“The Girls” by Emma Cline

 

26893819

 

 

Pages: 355

Published: June 14, 2016

 

 

 

What an awesome premise for a novel!  Who isn’t intrigued by cult culture and the brutal Manson murders.  This story is told from the point of view of one of “the girls,”  one who does not participate in the murders, but nonetheless becomes drawn in by them and a part of their group.  It is told from the perspective of adulthood in a way, that makes the allure and enchantment of being part of this group understandable for girls lacking close bonds in their life.  But, the perspective of the town and those not drawn in is also interspersed within the novel to remind the reader of the real conditions there, the filth, squalor, and wickedness.

Evie, the narrator was easy prey to fall into the cult.  Her parents had divorced.  She wasn’t feeling particularly close to either one of them and she and her best friend were on the outs.  She had been carelessly dismissed by the boy she had a crush on.  She was lonely and looking for close companionship.  When she saw Suzanne, she was immediately intrigued by her easy free manner.  She began feeling the allure of belong to a group that took care of each other, that laughed together and teased each other.  A group that had tremendous freedom from the outside world and its rules.

Evie, the fictional narrator of this story is coming of age at a time when her home environment is dysfunctional and lonely.  She begins to spend more and more time at the ranch with “the girls” who really were that, girls in their late teen years, mostly runaways with no where else to go.  She participates in the drug culture, the sex, the thievery and deception.  She feels like she is willing to do whatever is asked for the group and puts them above all else.  They do not include her in the murders, kicking her out of the car at the last minute, which begs the question, could she have been capable of committing the heinous murders as well?  Were these girls inherently evil or was it the cult setting and the drug culture?  These questions and mysteries stay with Evie into adulthood, as she wonders what might have been.

Evie’s story is juxtaposed with her modern day life far into adulthood, in which she is housesitting for her friend Dan.  Dan’s son, who has sociopathic tendencies, shows up at the house with his very young, perhaps 14 year old girlfriend.  This young girl is vulnerable and accepting of circumstances and treatment that she does not deserve from Julian (Dan’s son) and his friend Zev.  Evie tries to impart some wisdom, however it falls upon deaf ears.  How easy is it for young girls to be swept up along the wrong path, to accept the cruelty of boys and men as they are learning who they are at a point when they are being women and may not have close relationships with family, friends, or mentors to help them through.

The story is thrilling and exciting.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat.  It makes you rethink what it was like to have been one of “the girls.”  It is a very loose interpretation that largely ignores the racist implications of Charles Manson’s mission as well as some very horrific ways in which he treated the girls in his quasi-commune.  However, it is excellently written, fun to read, and brings up some great moral questions.  images-2

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Charles Manson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the courthouse.  Susan Atkins is on left behind the guard.

 

 

charles-manson-312Some Manson family members at the Spahn Ranch.

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How are young Evie and Sasha alike and dissimilar?  Do you think Evie sees younger self in Sasha?
  2. How has the grown Evie changed from her young self?
  3. Why do you think that Evie is not angry at her father for cheating and leaving her mother?
  4. Why do you think Evie pities her mother?
  5. How would you describe Evie’s friendship with Connie?  With Suzanne?  How do these differ?
  6. How do you feel about Evie’s introduction to sex?
  7. Why do you think that Evie cannot see the Ranch for the broken down trash heap that it is?
  8. What is the allure of this group to Evie and others?  What keeps them there when things start to fall apart?
  9. When the police finally come, why do you think Russell runs and the girls don’t?
  10. Why do you think that Evie never says anything to anyone about her knowledge of the murders over those months when they were searching for the killer/s?
  11. Who is Evie’s bond to?  Why is this important?
  12. Suzanne imparts looks to Evie many times through the course of the novel, which are difficult to interpret.   How do you think Suzanne feels about Evie?  Why do you think Suzanne was hesitant to bring Evie to the ranch initially?  Why do you think Suzanne distances herself from Evie after Evie’s rendezvous with Russell? Why do you think Suzanne pushed Evie from the car prior to the murders?
  13. Evie saw a growing side to Suzanne with time that was full of hatred.  What do you think fueled this hatred?  Do you think that Suzanne was inherently evil or was made evil by her affiliation with Russell and the culture on the ranch?

