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Sunday, October 2, 2022

We Discuss Before We Were Yours and Create a List of Happy Books

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, was about a horrendous chapter in history and relayed a lot of sad stories. Cindy suggested our Book Club read a happy book! Here is a list we compiled of happier books, some of which we have discussed. You’re welcome to nominate from this list on November 1! 

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah (describes some difficult circumstances, but Noah, as a good comedian, turns sad into happy)

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick

Cozy mysteries

School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister (We discussed in Feb. 2022)

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson (We discussed in Jan. 2022)

My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell (We discussed in Mar. 2022)

On Division, by Goldie Goldbloom

Queen Bee, by Dorothea Benton Frank

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman

For Before We Were Yours, the author provided an unusually large number of discussion questions, so we chose just a few. Shirley chose the question, "Did you wish all seven of the Foss siblings could have found one another in the end? As Shirley read Before We Were Yours, she kept hoping the Foss siblings would all find each other, even though she knew that would be unrealistic, given the situation in the book. She also held out hope that Camellia would be found and would re-enter the story. Dennis said that Camellia had died, and that was my understanding, too. Carla agreed. She mentioned that Queenie’s last baby, the boy twin, also wasn’t found by anyone in his original family. The family thought he had died, but the book indicated that he had lived.

Cindy chose the question, “Did you have a favorite between the historical story of the Foss children and the modern-day story of Avery Stafford?” Cindy particularly enjoyed the beginning of the book about the kids on the Arcadia, because as a child, Cindy’s family cruised the Tombigbee river (Alabama and Mississippi) every summer. She fondly remembers the beauty of the river. Cindy mentioned the 1961 movie “Tammy Tell Me True,” starring Sandra Dee. Tammy lived on a houseboat on a river, and there was a whole community of houseboat residents. When Tammy was away from the riverboat, she contrasted with most “normal” people her age, because she had an accent, didn’t speak grammatically correctly and was uneducated. Dennis said the riverboat part of the book made him so angry that he preferred the modern-day parts of the book. Several readers agreed!

I found the riverboat parts of the story to be particularly interesting because of the way the kids and their thoughts and emotions were featured. I asked whether other readers like reading books that have children as main characters. Carla said that stories like this one about children can be difficult to read, because of the abuse the kids suffered. Carol said that she prefers to not focus on those aspects of life, to “…think life isn’t like that.” Then Cindy reminded us that the modern-day story highlighted elder abuse as an issue. Flo noticed the way the adults in the modern story were uncomfortable because they didn’t want to publicly admit to their family background and hid it for as long as they could. Joanne noted that reading about kids can make you realize how powerless and helpless kids are. Dennis mentioned that he likes fantasy literature, in which kids often begin as helpless and grow into superheroes…fantasy! Joanne said that writing from a child’s point of view offers an author lots of possibilities.

We also talked about adoptions in general and specifically among people we have known.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate: Interesting Links, etc

Spoiler Alert: Some of the following might be thought to contain spoilers. The book is historical fiction. If you prefer to experience the whole book as an interesting novel with twists and turns in the plot, read the book before you look at the material below:

Wingate also wrote (with a cowriter) Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society  published 10/22/2019

        Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children's Home Society Audible Logo Published in 2019

Judy Christie (Author), Lisa Wingate (Author), Emily Rankin (Narrator), Random House Audio (Publisher)

4.6 out of 5 stars    2,701 ratings


There's an article about Tann that says she charged 100,000 euros for some adoptions. Were euros in circulation when she was alive?  (1999)

Here’s a YouTube video about the true story:

Video about the adoption Scandal


Here’s an article about Joan Crawford and her adopted children: Article About Joan Crawford and Her Illegally Adopted Children


This is an article about a Lifetime special about the adoptions: Article about Lifetime special about the adoptions


Here’s an article about Joan Crawford and her adopted children: Article About Joan Crawford and Her Illegally Adopted Children


