixed with the desire for power.

One member felt that the most interesting character in the story was Ben, and the transition he makes from unquestioned supportive father, caring husband, and trustworthy businessman, to someone far different. We talked about how it would be possible for him to change his treatment of Kate, and felt that it was part of the process he needed to follow to distance himself from her and fulfill his reason for avoiding the witness protection agents and police.

We also talked about Andrew’s use of the female perspective – both in this book, and in other novels – particularly the two Women’s Murder Club books he co-authored with James Patterson. We felt that overall he had a very good grasp on creating believable, realistic, and strong women. His focus on them is so strong, that it even over shadowed the male child in this book, Justin. You know far less about him and his place in the story is relatively small, while both Em and Kate are strong, feisty young women who are smart and athletic. We liked how the sports they both are good at – sculling and squash – reflect the privileged background Gross created for them. We did question whether some of their reactions (Kate’s in particular) weren’t more “guy” oriented than a female writer would have made them.

Other points were made that entail spoilers, which we do not publish, but we do feel that the ending plot twists, while not always believable for a couple folks, were too much fun not to finish – and that we all very willingly will read more by this author, especially No Way Back this coming July!

In other business, the group has mentioned that they want to make sure we have both Jo Nesbø and Linwood Barkley down for authors we might want to vote for in our planning meeting in August 2014. We also noted that next month’s meeting, on Thursday, Dec. 5th is early in the month so we didn’t conflict with the holidays – but that folks will want to do some speed reading on our book: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz!

As you can see, a lot was said at this meeting – but there’s always more we can add, so if you’d like to leave comments, please do!

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Hound of the Baskerville Cover with Daniel Stashower & Conan Doyle

There will be more on our meeting last week on The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but for now we want to offer up sincere praise and thanks to author Daniel Stashower. We now know why your biography on Doyle (Teller of Tales: the Life of Arthur Conan Doyle) is an Edgar winner! BTW Daniel — it went out to one of our attendees right after the program!


We are off to a fine start on following The Hound as he travels next to be read by the library’s fiction discussion group, Fixed on Fiction, who’ll be discussing it on Oct. 10th @ 7:00 p.m.  The book’s afoot! (Well, sort of… – Enjoy anyway!)

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Cover of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Just FYI – one of our sister discussion groups Fixed on Fiction, just had their own discussion on Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl! Here’s a Link so you can see what they had to say.

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MAF Thanks Hank Phillippi Ryan

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Hi Folks,

Just a quick word to let you know that our terrific tech service people accelerated the process and our copies of our next discussion book, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s The Other Woman are now at the ain Circulation desk for you all to pick up. The library is open today for regular hours, so that should give you something great to read over the Memorial Day holiday! Don’t forget — we’ are meeting a week later (June 27th at 7:00) so that Hank can join us for our meeting!! She’s in town for the American Library Association meeting and making a special trip out to Lisle just for us!

So grab a copy of her book as soon as you can, and if you miss the book club copies, again, see the Connection desk and Reference desk staff to ask for an inter-library loan copy.

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Gone Girl Cover & Gillian Flynn graphic

MAF members engaged in a lively discussion about this immensely popular novel of psychological suspense. It proved to be a polarizing read for members, with some who hated the book, particularly the characters, and those who – while not fans of the characters – found a lot to interest them in the exploration of the relationships.

The key relationship being the failing marriage between Amy and Nick, we gave it the majority of our attention. While it was difficult (or even impossible) to like either Nick or Amy, it proved fascinating to follow the twists and turns of their relationship. When we meet them, they are “the golden couple…Soul mates. They could complete each other’s sentences, guess each other’s reactions…they are smart, charming, gorgeous, and also narcissistic, selfish, and cruel.” (as the author states).

We also talked about the other thing they had in common: they were both lonely. Loneliness, and how different characters handle it, is a common theme in Flynn’s books. The first two books focus on an individual character’s loneliness. Here, the author weaves it into the mix of what makes up the marriage between Amy and Nick.

Members commented on how initially their sympathy was with “Diary Amy” and that Nick was essentially a jerk. He didn’t seem to appreciate her efforts (although her “treasure hunts” were felt to be manipulative & self-centered from the start) her willingness to move to North Carthage Missouri, or her giving Nick and his sister the money to open the bar.

We also felt Nick depended on women to fix things for him and take care of him, while not particularly liking them. We speculated that his being the “baby” of the family was an early formation point for his character, just as “Amazing Amy” plays a critical role in the formation of Amy’s character.

The revelation near the end of Part 1 (Boy Loses Girl) about Nick’s guilty secret lost even more sympathy for him from the group. Those who hadn’t initially thought he was involved in her disappearance, started to believe that he actually killed her. One member pointed out how the scenes where Nick is “dreaming” about Amy on the bloody, kitchen floor was subtly written. The reader could either think it was Nick’s guilty conscience reliving his act of murder, or a concerned Nick whose imagination has run wild creating the scene.

We felt there was a “switch” thrown in Part 2 (Boy Meets Girl) where much of what one thought about “Diary Amy” is revealed to be lies, and the narration given by Amy lets readers know just how viciously manipulative and calculating she is. As we became more and more aware of how Amy sees the world and her rightful “amazing” place at the center of it, we realized her calculated acts were her version of dispensing “judgment” on those she find guilty of crimes against her. We also realize that both narrators have not only lied to each other, but to the reader as well.

We also come to know that she is fully aware of Nick’s secret, and appreciated the writer’s tongue-in-cheek moment calling the character “Able Andie” – the name of the character fictional “Amazing Amy” is supposed to have wed. A number of members expressed how much they disliked the whole “Amazing Amy” aspect of how her two child psychologist parents raised her. Some felt it was a major contributor to her problems while one person felt that maybe the whole “Amazing Amy” was their way to stay safe around their psychotic child!

In the final Part [Boy Gets Girl Back (of Vice Versa)], we saw the fruition of another statement the author makes about them: She has said “they complete each other – in a very dangerous way”. In the story Amy talks about one of them having thorns and the other having the perfect holes for the thorns to fit into. We felt that was creepily accurate. Members were also horrified to think about what kind of parents these two would be, particularly Amy as a mother – and how it brings the cycle of horrible parenting full-circle.

We talked about Flynn’s interest in the “con” of dating, where people often pretend to be different than whom they really are. Amy is a past master at this, and part of Nick’s confusion about her is that the Amy he married and the Amy he’s been with in Missouri are very different people. What he hasn’t seemed to realize is or own up to, is that he too is a very different Nick than the one Amy married – and she’s determined to get “him” back. By the end of the story both Amy and Nick are the versions she wants them to be – at least on the surface…

Members found that while Gone Girl was an uncomfortable read, most even disliking it –  it not only led to a discussion that everyone enthusiastically got into – they had to talk about it!

If you’ve been burning to talk about Gone Girl, please add your comments too!

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