Outline of the Manson murders with prison times served for all involved

Discussion Guide by LitLovers

New York Times Review of “The Girls”

“The Pruwahaha Monster” by Jean-Paul Mulders, Illustrations by Jacques Maes and Lise Braekers

 

28964168

 

Pages: 26

 

Expected Publication Date:  October 4, 2016

 

 

 

This is a gorgeous picture book with a beautiful story in such a unique format.  I loved it to pieces and, even as a parent, I could read it over and over, discovering new bits of language and illustration to enjoy and appreciate.

There is a foreward that lets the reader know the the story is told by a father as he pushes is son on a swing.  The story he tells is slightly scary, about a monster looking to eat a boy, however, the moral is empowerment for the boy not acknowledging the monster.

I love the shape of the book, being long and narrow.  Even though I read an electronic version, I could envision holding this shape in my hands.  The words are usually contained only on every other page, drawing you further into the beauty and importance of the illustrations, which really go hand and hand with the story.  The story would be nothing without the illustrations, and vice versa.  I love the detail of the illustrations and the writing, the way the words invite you in to search for the acorn, the bicycle, the bird poop.  The father tells the story through the voice of the monster which leaves the reader guessing and searching, but maybe also knowing all along who he is.   It is lovely that the 5 year old boy is unfazed by the monster.  It is a beautiful story with a wonderful moral that is perfect for discussion with children about the meaning of monsters, especially ones of their own creation.

The writing is beautiful.  It doesn’t shy away from difficult vocabulary.  It is descriptive and invokes all the senses:  vision, smell, touch, noise, taste.    I love the short sentence series, that seem childlike, about what the monster sees, about the foods that the monster does not like.  I love the different type sizes and fonts to remind the reader to speak those words with different volumes or inflections.   Most of all, I love the open-ended-ness of the story, the feeling of mystery, the wanting to go back and search through the pictures and words for answers.  Gorgeous!!  I recommend this to 5 year olds and their parents everywhere!  images

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why wasn’t the boy afraid of the monster?
  2. Who was the monster?  Was he real?
  3. What keeps us safe?
  4. What is a monster?
  5. What happens when he boy does not acknowledge the monster?

 

 

“Nicotine” by Nell Zink

 

28512751

 

 

 

Pages: 304

Expected Publication Date:  October 4, 2016

 

 

“She wills her body to be equally wraithlike.  Not sodden, not heavy, not dead, but filled with crackling, electric life, like a stale Marlboro on fire.”

Nell Zink’s “Nicotine” is a social satire on a grand scale.  It invokes and satirizes the philosophies of shamanism, pragmatism, and anarchy.  It begins with Amalia at age 13 being “adopted” by Norm from a garbage heap in Cartagena, Columbia.  From there, the novel flash forwards to Amalia’s daughter, Penny, at age 12 at her father’s psychadelic healing center.  Her mother is now “married” to Norm and Penny has two older half brothers, who happen to be older than her mother.

When Penny’s father falls ill and is on hospice, Penny is the primary caregiver.  It is said by many of the Shamanist followers at the funeral services that Penny always had that spiritual connection like Norm.

Upon her father’s death, Penny, now in her 20s (a recent business school grad) thinks she will take over his childhood home which has been taken over by squatters, anarchists that are united by their love of nicotine.  Hence, the the name “Nicotine” for the house they have squatted.  There are many houses in this area of New Jersey being squatted by millennials.  Penny falls in love with one of the squatters, who happens to be asexual, and decides to live with them.  Her brother, Matt, decides he will kick out the squatters and he, too, falls in love with one of the squatters.

Penny and Matt’s mother who initially declares her love for Matt which is not returned, however, brings up questions of what happened when they were younger.  Could Matt be Penny’s father?  Amalia, too, goes to try to kick out the squatters, and falls in love with one of them.

Matt is a huge sociopath and gets what he deserves when he lands in a huge amount of shit.  Everyone and everything gets confused and turned on its head.  “Nicotine” become the “Norman Baker Center” bringing together the Norman Baker followers and millennials alike.