This is an article about a Lifetime special about the adoptions: Article about Lifetime special about the adoptions


Before We Were Yours Playlist:

• “Summertime” by Billie Holiday   

• “It Don’t Mean a Thing” by Duke Ellington

• “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin

• “Aura Lea (Love Me Tender)” by Elvis Presley

(mentioned in the book)

• “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

• “Whiskey River” by Willie Nelson  ***

• “Lazy River” by Louis Armstrong    ***

• “Ol’ Man River” by The Beach Boys or Paul Robeson  ***

or Frank Sinatra

• “Puttin’ On the Ritz” by Frank Sinatra

• “Isn’t It Romantic” by Ella Fitzgerald


Below is a link to Lisa Wingate’s “Book Club Kit” for Before We Were Yours. It is from her website and contains a list of questions almost the same as the one we will be using for our discussion BUT NOT EXACTLY THE SAME – so please don’t use the list of discussion questions from this link to prepare for our discussion. There are also some recipes at this link and a few news photos from the history that the book was based on.


Monday, August 22, 2022

Here’s a 700-Page Summary of Our Discussion of Command Authority

Our discussion of Command Authority, by Tom Clancy, was impressive! Thanks to Cindy for nominating the book and guiding us through it. I felt like we covered the book and the questions well. The notes I took during the discussion had a lot of missing parts, so I used the recording of the meeting and created a loose transcription. It seemed the blog post would be very long, so to to keep it within bounds, only 2 of the questions will be considered here. I hope you were able to attend the Zoom, especially if you read the book! There were 10 of us there, at least 6 having read the whole book and more who read or listened to part of the book. Joyce’s cat added a peaceful presence, sitting on the top of Joyce’s chair.

Question 4: What did you find to be unbelievable in the book and/or most authentic?

During the weeks before the meeting, Shirl asked a question about the President’s children, and Cindy mentioned it as least believable at the meeting: Jack Ryan Senior was born in 1950 and had children Sally and then Jack Ryan Jr. with wife Cathy. That is believable, but the same parents, Jack Sr. and Cathy, also had the children, Katie, age 10 in Command Authority and Kyle, age 8 in Command Authority. Assuming Command Authority was happening in approximately 2012, Cathy would have been approximately 50 years of age when she had Katie and soon Kyle. There is no mention of the Ryans adopting any children.

Ken had the most possible answer, which was that Jack Sr. might have had a very young wife when Sally and Jack Jr. were born. Do the math or read lots of old Tom Clancy books and figure it out that way.

Dennis: At the beginning of the book, if Russia attacked Estonia, NATO would have helped in a big way. Abandoning Estonia after the attack was unrealistic.

Even more odd was that the president’s son would be allowed into such dangers. In WWII, everyone was at war, so relatives of high-ups went to battle.

Pat didn’t find it unbelievable, because Jack Sr. said he was treating Jack Jr. as his own man, making his own choices. Jr. didn’t like the Secret Service staying with him, so he could have been allowed to be on his own without Secret Service assigned to stay with him.

Ken: The book does say that Jack Sr. treats Jack Jr. as an adult, which somewhat indicates that Jack Jr. called the shots. However, in real life, Jack Jr. wouldn’t have been out without Secret Service. Even Jack Jr.’s thinking that someone shadowing him could have been SS that he thought were not assigned to him was unrealistic, as he would know they were with him.

Cindy: Jr. was superhuman, reminded her of James Bond.

Joyce: Not a fan of this type of book. In the shootout in the Swiss Chalet, among automatic weapons, multiple people going into the door, and Jack Jr. gets them all one by one with a pistol, all in the forehead. In Joyce’s words…”Really!”

Cindy: It would make a good movie, though.

Claudia: Often books seem to be written in hopes of a movie.

Dennis: It’s easier to suspend disbelief in a movie than a book.

Pat: Nothing surprises me now as far as what happens in the news. The president’s son could be in dangerous fights.

