TTT: Ten Book Recommendations for Lovers of Magical Realism

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Anyone can play.  Each week there is a suggested topic, usually with some wiggle room for individual variation.  This week the suggested topic was “Ten Book Recommendations for_____________.” I chose to do recommendations for lovers of magical realism, a genre I have loved over the ages.  Magical realism lives somewhere between fantasy and reality.  It doesn’t create new worlds as fantasy does, but it suggests the magical within our own world.  What is your favorite book that contains magical realism?  All of the books listed here, I’ve read prior to starting my blog.  Clearly, I need to read more again from this genre, so would greatly appreciate any recommendations you might have.

  1.  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – tells the story of the rise and fall of a mythical town through the history of a family.
  2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison – a journey and coming of age story of Milkman Dead through a black world, full of many varied and sometimes mystical beings.
  3. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende – a familial saga spanning generations of a family in politics, but also touched by magic.
  4. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – a romantic story where food and cooking plays a magical role.
  5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – Janie at 16 is forced into marriage, however 2 marriages later, she falls in love with a man who offers her a packet of seeds.  A feminist novel written in 1937, much ahead of its time.  
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison – Sethe was born a slave, but escaped to Ohio. Eighteen years later she is still not free, haunted by the ghost of her baby and memories of the farm where she worked, Sweet Home.
  7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – A love story set in Columbia where the girl, Fermina, chooses the doctor rather than the man, Florentino, she had been exchanging love notes with.  Florentino has hundreds of affairs but his heart remains loyal to Fermina.
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – a middle aged man returns to his hometown for a funeral.  He visits the home of a childhood friend and the memories and stories that haunted as well as protected him come flooding back.
  9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Things have never been easy for the overweight Dominican nerdy Oscar, but may never improve due to the Fukoe curse that has haunted his family for generations.  
  10. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld – set in an ancient stone prison where a man is on death row visited only by a priest and the Lady, an investigator.  Evil and magical collide in the novel where dark truths are uncovered.

 

 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  320

Expected Publication Date:  August 22, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

This book felt like just what I needed!  Funny, warm, and engaging, Young Jane Young captures what it’s like to be a woman at various stages of life.  It highlights the stereotypes and cultural biases that we have not moved much beyond since the days of the Puritans and the writing of The Scarlet Letter.  It characterizes several generations of women within the same family and their varied responses and attitudes toward similar situations.   It is told from multiple perspectives and there is even a section from Jane Young’s perspective that puts the reader in the driver seat in a choose your own adventure format.

Young Jane Young is a twenty-something female who was born Aviva Grossman.  Aviva Grossman works as a summer intern for Congressman Levin, who also happened to be a neighbor of hers when she was a child.  They begin an affair despite the fact that he is much older, married and her employer.  When they are found out, there is huge backlash against Aviva, but very little towards the Congressman.  Aviva is unable to even get a job, which is incredibly disheartening as she was hoping to go into politics and had been doing an excellent job during the internship.  The internet serves as her “scarlet letter” ruining her social life and any chances for a career.  She feels there is nothing left to do except change her name and move out of state.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this book comes full circle with redemption, fulfillment, forgiveness and understanding all coming into play towards the end after a bit of a rollercoaster ride.  Aviva is able to triumph over her past, first by escaping it, and later, by facing it head on at a time when she is much stronger and more self assured.   This book is a huge slap in the face to the slut shaming that goes on in situations like these!  This writing is powerfully feminist exposing gender inequalities and casual misogyny in today’s society.  The women have their flaws, no doubt, however, they feel incredibly real and relatable.  Even if the reader may not have made the same choices as these women, I think the reader can empathize with their choices through the context of the writing.  The writing is wonderful, fun and enjoyable.  This is a book out to prove a bit point, but does so with much humor and warmth along the way.  I highly recommend this book to all women, young and old.  It would make an excellent book club book, as there is so much to discuss as well as cheer for!