This one was tough for me to connect to.   I appreciated the social satire and the brilliance of the author, but honestly did not feel too much for the characters.  It felt like all of the ideas were thrown together in a slurry and the result was interesting and at times amusing, but just did not seem as polished as it could have been with more thought, editing and rewriting.  2star

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss how and why this is a social satire?  How are the millennials portrayed?
  2. Why do you think Rob was portrayed as asexual in the beginning? What do you think made him sexual in the end?
  3. What do you speculate was the nature of Amalia and Matt’s relationship when they were younger?
  4. Why do you think Jazz continues to communicate with Matt, even after it’s clear that he is a sociopath?  Do you think she still has feelings for him?
  5. What is the role of Sorry in this novel?  Discuss the meaning of her name.
  6. What is your view of Norm by the end of the novel?
  7. What secrets do you think he wanted to write down before he was rendered incapable of doing so?
  8. How are the police depicted in this novel?
  9. How does the book depict pragmatism, anarchy and shamanism?  How does it satirize these philosophies?

 

 

“Gracie Meets a Ghost” by Keiko Sena

 

29363131

 

Pages: 32

 

 

Expected Publication: October 1, 2016

 

A perfectly timed ghost story for children!  Gracie is bespectacled rabbit who loses her glasses while playing in the mountains with her friends.   She goes in search of them, bumbling around into other animals, helpless without her glasses.  A friendly looking ghost attempts to scare her, however, because she cannot see the ghost she isn’t frightened.  She promises she will look at the ghost once her glasses are found.  The ghost appears kind and searches all night for her glasses.  Upon putting the glasses on, it is daylight, and the ghost has now vanished.  This is a cute ghost story that is nonthreatening.  It is a story that would be great to read with a child who needs to wear glasses, as the book brings up some great talking points around this.  The illustrations are playful and sweet.  I recommend this book for children ages 3-5, especially those who might need glasses.  images-2

 

 

 

“Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson

 

27213163

 

 

Pages: 192

Published:  August 9, 2016

 

 

 

 

Exquisite!  Such a beautifully written piece of work, that it felt like poetry, both in the flow and the content.  It has an ethereal dreamy quality and is full of rich metaphors.

I have been struggling with my review of this book, because whatever I seem to write doesn’t really do the book justice.  It is such a unique beautiful piece of writing.  The story begins with August, the narrator, returning by train to visit her dying father.  She catches a glimpse of Sylvia, a childhood friend and memories come flooding back to her.  The ethereal quality of the book has in part to do with the fact that the narrator is looking way back on an earlier part of her life;  in part that she is remembering her childhood, one in which she could not comprehend or accept the death of her mother; and thirdly the poetic quality to the writing.

The idea that August thinks her mother will return and convinces her younger brother of the same, feels so honest, so real, so a part of how children really cope with the loss of a parent.  Within the book, different cultural rites of death are mentioned reminding the reader that death is there, but not letting us know the actual circumstances of the mother’s death until later.

Once August arrives in Brooklyn with her father and brother, the father cages the children in the house worried about the dangers of the outside world.  This backfires as her younger brother falls through the glass window injuring his arm in his attempts to watch the outside world.   At this point, August and her brother are allowed outside to experience the world.

August reminisces about her female friendships from this era in her life.   She had developed a close-knit group of girlfriends who become her “home, ” her family, and this allows her feel alive again, after feeling cooped up in their Brooklyn apartment.  Together these girls feel stronger and braver.  Their friendship gives them a sense of safety, of home, of togetherness that is lacking from their actual home environments.  They grow into puberty together, date, experiment with sex.  They confide in each other about  things that they do not feel safe confiding to their own parents.

August’s mother’s words about not trusting female friendships keep echoing back to her.  “Don’t trust women, my mother said to me. Even the ugly ones will take what you thought was yours.”  August learns how this can be true as the friendships begin to slip and in some cases fracture.  However, for a time, the friendships are a beautiful thing and allow the girls to feel powerful in a world where they are vulnerable, on account of being female, minorities and poor.