Question 8: Was anything about this book particularly scary or anxiety-producing (other than the general TV news each night)?

Cindy: What scared you in Command Authority more than the daily news?

Shirl: The part where the pilot took the guys on the side of the plane, and one guy says, “Is the pilot insane, or is he trying to give me a heart attack?” That was scary but funny!

Cindy found the poisoning to be uncomfortable to read about. That’s part of why she recommended that everyone read about Navalny being poisoned. That poisoning and the one in the book were both terrible,

Joyce: The thing that scares me is that I realize how much I don’t know about what’s going on.

Cindy: There’s a lot, and if you think about it and how you can’t solve the world’s problems, it will cause you anxiety!

Shirl: On page 247, if this were true, it would show that the Russians want to cause chaos and civil strife. This brought to mind the American problems today of lots of groups diametrically opposed to each other on issues, plus misinformation and disinformation causing hate and strife. Is Russia causing all this? Who knows?

Ken: Russia might be contributing to it, but I think we’re capable of doing it all by ourselves! 

Pat: The anger even shows on the road. Everyone’s angry! It is scary that there’s so much disinformation & misinformation.

Dennis: Different people listen to different media sources, and the news is 100% different between, for example, MSNBC and FOX News. They aren’t broadcasting anything in common! 

Shirl: News isn’t based on facts any more but on what the news station wants you to know (or think).

Pat: The media want to sensationalize things. What I have found since COVID started is that on social media, people have become more angry and more negative. It’s as if there’s also a pandemic of stupidity! People are believing all the disinformation and misinformation without thinking or researching for themselves.

Cindy: Alex Jones spread false information on TV to manipulate people into believing that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012 never happened, and his lies resulted in people whose children had died at Sandy Hook receiving death threats. Fortunately, Jones backed down. (How many of Jones’s believers even heard the part of the news where Jones admitted he had lied?)

Cindy recommended a book: Between East and West. Across the Borderlands of Europe, by Anne Applebaum. Europe doesn’t have many natural borders, and there has always been conflict. The book touches on the question as to what a nation is, which is relevant to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Dennis recommended a book: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk. The author was a war correspondent, who was present during all the conflicts covered in the book.

Further discussion was about Putin putting the whole world at risk, some personal stories about refugees and helping them, the meaning and significance of “Command Authority” (the book’s title) in the armed forces and the contrasts among how it is used in different countries, e.g., the USA and Russia and in various sections of the military.

Just another day of solving the world’s problems for the Round Rock New Neighbors Book Discussion Group!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Page-Turner Reads More Like a Novel than a Memoir

Lydia had nominated the best-seller, Educated, by Tara Westover, before reading it. While reading and preparing to present the book to us for discussion, she read a review of the book on the “National Review” website and shared it with us before the discussion. The review went into the shock factor of the publication of Educated and how readers couldn’t help but be upset and worried for the author while reading about her childhood. The reviewer criticized the publication of Educated as showing that Westover had not resolved her own issues before publishing the memoir about her terrible and terrifying childhood. This theme seemed to reverberate throughout the book. I found myself commenting several times in our group discussion that the author was severely damaged emotionally during the time before and even during her writing the book. The author didn’t ever wrap up the book with redemption, though it was clear she had tried very hard to achieve some before publishing the book. The reviewer indicated that the author described the events that had caused her abundance of physical and emotional distress but still had not healed from the complex emotional abuse she had suffered.

Lydia and several other members of our Book Club found the book difficult to read, because of the painful, sad, and frightening experiences Westover suffered and also because of the lack of resolution. Some of the hordes of readers of Educated enjoyed the book for its page-turner adventures and descriptions. I suspect that the author herself, as well as most of those readers expected the book to end with the author making some healing conclusions and indicating that she was moving forward with her life.