 

Monica Lewinsky & Bill Clinton, the couple who seemed to be the inspiration for this novel

 

 

Monica Lewinsky, from NBC, where she discusses “the culture of humiliation”

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Compare and contrast Aviva Grossman to Hester from The Scarlet Letter.  In what ways has society and gender bias changed since the writing of that book in 1850  to present day?  How, in effect, does the internet become Aviva’s scarlet letter?
  2. Discuss the fallout of the affair between Aviva and Congressman Levin.    What consequences do each face?
  3. Why do you think Embeth stays by her husband?  Why do you think so many wives in politics stand by their husbands after public outing of affairs?
  4. Compare and contrast the situation of Aviva Grossman and Monica Lewinsky.
  5. Rachel’s husband was cheating on her throughout her marriage.  Why did she put up with it for so long?  Do you think this had an effect on Aviva in her decision to carry on with an affair with the Congressman?
  6. Embeth appears ready to die and even hopeful for it.  She compares her predicament to being a victim of human trafficking at one point.  Do you feel that this is a fair comparison?  Why or why not?
  7. Why do you think that Embeth was never interested in becoming friends with Rachel, when clearly Rachel felt that she had tried?
  8. Why do you think Roz puts her husband’s version of the story (that Rachel kissed him) above Rachel’s version?  Do you think their friendship is mendable?
  9. Do you think Jorge is the father of Jane’s daughter?  Do you think they will ever tell him?
  10. What do you think Wes West’s wife’s secret is?  Why do you think Wes West is such a bully?
  11. Discuss the figure and beliefs of Mrs. Morgan.  How is she pivotal in turning Jane’s life around?
  12. Discuss the meaning of the title.  By the end of the novel, when Jane Young is running for mayor, do you think that Mrs. Morgan would still refer to her as Young Jane Young?  How has she changed or matured?
  13. Did you enjoy the choose your own adventure component to this book?  What do you think it added?
  14. There are so many examples of casual misogyny within this book, such as “douchebag,” and “old wives tales.”  Which other ones can you name from this book and from life?
  15. Aviva and her professor discuss the meaning of feminism.  What is your definition of feminism?

 

Kirkus Review of Young Jane Young

Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk

Gabrielle Zevin’s website

Review by Bookspoils, a fellow book blogger

10 Incredibly Popular Book Club Choices of the First Half of 2017 with Links to Book Club Questions

  1.  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (August 2016) – This is a novel about slavery and the underground railroad, which in this novel, becomes a virtual railroad.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  2. Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance (June 2016) – This is a memoir from a young man who grew up living between Kentucky and Ohio in the hillbilly culture.  A few things steered his life away from the direction he was headed.  He ended up going on to Ohio State for college and to Yale Law School.  He writes about his experience growing up as a hillbilly as well as the hillbilly culture at large.  There is a political bent to the way he thinks and this book has been touted as one of the best books to read to understand Trump’s presidential success.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthini (January 2016)- This book is a memoir of a neurosurgeon who is faced with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer at the age of 39.   He has grappled with the meaning of life since high school and his search for life’s essence led him to a career in neurosurgery.  Having spent so much time reflecting on life’s meaning, makes his memoir especially poignant.  That combined with his medical background and longtime interest in writing creates the right conditions for a well versed and thoughtful memoir on death and dying.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (September 2016) – An aristocrat  is found guilty of writing a poem inciting resistance to Bolshevism.  He is placed under house arrest in the Hotel Metrol in Moscow over a period of 30 years as the world outside undergoes tremendous change.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (February 2015) – A beautiful emotional novel about two sisters in France during WWII and the ways in which they resist the Nazis.  It is a love story, a story of loss and tragedy and a wonderful tribute to all the women who played important and dangerous roles in WWII behind the battle lines.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  6. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (September 2016) – This novel shows how a seemingly enchanted moment in time completely disrupts two families resulting in divorce and remarriage, leading to neglect, anger, and distance.  It is beautifully written, each chapter effectively it’s own short story.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  7. My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman (June 2015) – A fairy tale of a novel in which an 8 year old Elsa and a dying grandmother have a very close relationship.  The grandmother weaves complicated fairy tales that after her death help to make sense of the world around the young Elsa.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  8. Born a Crime:  Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (November 2016) – An amazing collection of autobiographical essays about Trevor Noah, a boy born to a black mother and a Swiss/German father under apartheid in South Africa. The essays are incredible, shedding much light on life in South Africa during and after apartheid. There is so much heart, courage, strength, humor and tremendous good fortune contained within these essays.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (June 2016) – This is an epic novel spanning hundreds of years, beginning in Africa and following two sides of a family as one side is sold into slavery and brought to America and the other side remains in Africa. It is a story of race, roots, and remembrance.  Review & Book Club Guide.
  10. The Girls by Emma Cline (June 2016) – This novel is Emma Cline’s re-imagining of Charles Manson’s ranch.  It is much less focused on Charles Manson and more so on “the girls” who are drawn to it.   It imagines the allure of the ranch to these girls, their connections to each other and to the outside world.  It is told from the viewpoint of a woman who had been a young girl at the ranch, at a point in time when this grown adult encounters another “girl” who could have just as easily been pulled into the ranch’s enticements.  Review & Book Club Guide.