This reflection is of Brooklyn in the 1970’s in a neighborhood that is turning from white to black.  While August finds comfort in her friendships, her father finds comfort in religion.  It is a stunning look at this place and time period, the struggles these girls faced as they came of age and the hope and courage needed to face it.   I highly recommend this to everyone.  images

 

biaframap

 

 

Biafra  – map

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think August did not realize her mother was dead or did she just not accept it?
  2. Discuss the role of friendship in the novel.
  3. Discuss the role of religion in this novel.
  4. Discuss race relations in Brooklyn in the 1970s as described in this novel.
  5. Compare their Brooklyn to life as described in Biafra.
  6. Why do you think that August does not find comfort and hope with her father?
  7. Why does Jennie disappear each time her children return?
  8. Why can’t Gigi tell her parents about the soldier?  Why does she think they won’t believe her?
  9. Did her mother’s prophecy about friendships become true?
  10. Discuss the ugliness of the surroundings contrasted by the beauty of the friendships.

 

Jacqueline Woodson’s website

Review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post

Review by Tayari Jones in the New York Times

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

2213661Pages:  312

Published: September 30, 2008

Literary Awards:  Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009), Newbery Medal (2009), Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2009), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Children’s Literature (2009), Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year (2009), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2009), Indies Choice Book Award for Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book (Fiction): (2009), Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award (ALAN/NCTE) Nominee (2009), British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009), Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction (2008), Carnegie Medal (2010), Elizabeth Burr / Worzalla Award (2009)

“It takes a graveyard to raise a child.”

I picked this up to listen to on a car trip with my children.  I think my young children were scared or turned off by the no frills triple murder with which the novel begins.  I, however, was enthralled and could not wait to listen to it each time I got into my car.   I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” previously and fell in love with his brilliant writing style then.   I was hoping to share that experience with my children…  Maybe in a few years.   Having this book read by the author himself was pure delight.  His English accent and the manner in which he was able to do different voices for the various characters really brought the story to life.

The storyline itself isenchanting.  I was mesmerized!  I felt my skin prickle in anticipation of what was coming next.  The characters were fabulous.  The plot is complex, yet everything came full circle throughout the novel.  It is a huge puzzle in which all the pieces had just the right fit.  Every bit of this novel is delicious perfection.  It is a brilliant, magical, dreamy, fantastical world and everyone should read or listen to this.  As you can see from all the awards this novel has won, I am not alone in feeling this way!  images

 

Lit lovers Discussion Guide

Harper Collins Reading Group Guide

Reproducible Study Guide for the book – meant for teaching purposes

 

 

 

 

“Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler

26192646

Pages: 368

Published:  May 24, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

“Appetite is not a symptom,.. It’s a state of being, and like most, has its attendant moral consequences.”

Sexy, racy, indulgent.. .an enlightening dive into life within a restaurant.  It felt authentic and raw, a full sensory & gustatory experience.. for which reason, I recommend this book be read accompanied by a glass of wine.  With all the drinking, drugging, and embarrassing mistakes made by the protagonist, you will need it.  She bares her soul and the soul of the restaurant industry.  I have not had the pleasure of working in a restaurant, but have had friends who have and this novel definitely sheds light on the subject.

“Sweetbitter” was written by Stephanie Danler drawing on her own experience as a backwaiter in NYC.  The protagonist in the novel, whose name you do not learn until half-way through is Tess.  She presents herself as naive, unpretentious, inexperienced and unworldly, but is out to prove herself to survive and achieve in the restaurant which is modeled after Union Square.  She comes under the wing of Simone, who is older, experienced, worldly and uncomfortably close to the bartender that Tess is fixated on.  Tess learns about terroir, and develops an appreciation of food and wine.  She gets swept up in the late night partying, which is part and parcel of working in the restaurant.  She becomes involved in a love triangle.  She makes ridiculous choices.  She is a character you root for, though.  Through her, you gain insight into the secret life of a restaurant, how it becomes all-encompassing, lending itself to late nights with drugs and alcohol, to relationships that lack depth, and self harm.

I felt transported to the time after college where there is so much to learn, to experience, where anything can happen, where so many relationships are fleeting.  I cannot imagine being Tess, alone and new to a city without any friends or family nearby, not returning home for the holidays.  My heart ached for her loneliness, her desperate yearning to fit in, her poor choices.  However, I also felt the energy and excitement of this time in life, the possibilities, the opportunities, the relationships.

I loved the book for the most part.  It’s an exciting and fun read.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the restaurant industry, who enjoys reading about food and wine, who’s looking for a spicy book to read.images-2

 

Wines & Spirits discussed during the book

Fernet – an Italian type of amaro, made from a number of herbs and spices with a base of grape-distilled spirits & colored with caramel coloring.  It is often served with coffee or espresso.

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Manzanilla – a variety of fino Sherry made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Cadiz Andalusia (Spain)

150px-Lustau_Papirusa_Manzanilla_Sherry

220px-DO_Manzanilla_location.svg

 

 

Champagne – sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France.  The primary grapes used in its production are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meaner, but white Chardonnay is also used.

Beaujolais – generally made of the Gamay grape (a cross of Pinot Noir & the ancient white wine variety Gouais); light bodied red wine with high amounts of acidity.

Louis_Jadot_Cru_Beaujolais_in_glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sancerre -grown in the eastern part of the Loire valley; made from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir;  described to have flinty, citrusy and spicy notes.

bouteilles-sancerre

Pouilly-Fume – vineyards are in the Nievre (east of the Loire); made purely from Sauvignon Blanc, described as “smoky bouquet”

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Pouilly-Fuisse – from Burgundy region in south of France; grown from Chardonnay grapes;  Hints of oak and clay

Pouilly_fuisse_from_Macon

french-wine-regions-map-simplified

 

Discussion Questions:  Please see the back of the book for some great ones.  No need to add more.

Vanity Fair’s Interview with Stephanie Danler

New York Times Review of Sweetbitter

Reading Group Guide from Doubleday

“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead

 

30555488

 

Pages: 320

Publication Date:  August 2, 2016

Literary Awards:  Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (2016),  Oprah’s Book Club Selection (2016)

 

 

A work of amazing scope and breadth, shocking in the brutality of events, and so pertinent to politics and race discussions being held today.  This is an important piece of literature reminding Americans of our history, the beginnings of race relations in our country, and you can follow this thread out to today and realize that we still have a long way to go.  I love that Michelle Obama reminded us that the white house was built by slaves, at the DNR earlier this month, a fact that is also mentioned in this book.  Our government is literally built on slavery.

“White folk eat you up but sometimes colored folk eat you up, too.”

Cora is the protagonist of the novel, born on a Georgia cotton plantation, whose mother runs away from the plantation while Cora is still young.  Cora is mistreated by the slave owners and fellow slaves alike, being shunned, raped, whipped, and degraded in every way seemingly possible.   She is labelled a stray.  The horrors she and others face on the plantation at the outset of this novel are shocking in their rendering and brutality.

“With strategic sterilization – first the women but both sexes in time – we could free them from bondage without the fear that they’d butcher us in our sleep.”

Caesar, a fellow slave, approaches her with an escape plan and she accepts.  The book follows Cora’s tortuous escape route on a literal underground railroad, bringing a magical element into the novel.  This isn’t the only time that Colson Whitehead takes liberty with historical elements.  Each stop along the railroad highlight different aspects of African American history, that in reality may have occurred in vastly different times and places.  While Cora and Caesar are in South Carolina, the Tuskegee experiment is being conducted on the black population, an event that in history does not occur until much later, 1932-1972, with penicillin becoming available for the treatment of syphilis in 1947.  It was also here in South Carolina, where Cora is offered sterilization and is asked to help persuade the other blacks living there to accept this measure.

“In North Carolina, the negro race did not exist except at the end of ropes.”  Again, the fear many whites have of blacks is manifested in hatred and horrific acts.  The North Carolinians in the novel abolished slavery by abolishing blacks from the state; those who did not leave willingly were hung along the “Freedom Trail,” as decided by the “Justice Convention.”  Such ironical terms are attached to such atrocities to emphasize the justification involved.   “But they were prisoners like she was, shackled to fear.”  Those who aid Cora are subjected to the same fate as blacks.

Whitehead tackles many heavy issues in this novel, even religion.  Cora sees paradox and hypocrisy in the bible.  Ridgeway and other use the bible to find justification for their cause and actions.  It is interesting to me the continuing theme of religion, something that many people find such comfort and peace in, also becomes a tool or justification for divisiveness and war.

In Tennesee, Whitehead tackles the treatment of Native Americans. “Manifest Destiny” is cited as the ultimate narcissistic doctrine of self justification for the mistreatment and displacement of another race.

Some chapters are named for the location in which they occur, but others are named after a character in the book, to get better insight into their mindset and thinking.  Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the thugs of society, found purpose in becoming slave catchers.  Homer never received his own chapter, and this leaves the reader wondering why a free black would choose to spend his life working and living alongside Ridgeway, a monstrous slave-catcher.