Lydia’s first question stated that Westover’s getting the book written and published was a real achievement at great emotional cost. And the question? Why did Westover publish the memoir? Joyce chimed in, saying it was probably self-therapy. Lydia restated the question: Why did she publish it? Joyce thought a moment and suggested that Westover figured that as an academic, it would look good on her resume! Laughter! Linda said it was amazing that Tara got an education. Joyce answered that it was amazing that she survived her childhood. Linda suggested that, instead of Educated, the title of the book should have been Against All Odds, after the author had suffered abuse instigated by her parents’ fanatical religion. Everyone agreed. Joyce reiterated that Westover had been in dangerous situations. Pam reminded us that the book, Remember, that we recently discussed advised that if you don’t want to remember an experience, you shouldn’t talk about or write about it. But Tara did both, keeping the memory alive. Pam wondered why the author would want to dwell on her difficult childhood or see revisiting it as therapeutic. Pam said that Westover might actually have been pressured to publish and that she really didn’t have anything else to write about. Lydia mentioned the aphorism, “Write about what you know.” Joyce added that Westover had filled a lot of personal journals over the years. Pam said she had been a little skeptical about truth when reading the memoir. Marcia agreed, saying that in the book, Remember, some of our memories aren’t fully true and are often embellished. She said it was good that Westover got away from her family. Linda agreed, saying that it was Westover’s education that helped her get away and was likely the reason for the book’s title. Then Linda mentioned the book Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance (nominated in our group but not chosen). Discussion about Hillbilly Elegy ensued, and Pam summed up the comparison, saying Hillbilly was not about a situation as difficult as that in Educated. Linda agreed, noting that Hillbilly described less abuse. Joanne said there was more ignorance than abuse in Hillbilly Elegy. Linda noted that the people in Hillbilly Elegy had more opioid abuse. Marcia brought us back to Educated, saying that the author’s brother, called Shawn (though the author changed her family’s names, to keep them safe in case readers would attack them physically), will eventually kill somebody. The religion was fanatical, and Shawn was fanatical and became dangerous. Tara’s clicking her fingers to cope indicated mental illness. Linda brought up the aspect of Christian Scientists refusing to go to doctors as an example of religious fanaticism. As a nurse, Marcia had experienced Christian Scientist parents who didn’t want their kids treated medically, which caused problems for the medical professionals who wanted to help them.

 As usual, our discussion brought up a lot of topics we found interesting when reading Educated, a bunch of them having to do with religious beliefs and some from the results in more current society of original and now old, beliefs. Abuse, control, men’s treatment of women, and the vagaries of prepping for disaster were all touched upon. Another fun and stimulating discussion at the RRNN Book Club!

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Ponderances for Discussing Educated, by Tara Westover

Some thoughts and questions for our meeting on the 20th.

A Book Review With a Point of View:

1.  Why do you think Tara wrote this book and told everyone about her family? If you had a similar abusive childhood and background, would you want to do the same?   

 2.  This book is not about Mormonism but - in what ways did Tara's father and brother Shawn use religion as a way to manipulate the women of the family?

3.  Why was Tara's father so determined to live off the grid?   Why is anybody?

4.  Tara's mother is an elusive character.  She seems to ignore the abuse and violence, then acknowledges it and later denies it.  What's going on here?

5.  How did her brother Tyler leaving to attend college completely change Tara's perspective on what was expected of her life?

6.  Shawn is violent and cruel to Tara in front of their parents.  Why didn't they at least verbally push back against him?

7.  Tara tries to date Charles, a boy from her hometown, but when he witnesses Shawn's abuse, she pushes Charles away.  Tara writes "He couldn't save me.  Only I could.  I had no idea what he was talking about".  How much does shame of one's background (addiction/poverty etc) prevent a person from getting help?

8.  When did Tara start to understand that she came from a "troubled" background and that her family's behaviour was wrong?