The Legend of Wonder Woman (2015 – ) Vol.1: Origins by Renae DeLiz and Ray Dillon~ Graphic Novel Review

Pages:  288

Published: December 16, 2016

Format:  Hardcover book

 

 

 

 

If I had ever known the origin story for Wonder Woman as a child, I had completely forgotten it in adulthood.  It is a marvelous story and one that is well told in this beautiful rendering by Renae DeLiz and Ray Dillon.  I love that Diana (Wonder Woman) is the daughter of the immortal god, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, given life out of clay by Gaea.  She is born on Themyscira, a planet for the immortals, where her mother hopes she can live an immortal peaceful life.  However, Diana senses she has another purpose in life and begins warrior training in secret with Alcippe.  A mortal, a fighter pilot named Steve Trevor, lands on Themyscira as part of a plot by Ares to overthrow Hippolyta.  His plan is foiled when Diana wins the tournament and is named champion.  Diana accompanies Steve Trevor by boat to the boundary between Themyscira and Earth, but ends up being pushed out of Themyscira to Earth herself by Poseiden.

On Earth, Diana is befriended by singer, Etta Candy, who takes Diana under her wing acclimating her to life on Earth.   Etta follows Diana to France to aid in the war effort during WW2, where Etta will sing and Diana will work as a nurse.  Diana goes there in pursuit of an evildoer that is raising the dead Axis forces that are told to destroy the remaining Allied forces.  The man in command of the destruction wears the baetylus, which Diana immediately recognizes as a sacred item of her mother’s.

Diana becomes a WW2 heroine as both a civilian and Wonder Woman.  She is a fighter for truth, more often than not, impairing her enemies by showing them the truth with her lasso than actual physical harm.  She is willing to give up a normal life to protect life on Earth.  This is a coming of age story for the young Diana Prince, who must discover who she is, where she came from, and what her purpose must be.

This is not my usual genre, so I thank Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge for pushing me outside of my usual comfort zone.  This was a stunning book, one I had a hard time putting down.  I have renewed respect and love for the heroine, Wonder Woman, and am so glad I was able to get to know her better through this graphic novel.  I highly recommend this everyone!  The combination of Greek God background and WW2 hero made this entirely compelling.

The movie Wonder Woman was released in the United States on June 2, 2017.  Did you see it?  I have not yet seen the movie, but I plan to watch it and write a follow-up post in reaction to it.  An interesting fun fact is that, in October 2016, the United Nations named Wonder Woman a “UN Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.”  Two months later she was dropped from her role, following a petition.

 

 

 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  337

Published:  August 28, 2014

Awards:  National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2014), Newbery Honor (2015), Sibert Honor (2015), Coretta Scott King Award for Author (2015), Claudia Lewis Award for Older Readers (2015) Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Middle Grade & Children’s (2014), YALSA Award Nominee for Excellence in Nonfiction (2015), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor for Nonfiction (2015) .

Format:  E-book

This is a beautifully written memoir set in poetry by the much acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson.  Jacqueline’s aunt Ada, a genealogist and family historian, provided Jacqueline with tremendous family history with which this book begins that adds depth and history to the memoir.   There is always a contrast between the north an south running like a current through this book.  Jacqueline and her family begin in Ohio visiting South Carolina in the summer.   They ultimately begin alternating between Brooklyn and South Carolina.

Jacqueline Woodson is so eloquent in ascribing the haziness of memory and how feelings and emotions at the time become the more important element.  The poetic format for placing these snippets of memory seems so honest and heartfelt.

This is a small volume, yet contains so much.  There is so much history, especially regarding the Civil Rights Movement, written into these pages.  There is the effect of teachers on a young girl’s self-confidence when they praise her writing.  There is the love of a family; the complete trust and vulnerability of young children knowing that they are safe with family they love.  There is the beauty of forever friendships, these early friendships that are so important and make life so much more enjoyable.  This is a book about race, about growing up as a Jehovah’s witness, about dreams in childhood that have so wonderfully come to fruition for Jacqueline Woodson.