Valentine’s Farm, in Indiana, becomes a relative utopia, where blacks can live freely and share ideas, at least for a time.  Lander states, “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all.  The white race believes – that it is their right to take the land.  To kill the Indians.  Make war.  Enslave their brothers.  This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty.  Yet here we are.”  These words are so important.

Whitehead’s words and message throughout this novel are direct, strong, and sweeping. We cannot be blind to our past. We cannot repeat the past by creating a culture of fear. We must live with our past, acknowledge our past and continue to make peace with it. There is so much to take in with this novel – the brutality of slavery and treatment of blacks outside of slavery, the kindness shown by those who were willing to risk their lives to help, the feeling that there is nowhere to escape to, only places to flee, the deeply seated racial prejudice and violence that continues, and so much more. I highly recommend this book to everyone! It is hugely pertinent to current times, beautifully rendered, and brilliant. There is so much to this novel, that I had to sit and think about it for days before attempting to put thoughts into a review. It is excellent material for discussion.   images

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character?
  2. How did you feel about the historical facts being changed for the sake of the story here?
  3. How does fear affect people?
  4. What role does religion play in this novel?
  5. How is the Hob represented outside of the plantation?
  6. Do you think there was anywhere truly safe to escape to in these times?
  7. Discuss branding, literally and figuratively.  How are the former slaves branded?
  8. In what way do blacks become equals to whites in this novel?
  9. What did you suspect happened to Mabel, Cora’s mother?
  10. Why is the character Homer important?  Why do you think he stays with Ridgeway?
  11. Discuss some of the discussions that took place on the Valentine farm.
  12. Discuss the role of those who helped slaves escape via the underground railroad and the risks taken.

Interview with Colson Whitehead published in Vulture

Review published by NPR

Review published in NY Times

Oprah’s Reading Group Guide

“Nightbird” by Alice Hoffman

20971472

 

Pages:  208

Published:  March 10, 2015

 

 

 

 

Lovely, delicious, mystical, tender, coming-of age story by an author I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.  I listened to the audible version with my children on a road trip, and given it’s target audience, the plot is somewhat simplistic, so I still look forward to reading some of her more acclaimed adult novels.

“Nightbird” is the story of a 12 year old girl who lives with her mother and her winged brother, a product of the “Fowler family curse.”   It is a story of friendships developed, fears overcome, pasts and futures colliding.  It has beautiful fantastical, mystical and magical elements.  It is infused with the beauty and the tastes of the Berkshires.  The message of the book is kind and loving.  I would recommend this book especially to girls aged 8-14.  images-2

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did Twig grow in this novel?
  2. Discuss the attire of Miss Larch and Julia.  Why do they dress this way and how does it relate to the story?
  3. Discuss the role of the ornithologist.  What clues does he give to Twig to help solve her mystery.
  4. Did you realize that Mr. Rose was the father right away?  What were the clues?
  5. Both Twig and her mother say they want to go back in time.  What do they each mean?
  6. In what ways to pasts, presents and futures collide in this novel?
  7. Discuss the two romances in the novel:  Agnes and the original Fowler who went off to war, Agate and James.  How are these romances similar?  How are they different?
  8. Discuss the role secrets play in the Nightbird.
  9. What role does fear play in the novel?  How is fear overcome?
  10. How is the play important to Sidwell?  What does it mean to Twig’s family?  How do you think Twig rewrites it?

Pink Apple Pie

Create a lovely pink apple pie with two different toppings, including a crumble-top variation. Best if shared with a friend. But isn’t everything?

Pastry Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons cold water

You can also use two premade 9-inch crusts bought at the market. Or see below for crumble-top variation.*

Filling Ingredients

6 to 8 medium apples
1 cup seedless strawberry jam
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Making the Pastry

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Butter a nine-inch pie plate.

Sift flour into bowl. Mix in butter (with your fingers!), smooshing it into flour. Add sugar and mix. Add cold water a little at a time (you may not need it all). Mix until it forms a dough.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 20 minutes.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes if necessary until slightly softened.

Divide pastry into two balls and roll out with rolling pin. Put one crust into pie plate and form to the plate’s size. Save the second crust for the top of the pie.

Making the Filling

Peel, core, and slice apples. Mix in strawberry jam and place the apple/jam mixture in pastry in pie plate. Dollop with spoonfuls of raspberry jam.

Cover apple mixture with second pastry crust. Pinch crusts together with wet fingers around the sides.

Pierce top of pie with fork (you can make a design if you’d like) to release air as it bakes.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes at 375˚F.

*Variation: Crumble Topping

If using this topping, make half the pastry recipe above (3/4 cup flour, 6 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/4 tablespoons cold water). This will make one crust. Fill the crust as above, then add topping.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

Mix the flour with cut-up butter (with your fingers!) until it forms crumbs. Add sugar and mix. Sprinkle on top of pie.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes at 375˚F.

Alice Hoffman’s Website

New York Times Review of “Nightbird”

“High Rise” by J. G. Ballard

 

 

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Pages: 208

Published: 1975

Movie Released: April 28, 2016 in USA

 

 

High Rise is a horrific novel about a building that begins to have a strange hold over its residents.  The high rise is a virtual vertical city, with the higher levels representing higher social class status.  The building has it’s own school, restaurants, pools, grocery store.  The only reason for its’ residents to leave is to go to work.  The residents begin to throw louder and wilder parties and begin leaving the building less and less often to go to work.  Often if they do go, they rest at work for a few hours and then return to the high rise, or they may get to their car and then turn right around and go back to the high rise.   The parties turn to violence, vandalism, voyeurism, raiding, raping,  murder and cannibalism with the ultimate goal being survival of the fittest.  The characters become either checked out or fully engrossed in the “game” they are playing.   Although there is some hope they will get caught, no one ever bothers to call the police or seek outside help.  The men and women revert to hunter/gatherer roles.  The women seem banded together by the end and it appears the women have come out on top, however, no one really is a winner in this book.  Reading this novel from 1975 did not feel much like I had jumped back in time with the exception of the polaroid cameras and lack of cell phones/social media.  This novel was many things at once:  a horror story, a dystopian science fiction story,  and most impressively a chilling social commentary.   It  is a commentary on the psychological effects of modernization and technological advancement.  This advancement leads to an increasingly fragmented and socially insular society that yearns for more connectedness even if that connectedness is horrific. The writing was excellent and I look forward to watching the movie.  images-2

 

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Interestingly, J. G. Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) grew up in in Shanghai, which came under Japanese control in 1943.  He spent 2 years in an internment camp with his family.  Presumably this early exposure to the atrocities of war shaped his writing and the horror it contains.  In 1945, he returned to Britain with his mother and sister.  He began medical school in 1951 with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist, however, abandoned his medical studies 2 years later, to pursue a career in writing.  Since then, he led an incredibly interesting life with various twists and turns.  His wife and mother of his 3 children died young of pneumonia and he was left to raise 3 children.  He has had movies and television series made of his stories and novels.  He has influenced the genre of dystopian science fiction literature, art and music.  With the publication of “The Atrocity Exhibition,” there was an obscenity trial and in the United States, the publisher destroyed nearly all of the print.  He had become an icon with this work.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who ends up on top, the women or the men?
  2. How is this book a literal struggle to the top?
  3. How are the characters psychologically affected?  Why do they become that way?
  4. How do you think J. G. Ballard’s background affected his writing?
  5. Laing isn’t sure if what is happening is all in his head.  Could the building be a Freudian representation of himself?
  6. Debate which the better, the movie or the book?

Review at Fantasy Book Review

Book/Movie Comparison:

I watched the movie shortly after finishing the book.  I thought it had a similar dreamlike surreal quality to it.  The events occurring in the book are horrific and repulsive yet somehow, in both reading the book and watching the movie, I felt ok with it.  I was interested, intrigued, waiting for what was next, almost complicit in the act of chaos and abandon that the characters/actors demonstrate.

The movie rendition is mostly true to the book.  I did think that children figured more prominently in the movie than they had in the book.  It’s a movie that’s interesting to watch after reading the book and understanding the author, his background and the year in which it was written.  Given the graphic content contained within the movie, it is not a movie for everyone.  If you can stomach, I highly recommend watching it if you’ve read the book!

Review of the Film as published in The Telegraph

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