9.  Education opened her eyes to the world, but also meant that she cannot be with her parents and her family members (who depend financially on the parents) any more.  Do you think she should keep trying to reunite with them? 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

And the Letters Rolled in…Dear Edward,

We discussed Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano, over Zoom. We went through some of the questions quickly, doubling back sometimes. One question particularly got our attention. It was an all-angles-covered discussion. I noticed it during the actual discussion, but maybe that’s because I have an ear for Zoom and the recordings I sometimes use to compose a blog post. I decided to focus on this one discussion question. Here’s the best I could do to transcribe it, with a few edits to make it as readable as possible:

The question, (#15) was, “Do you think John and Lacey were right to keep all the letters from Edward?  How do you determine when someone is ready to bear such a huge emotional weight?

Joanne: I think they were right, and…

Interruption by words of agreement and dissent.

Joanne: I guess you have to wait until they reach the age of majority, when they’re 18. I think they (John and Lacey, really just John for the rest of this discussion) were perfectly right!

Carol: At 12 years, Edward was pretty young to deal with all those letters.

Pam: Joyce, I want to know what you think.

Joyce: I thought they maybe could do some filtering. It seems to me that in the description, the letters weren’t opened, so John didn’t even know what they said. I guess, if he was trying to protect Edward, he could have been looking at the letters and maybe deciding that there were some that, in whatever way, would be helpful for Edward to hear; something like a letter just telling him that he was blessed and that the sender was happy he had survived or whatever, versus the letters that put a burden of something to do on Edward.

Joanne: Can you imagine having to read all of them? If John had to read all the letters, that would have been very emotional for him. For anyone, really.

Carol: I think John just kept them because he was going to deal with Edward later, because he did keep them all. I think his intention was to give them to Edward later, because Edward was too young.

Carla: Yes!

Joyce: Whether that was the right thing to do…I’m saying, I think there was a better way to handle it, which was to decide which ones Edward may have been ready for. If John was reading the letters to find some samples to show Edward; I think he’d get that feedback; you know, if this was the kind of letter that I’ll share with Edward because I think it will be helpful to him. If a letter didn’t work for Edward, then John would have some information to make better decisions about handling other ones. Though I understand there was an influx of mail at the beginning that, understandably, tapered off over time, it seems to me that saving hundreds of letters and stuffing them unsealed into a duffel bag with a padlock was not really responding to the situation. Oh! Final point: a copout on John’s part!

Carol: I don’t know; I disagree!

Joanne: We have to understand…I think John was going through a trauma himself!

Carol: Of course!

Pam: Well, with his wife.

Joanne: Yes, and losing a baby and the whole situation!

Joyce: And then, Joanne, that becomes a different question. Was John protecting himself, or was he trying to protect Edward? We started with the idea that this was the way he was trying to protect Edward. That’s different than if he was doing something to protect himself.

Joanne: I think you’re right but…

Carol: I think he was trying to protect Edward, because he thought Edward was too young to deal with it.

Joanne. I don’t think John was very secure, either.

Carol: You know, it’s against the law to open a letter that isn’t addressed to you.

Pam: Carol, that’s what I thought. I thought John did not open the letters because they were not addressed to him.

Carla: Yes! He didn’t!

Joanne: I never thought that!

Carol: I did!

Shirl: I wonder…if it’s an underaged child, doesn’t that change that rule?

Carla: Yes! I do think that changes things. Edward was definitely underage, so I was surprised that John didn’t even open the letters. There were some, especially the ones that the children wrote, or the mother wrote, asking for Edward to write to the children…

Carol: But, if John didn’t open any of the letters, how would he know which ones were those kinds of letters?

Joanne: Exactly!

Carol: He was saving all the letters for when Edward got older.

Carla: Exactly! That’s exactly what he was doing!

Joyce: There was the letter with a 7-million-dollar check in it.


Carol: That would have been gone!

Joyce: I’m sorry; I’m perseverating on this. Just think; if you had in your possession hundreds of letters. That you’d stuff them in a duffel bag and put them under your bed!  That’s not how you handle hundreds of pieces of information!

Carla: Well, we heard about the FedEx driver who dumped a truckload of stuff down a hill, in Alabama or wherever it was.