This book has been marketed as middle grade, but I would recommend it to everyone.  It is a remarkably beautiful collection of poetry, rich in history.  I think it is so hard to write from a child’s perspective and honestly capture the thoughts and perspective from that time in life, but Jacqueline Woodson does so brilliantly.  I love how within this book, Jacqueline talks about how she does not read quickly like her sister.  She takes her time with books, reading, thinking, re-reading, enjoying.  This, I believe, is how one should read Brown Girl Dreaming,  There is so much to take away and enjoy from each chapter/poem.

I loved this book for being a beautiful heartfelt collection of poetry, for moving me in ways I did not expect to be moved, for giving young girls hope and reason to dream, for beautifully describing family, and so much more.  Beyond that, I also appreciate that this adds to the growing body of diverse literature, especially for young people.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who are the strongest influences on Jacqueline’s identity?  How do they help her find her voice in writing?
  2. Discuss the title of the book.  Why do you think the author chose this title?
  3. Discuss the importance of family within this book.   How important is family to Jacqueline Woodson and to this collection of poems?
  4. Discuss the effect of the poetic format and writing style on the overall content of this book.  Did you enjoy the format?  Why or why not?
  5. Discuss the racism experienced by the family members within this book.  How do the characters within this book respond to racism at different historical points?
  6. There seems to be a great contrast between the north (Ohio and Brooklyn) and the south (where her grandparents are in South Carolina).  Compare and contrast the feelings and attributes ascribed to these places from the book.
  7. Woodson talks about finding a book filled with brown people at the library.  How do you think this has affected her and her passion for increasing the number of diverse books in the world?
  8. “Maybe there is something, after all, to the way some people want to remain – each to its own kind,  But in time maybe everything will fade to gray.”  What do you think Woodson means by this?
  9. What effect do you see being a Jehovah’s Witness had on Woodson?

Review by Veronica Chambers in the New York Times

Jacqueline Woodson’s Website

Interview with Jacqueline Woodson conducted by Terry Gross on NPR

T5W: 5 Novels Set Outside the Western World

  1.  A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – This epic novel spans three decades beginning in 1922 in Moscow, Russia.  Count Rostov is under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel.  He has a great many friends and acquaintances through whom the reader learns of what is happening outside the hotel walls.  My Review.
  2. The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Clinic – This is a travel/food/love memoir written by a woman who quit her corporate job to pursue her passion for cooking authentic dishes indigenous to various different regions.  She travels to Iran in hopes of working in various kitchens and learning the secrets to their special dishes.  My Review.
  3. Things We Lost in the Fire:  Stories by Mariana Enriquez – This is a collection of stories that take place in various different places within Argentina.  These horror stories highlight the brutalities from the Dirty War that lurk just beneath the surface of everyday life.  My Review.

4.  The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan – This novel is written from alternating perspectives.  Set in India, it shows the mindset and emotional condition of both the bombers (the terrorists) and the bombed (both surviving victims and the families of the deceased).  It shows the futility of these small bombs in effecting change.  It also shows the futility of the families in effecting any action against the bombers.  My Review.

5.  Born a Crime:  Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah  – This is Trevor Noah’s memoir written as a collection of essays about his experiences growing up in South Africa, son of a black woman and white man under Apartheid – a literal crime.   Full of humor, love and grit, it is an amazing book.  My Review.

 

This is my second T5W post.  If you are interested in learning more about this Goodreads group, click here.  This week’s topic was Books that are set outside of the Western World.  In choosing which books to post, I chose geographically diverse regions and limited myself to books I’ve read within the past year.  How does one define the Western World, you might ask.  The scope of the Western World varies greatly depending on what criteria one uses to define it.  It has been defined on the basis of politics, economics, culture, spiritual beliefs and history.  I decided to go with the following modern-day definition (by way of map).

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  320

Expected Publication Date:  August 1, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

An intense collection of stories, each one told from the perspective of a young girl living in NYC in the 1990s with parents who had immigrated from Shanghai.  The stories demonstrate the manifestations and aftermath of the trauma experienced by the parents in Mao era China and the varying coping mechanisms they utilize.  Some parents drink excessively, others work such long hours such that they almost never see their children, while others cannot get enough of their children and are by their sides at all times.  One father is physically abusive to his wife while another has an endless string of girlfriends.  There is a grandmother who feels the only worthy thing in life is being a mother, so attempts to become the mother to her grandchildren, confabulating about the days when she breastfed them.  She demands that they love her to an extreme.  These are stories that show how the horrors of a generation (the Chinese in 1960’s China) affect future generations of children (American-Chinese growing up in NYC in the 1990s.)

It is about the children of immigrants in a country where English is not their primary language.  It is about the interaction of these girls with both their families and the outside world.  One girl is made to go back to ESL classes with each move and new school district, even though she has placed out them them repeatedly.  There is an intensity to childhood friendships, a pushing and pulling, a competition that feels far more negative than positive.  The stories delve into the girls’ exploration of their bodies and developing understanding of sex.  It is often vulgar and disturbing.  The emotional aspect of keeping up with peers about sex and foul language is a weight on some of these girls.  The language the children use, both in conversation with each other and with their parents,  is often angry and vulgar.  There is desperation and depression felt through these characters.  These girls are coming of age, learning about themselves and their bodies, learning about their place in the world.  It is all at once confusing, disastrous and exciting for them.

In addition to portraying 1990’s NYC, the author offers glimpses of the year 1966 in China, when schools were out and children ran wild.  The children were given the freedom and power to turn on any adult, accuse them of being counterrevolutionary, and proceed to torture and even kill them.  One disturbing scene had a teacher tortured while tied to a tree by her students out of revenge for shaming one of the students in school.   Anyone could be named counterrevolutionary.  Particularly, anyone who wore their hair long and loose, anyone thought to be an intellectual, a member of the bourgeois class… or simply as a personal vendetta.

The writing is marvelous.  Jenny Zhang is a masterful storyteller.  However, the content is graphic.  It is often horrifying, disturbing and seemingly distasteful. There is no sugar coating on these stories.  These stories are full of grit, grime and dirt.  There is anger, depression, sadness and sometimes joy.  For me, Zhang was a unique original voice.   I am glad I read these stories, but I caution others who might be sensitive to foul language or graphic subject matter.  Sour Heart is the first book to be published with the LENNY imprint, a new imprint, in partnership with Random House, led by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner.

 

Jenny Zhang, the author, her twitter image

Discussion Guide:

  1.  Do the characters in this book face discrimination?  In what forms did it manifest?  Who feels self hatred because of race  and why?
  2. Explain the title of the novel.  Which character is referred to as sour?  Why do you think she is this way?
  3. Many of the characters in this novel are searching for ways to be love or people to love them.  Why is this such a strong theme within this book?
  4. How do you think most of the characters felt? What was their emotional state of mind?
  5. These stories are all told from the female perspective.  Would you describe the writing as feminist?  Why or why not?
  6. Zhang does an excellent job illustrating various experiences of Chinese American families in NYC in the 1990s.  How does she portray/sterotype other races (Dominican, Caucasian, Taiwanese, Hispanics, Blacks) within her stories?
  7. Did you feel that the vulgarity within this book was over the top or genuine to the experience?
  8. What is the motivation for Lucy’s mother to take Frangie in?  How does Lucy retaliate?
  9. In many of these stories there is a competition to be loved most.  Why do you think Annie’s mother needs to be the center of attention and feel the most loved?  Why is this also true for Stacy’s grandmother?
  10. Discuss the evolution of Jenny’s relationship with her brother and how this changes with age.
  11. Mande’s parents have a physically abusive relationship.  Mande and Fanpin become friends because of their mothers.  Why do you think Fanpin becomes domineering over Mande?
  12. What do you suppose happens after Mande’s mother gets pushed out of the car?  Do they go back for her?  Does she survive?
  13. Discuss some of the self destructive behaviors exhibited by the characters in these stories.  Why are these characters becoming self destructive?
  14. We know that the author was born in Shanghai and grew up in Queens.  In one story the protagonist is Jenny.  In another, the family name is Zhang.  How autobiographical do you think these stories or any one story might be for the author?