Joanne: What was John doing in the shed? Collecting a lot of information, but why?

Shirl: Edward was in 7th grade, so I’d think his uncle could say something to him, when he had reviewed some letters, like Joyce said, giving Edward the option, “Do you want to hear what somebody said?”

Carol: I still think John should not have been opening things that were not addressed to him. I think he did the right thing.

Carla: I open junk mail that’s addressed to both of us, all the time.

Carol: But that’s your family, who you live with.

Joanne: Wasn’t John part of the family?

Carla: Exactly! It’s questionable, but …

Cindy: If there had been a threatening letter…

Joanne: Well what was John doing in the shed? Writing up information about every single person on the flight? He was using a database.

Shirl: You mean the uncle?

Joanne: yes

Shirl: The uncle was escaping to his shed.

Joanne: In the shed, he had a lot of files. He had a lot about the individuals on the flight, and all the data about the crash…

Joyce: He was a mathematician. He couldn’t help himself!

Pam: Things inside the house were less than good, so he was escaping out there. His wife was pretty much a basket case.

Thanks to Carol for this read and a focused batch of questions, and thanks to everyone for the discussion I I didn't have to write any original words!

Monday, April 25, 2022

We Are Grateful for Our Memories!

We had a good discussion about Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting, by Lisa Genova. This is this author's second book about the memory. Her first book, Still Alice, about a woman who had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, was self-published in 2007 and later became a bestseller. (Our group discussed Still Alice in 2014.)

Carla led us on a journey through the mind. We had a lot in common about a lot of the concepts in the book. The discussion and the book seemed to trigger our memories rather than make us forget things or make us notice forgetting. We went through the question list. A lot of us were familiar with the experiences of forgetting that were mentioned in the book; and for each of the author’s hints as to how to better remember, it seemed one or more, and in some cases most, of us have used that advice.

Remember is almost a self-help book. It’s divided into 3 main chapters: How we Remember, Why We Forget, and Improve or Impair. Much of the book is common knowledge, especially among readers heading into advanced ages. Some of the tools and advice Genova mentioned in the “Improve or Impair” section have been working for some of us. We were familiar with “muscle memory,” such as for driving a car with a stick shift or riding a bicycle, both well known as activities one “never forgets.” For dancing, one can utilize muscle memory by practicing the moves for a song over and over. Then, it becomes easy to join other dancers with the right moves when the song is played. For the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon (technically called “lethologica,” and on the way down that rabbit hole, there’s “lethonomia” for forgetting names), many Baby Boomers go through the alphabet to help remember whatever word has temporarily abandoned them; this tool is mentioned in the book. It was interesting to note that tip of the tongue starts in childhood but becomes more pervasive in each person’s life when they reach much older ages. Some of us liked Genova’s discussing how paying attention results in a higher likelihood of remembering something and how, likewise, avoiding repeating or thinking about something can help us to forget it.

Well-received takeaways included the following: Paying attention to things helps you remember them. Stress isn’t good for the memory, as it shrinks the seat of memory in the brain, the hippocampus. Sleep works with attention for creating memories. Attention helps us notice things, and then our brains encode and consolidate new memories during sleep. Caffeine can help create memories when placed between memorable activities and sleep or napping. Exercise is good for the brain. (I think we’ve heard and read that before.) A takeaway some of us found surprising and maybe disturbing is that puzzles and games are not primary resources for evading Alzheimer’s disease; once you become adept at a puzzle type or a game, the “healthy” aspect diminishes along with the learning factor. Genova’s well-researched recommendation is to learn/do new things rather than revisiting established habits.

This book helped some of us to feel better about the inevitable diminishing of the power of the memory as we age. The book generally reassured us, especially the chapter delineating differences among types of forgetting as they relate to the differences between normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease. The differences are vast, so the common and minor memory glitches many of us suffer during our senior years can remain ephemeral and allow us to feel free to enjoy and appreciate our senior years, complete with “senior moments.”