 

Jenny Zhang’s website

Interview with Jenny Zhang by Charlotte Shane in Medium

Kirkus Review of Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart

T5W: Five Fabulous Female Protagonists in Children’s Picture Book Series

  1.  Olivia by Ian Falconer – Olivia is a girl (illustrated as an adorable pig) who is ready to try anything and everything.  She dreams big, wears others out and eventually wears herself out.  These stories are about family dynamics, joyful growing up years and wonderful adventures. The books are beautifully illustrated, whimsical, and witty.  Olivia is a character to love and read repeatedly.
  2. Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight – Ooooooooooooooo I absolutely love this book series so much!  It is written in the stream of consciousness style of a 6 year old girl talking without any  punctuation.  Eloise (the 6 year old girl)  lives in the Park Plaza Hotel and has many adventures within it.  Nanny is her mostly companion, but her turtle, Skipperdee, and dog, Weenie, join in on the fun as well.  These books contain much humor, engaging even & sometimes even more so,  the adult reading the book.  I recommend this series to young and old alike!
  3. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser – Fancy Nancy is a character who loves accessories and glamorous ones at that.  She believes in dressing up and in educating her family on the importance of style.  She teaches the reader exciting  new vocabulary as she instructs her family.  She is an independent thinker with much creativity and spirit.  A delightfully fun read with outrageously imagined illustrations!
  4. Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis – Ladybug Girl (Lulu) and her sidekick Bingo go on many adventures together in this series.  Lulu is a courageous, imaginative girl.  When cloaked in her ladybug girl costume she feels capable of taking on new adventures and solving problems.  Beautifully written, sweet stories with charming illustrations to enjoy time and time again.  
  5. My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry – This is a series about a girl who daydreams that she is famous women from history.  Her mother will speak to her and she will respond, “My name is not Isabella” and she will explain who she is at that moment in time & history as she sets about to do something in the spirit of that heroine.  This continues until bedtime when Isabella becomes the Mommy extolling all of Mommy’s virtues.  At last Isabella is herself,  and Mommy recounts all of Isabella’s virtues which are a compilation of the virtues of the heroines she has been imagining to be throughout the day.  It is an excellent book about strong female role models for young girls and a reminder of the part they played in history.  At the end there is a biography of all the heroines mentioned to delve further into their role in history.   This could be a great teaching tool and bonding book for mothers and daughters. There is a lot contained within this small book and it leaves plenty of room for discussion and further learning.

 

This is my first time participating in Top Five Wednesday (#T5W).  If you are interested in learning more about this Goodreads group, click here.   This week’s topic was children’s books which seemed too broad, so I chose my own niche within that.  What are your favorite fabulous female protagonists of children’s picture books?  Please share!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  462

Published:  September 6, 2016

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2016)

Format:  Audiobook

 

 

This was a gorgeously written book reminiscent All the Light We Cannot See in the beauty of its writing and the descriptiveness of its prose.  Count Alexander Rostov has come before a tribunal in the year 1922 because of a controversial piece of poetry written back in 1905.  If found guilty of inciting action against the current Bolshevik regime through the writing and distribution of this poem, which he is,  he could be killed or sent to Siberia.  However, instead, he is  placed under house arrest.  As he had been living in the Hotel Metropol, this is where he will remain.  Upon receiving his sentence he is moved up to a small room in the attic and out of his luxurious suite.  He must  choose among his belongings which to take with him.

After the tribunal, the Count seems to shrink himself away and even contemplates suicide briefly,  However, very soon he returns to life again and the reader begins to know the real Count.  The Count is first and foremost a gentleman.  He is a man of intellect, with exquisite manners and refined tastes, a loyal friend, and a man who believes in doing things the right way.  He is charming and charismatic.  He is a man to love throughout this novel.  When he takes on a task, he does it to his utmost ability.  Once he has come to terms with life within the confines of the hotel, it becomes a mini city for him.  Young Nina, the Eloise of the hotel, becomes his tour guide creating a playground of the landscape.  Willowy Anna Urbanova becomes his lover.  He begins to work in the Boyarski, one of the hotel’s restaurants.  He develops close relationships with Emil the chef, Andrey the matre’ d, and Vasily the concierge and they begin to have nightly meetings together.

It is within the confines of the hotel, that the Count must view Russia, the war and it’s changing political landscape.  His friend Mishka from school visits off and on, and seems to suffer from the changing times.  Nina, an idealist and thinker, grows up and marries.  She returns asking the Count to care for her daughter, Sofia,  while she seeks out her husband who has been taken away.  These are just a couple of the Count’s visitors through whose eyes the Count must view the outside world.  The Count while under house arrest for these 30 years, actually seems to be the  one who has been privileged.  He has escaped World War II.  He has escaped the replacement of a Tsarist aristocracy with Bolchevism.  Within the Hotel, the Count gains privilege as the head waiter of the Boyarsky.  He sets table arrangements for members of the Communist party and gains access to their conversations.  At the same time he is secretly councils one of the high ranking Soviet apparatchik in American and European language and culture.

There are many developments and twists as the story evolves, so I will say no more. It is an excellent book with well developed characters and interesting historical backdrop.  I listened to this, however, I would have much preferred to have read it.  Given the lengthy descriptions, I found myself tuning out at times and thinking of other things.  This is a novel that demands a lot of attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the Count was ordered to house arrest rather than a more severe punishment?
  2. What does Nina teach the Count?
  3. How do you think the Count was able to get away with meeting all the various people that he did?
  4. Who wrote the poem for which the Count is arrested?  Why do you think the Count protects his friend?  Why does he feel that by protecting his friend, he was actually the more protected?
  5. Describe life for Mishka during the Count’s 30 years in the hotel.  Compare and contrast this with the Count’s life.
  6. Why are the wine labels removed?
  7. Why do you think the Count is allowed as much autonomy as he does under house arrest?  Do you think this is realistic?
  8. What qualities make the Count a gentleman?  How do society’s negative connotations of aristocracy compare to the positive qualities of a gentleman?
  9. Why do you think Casablanca the Count’s favorite movie?  What does it suggest about the Count’s perception of his situation?
  10. Discuss the Count’s role as a father.
  11. At one point, the Count is accused of keeping all of his eggs in separate baskets.  Explain this.
  12. Discuss the scene on the rooftop with the beekeeper.
  13. Why is the reader asked to remember Prince Petrov?  How is his role important towards the end of the book?
  14. Discuss the ending of the book.  Where do you think Sofia and the Count will end up living?

 

Craig Taylor’s New York Times Review

Amor Towles Website

LitLovers Discussion Questions

Penguin Random House Discussion Guide

 

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur ~ Book Review

Pages: 204

Published: November 4, 2014

Format:  Paperback Book

 

 

 

 

this is the journey of 

surviving through poetry 

this is the blood sweat tears 

of twenty-one years 

this is my heart 

in your hands 

this is 

the hurting 

the loving 

the breaking 

the healing 

– rupi kaur

What a lovely collection of poetry that contains so much depth, beauty, love, pain, insight, wisdom and kindness!  It was amazing to me how much emotion, feeling and wisdom could be contained in so few words.  There is so much empowerment contained within this collection:  of women, femininity, and race.  While reading this, I wanted to be absolutely alone with the book without fear of interruption, so I could fully focus, digest and enjoy these poems.  The poem above is featured on the back of the book and is a brief synopsis of the book.

The poetry in this collection is divided into 4 segments.  The first labelled “the hurting” touches on topics of rape, sexual abuse, and abusive parenting.  It describes feelings of emptiness and suppression, however, also the ability to transcend the hurt with kindness.  It describes the fractured relationship left as a result of abuse.  “The loving” portion is about hope, qualities of a lover, love making, women’s bodies and sex.  “The breaking” is about heartbreak, games young lovers play, the bitter aspects of relationships, and relationships that break you down or want you to be someone you aren’t.  Rupi Kaur speaks of intense extremes of feelings and emotions.  Finally, “the healing” is about loving yourself, the strength within oneself, being contented with being alone.  It is about loving one’s own female body in it’s most natural form and all of the way it functions.  It’s about the power of vulnerability, openness and kindness.  It’s about celebrating and supporting other women’s successes rather than their failures.  It is about celebrating feminine beauty in all its different colors, shapes and sizes.

Beautiful, kind, loving!  The sketches throughout this book are perfect and add to the poetry, almost seeming to be poetry in and of themselves.  I highly recommend this to every woman, especially the late teen and twenty-something set.  I recommend buying the actual book, to enjoy the words, the sketches and probable re-readings.

Rupi Kaur is a Canadian who has created a lot of attention for herself through the use of social media (#poetryisnotdead).  She was born in Punjab, India and moved to Canada at the age of 4.  Not speaking any English, she was inspired by her mother to draw and paint.  In 2014, Kaur self published milk and honey,  however it was so popular that a publishing company picked it up and republished it in 2015.  Kaur posted a picture on Instagram in March 2015 of herself in bed with a menstrual stain on her sweatpants as part of a project aimed at destigmatizing menstruation.  Instagram removed the photo and others in the series, which Kaur argued proved her point.  Instagram later restored the picture, saying it had been removed by mistake.

 

 

Rupi Kaur’s website

 

sharing a love of books

Follow

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

%d bloggers like this: