TTT: Ten Fall Themed Children’s Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week the topic is fall themes.  I have chosen to focus only on children’s books.  Do you have a favorite fall themed children’s book?  If so, what is it?  Please share!

  1.  Rattlebone Rock by Sylvia Andrews, Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas – This musical, rhyming story in the form of a song takes place in a graveyard with various spooky and creepy characters. Eventually, friendly more familiar animals and people join in as well, to join the celebration and dance that lasts all night.  It is a fun, musical book with a great syncopating beat and high entertainment value, recommended for children ages 3-8.2.   Thanksgiving Day Thanks by Laura Malone Elliott, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger – This book depicts a classroom experience of students pondering the question of what it is they are thankful for.  As a class assignment, each student needs to create a project with a Thanksgiving theme.  Some of these projects give insight into the deeper meaning of the history of Thanksgiving while others help the students better understand what they are thankful for.  At the end of the story interesting history and fun facts about Thanksgiving Day are provided.

3.  Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’Connell – This is a Halloween themed counting book.  There is a haunted house in which 10 timid ghosts live.  A witch moves in and wants them out.  She scares each with a different disguise, until the last one discovers the witch’s costume coming undone.  Then, ten angry ghosts exact their revenge and retrieve the house.  This is a fun repetitive rhyming counting book in which small children are able to anticipate how many ghosts are left.

4.  Fall Ball by Peter McCarty – This is a simply written children’s book aimed at what matter’s most to children:  free time to play on their own.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning.  The children are riding home from school on the bus and plan to play football when they get there.  Jimmy is one exception who decides to rake leaves instead.  The children play ball, however Sparky, the dog, is quickest to retrieve the ball.  he crashes into Jimmy’s pile of leaves, as do all of the children.  It’s so early, yet getting dark and cold, and all the children must go home.  A beautiful book about fall and things to love:  football, cozy pajamas, warm blankets, good things to eat…  Highly recommended!!

5.  The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons – This is a nonfiction children’s book about pumpkins.  It is highly informative and very interesting.  It describes the life cycle of the pumpkin from seed through mature pumpkin, as well as the various pumpkin varieties.  There is history tied in, with the relevance of pumpkins to Halloween as well as Thanksgiving, making this an excellent educational  book for fall. 

6.  The Best Thanksgiving Ever by Teddy Slater, Illustrated by Ethan Long – This is a hilarious, rhyming, loving thanksgiving book about a family of turkeys celebrating together.  They practice gratitude, celebrate togetherness and sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving…. corn!

7.  Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf – This is a beautiful children’s book about a little girl, Sophie, who chooses a squash from a farmer’s market.  This squash is the perfect size to hold, to bounce on her knee, to put a face on with marker, to fall in love with.  The squash begins to become freckled and less bouncy, and in an effort to heal her squash, Sophie buries it in dirt.  After the snow melts, a squash plant grows and eventually Sophie has two new squash to love. The humor is subtle and enjoyable.  This book is thoroughly unique and a great read for the fall!

8.  Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian – This classic book from 1965 is adorable.  This witch with the handmade black scarf, the orange gloves, the crumpled black hat, the BIG nose, the striped stockings is having a very difficult time getting her spells to work.  It has a perfectly unexpected ending for a children’s book.  My daughter asked me at the beginning of the second reading what “humbug” meant.  It means “deceptive or false behavior.”  It is a lovely title for a quirky fun halloween story.  Highly recommended!

9. Beneath the Ghost Moon by Jane Yolan, Illustrated by Laurel Molk –   This is a beautifully written, poetic rhythmic rhyming book about mice who are excited for the Halloween dance.  However, in the night as they slept, a creepy crawlie crew entered, destroying their costumes and taking over their lair.  The small mice decide to stand up for themselves taking on the creepy crawlies with music, banners and battle cries.  It ends with a creepy crawlie and a mouse forging a friendship beneath the ghost moon, dancing into the night. Beautiful poetry and illustrations, lovely lessons taught, and highly entertaining… a perfect book for fall!

 

10.  The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano, Illustrated by Susan Banta – This is a rhyming story about a pumpkin patch wherein all the pumpkins are round, except for one square pumpkin.  The night before Halloween, there is a storm, and pumpkins are rolling off the vine and into the bay.  Spookley has to work hard to turn onto his side, over and over, but is able to eventually move himself to close the gap in the fence where the pumpkins are rolling out.  The next morning the farmer sees the value in this odd-shaped pumpkin and uses Spookley’s seed in every row the following year to grow pumpkins mostly square, but also of different shapes and colors.  The moral of the story being that variety is the spice of life and great value can be found in our differences.

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak ~ Book Review

Pages:  40

Published:  1981

Format:  Paperback book

Awards:  National Book Award for Children’s Books, Picture Books (1982), Caldecott Honor (1982), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Book (1981)

 

I am very familiar with Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen as these have been read many times over in my house.  I was not acquainted with this book until this summer.  I was reading Victor LaValle’s The Changeling which continuously alluded to this book, so I purchased it from Amazon right away.  Aside from winning numerous awards and inspiring LaValle’s The Changeling, this is the book that inspired the movie Labrynth.

This book is dark, mysterious, magical.  The father is away at sea.  The mother is depressed, aloof.. sitting alone in the arbor, most likely experiencing postpartum depression.  Ida, the older sister, is the one who must watch over her baby sister, but turns away while playing her horn, neglectful. With her back turned, faceless goblins enter through the window stealing away the baby and leaving an ice version of a baby in its place.  Ida scoops up the changeling that the goblins left behind which then melts in her arms.  In pursuit of her sister, Ida goes out the window backwards to “outside over there,” off to a baby goblin wedding, where the only real baby is her sister.  Ida is eventually successful in recovering her sister by putting the goblins into a dancing frenzy with her tune.  When she safely returns home with the baby, her mother reads a letter from her father asking her to watch over her baby sister “which is just what Ida did.”

For me, this book invited so many questions.  Was it Ida’s tune initially that invited the goblins?  Was she jealous of the baby and that is why she wished her away?  Why was going out the window a “serious mistake?”  Was it because she was going out the window backwards?

The artwork in this book is not of the cartoonish quality found in In the Night Kitchen.  The art is reminiscent of 19th century German paintings.  Many have compared the image of Ida floating in the sky to Bernini’s “St. Theresa’s in Ecstasy,” which brings up many questions of what kind of ecstasy might Sendak be implying that Ida is experiencing.  Other hidden or not so hidden references within this book include: Mozart’s Magic Flute, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindhbergh baby, and paintings of William Blake.  There is something very Freudian about the book with it’s dreamlike quality.  Ida’s name is strikingly similarly to Id.  Do all the characters of the dream reflect the thoughts and feelings of the dreamer?

Sendak has said that the three children’s book (Outside Over There, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen) are part of a trilogy.  He has asserted in The Art of Maurice Sendak that:  “They are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.”  Many adults find this story creepy and disturbing whereas children are intrigued.  I read this to my daughter who had just turned 5.  She was mesmerized and when we finished she turned back to the page where the goblins are stealing the baby and asked me to read it again.  I did and she said, “that is my favorite part.”

I love this book for pushing boundaries, for exploring themes most children’s book authors are afraid to explore, for the amazingly beautiful artwork, and for the questions and mysteries the reader is left to ponder.  I highly recommend this book for everyone! Maurice Sendak has also said he does not write for children, but simply writes.  He has escaped this notion that we need to protect our children from the experience of loss and strangeness in life.  I remember loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a chid, so I can fully relate to the intrigue of this genre to children.  This is a children’s book with many layers of interest for all ages.

Outside Over There, on Utube

NPR review by Amanda Katz

New York Times review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

T5W: Five Books Featuring Witches


Happy October!  Top 5 Wednesday is about books featuring witches.  Do you have a favorite novel that features a witch or witches?  If so, what is it?  Please share!  Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group run by Lainey and Samantha.  Each week a topic is suggested and bloggers may post their picks.  If you are interested in checking it out, click here.

  1.  Nightbird by Alice Hoffman – A magical middle grade novel told from the perspective of 12 year old Twig.   A curse has been placed on Twig’s family generations ago by the ancestor (a witch) of the family who has just moved in next door.  My Review.
  2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – A classic story where Dorothy is transported by a tornado to a magical land.  She must find the wonderful wizard to help her return home to Kansas, but the Wicked Witch of the West has other plans for Dorothy.
  3. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe  by C.S. Lewis – Another classic where four children join forces with a lion and other magical creatures to defeat a wicked witch.
  4. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – In this series, Harry Potter and other wizarding children are sent to Hogwarts for school and pursue many exciting and often dangerous adventures.
  5. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – This book features English magicians and a mysteriously disappearing source of magic, which has been attributed at least partially to fairies.  The women with magical powers are being taught to suppress them, at least until Zacharias, the new Sorcerer Royal, discovers that this is happening.  My Review.

Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani ~ Book Review

Pages:  176

American Publication:  October 9, 2012

Original Publication:  2005 in French

Format:  Paperback book

 

 

 

 

“She speaks of all nights
and all women
she speaks of the sea
of waves which carry everything away
as if everything could be carried away
of waves which begin the sea again
there where the sea stopped.
She goes through the city
she walks with death
hand in hand
and her hand does not tremble…”

This slim volume of poetry is a modern-day One Thousand and One Nights set in Morocco describing the position of women within that country.  It tells of the repression of people, not just women, who are poor, hungry, have little recourse as freedom of expression has been taken from them.  It is about history repeating itself time and time again.  Madani argues that not much has changed since the days when One Thousand and One Nights was written.  In One Thousand and One Nights, the profoundly distrustful King Shehriyar vows to marry a new virginal bride each day only to behead her come morning.  This continues until Scheherazade volunteers to be a bride.  Her trick, however, is to start to tell the King a story and not finish.  He wants to know the ending so does not behead her in the morning.  The next night she finishes the story, but begins another… so this continues saving many maidens in the process.

The author, Rachida Madani, wrote this in French and it was translated to English by Marilyn Hacker.   Hacker’s introduction to the poem is incredibly helpful in framing a reference for it.  Rachida Madani, an activist, began writing poetry during Morocco’s leaden years.  During this time, under King Hassan II’s rule, there was much political unrest and the government was brutal in it’s response to criticism and opposition.   Madani’s writing, though strongly feminist evaluating the role of women in the hierarchy, is more powerfully about the corruption in the society as a whole and the repression and abuses of the government towards it’s people.  Within this poem of three parts, Madani encourages a palace rebellion.  She is encouraging people to protest, speak out, share their voices.

I read this as part of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and am happy I did.  It satisfied the following requirement:  read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.  I’m glad I read it and feel that I learned more about Morocco and this time period as a result.

 

TTT: Top 10 Fictional Novels that Feature Characters with Autism

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  A topic that is usually open to individual variation is offered up for people to post about.  This week’s topic was “Top Ten Books That Feature Characters __________ . ”   Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Are there any other books you’ve read featuring characters with autism?  Please share!

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – This is, for me, the classic book I think of when I think of ficitional books featuring a character with autism.  In this novel, Christopher, who lives in a world of numbers, patterns, rules and diagrams sets out to solve a murder mystery.2.  The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – In this novel, Don Tillman, an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor, having never been on a date, embarks on The Wife Project, having conceded to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone.3.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stiegg Larson – This is the first book in the trilogy that is a murder mystery, family saga and love story.  Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist, works together with Lisbeth Salandar, a tattooed genius hacker, to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance.  Blomkvist describes Lisbeth as “Asperger’s syndrome, he thought. Or something like that. A talent for seeing patterns and understanding abstract reasoning where other people perceive only white noise.”4.  Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – Within this dystopian novel there is a university labelled Asperger’s U, where almost every student appears to have Asperger Syndrome or autism in varying degrees of severity and form. People in the university refer to non-autists as neurotypicals and seem to view them as something altogether different (and perhaps inferior) to themselves. The end of the human race is brought about almost entirely by the character Crake, who attended Asperger’s U and was no exception to their rule. He believed that the human race was, by the end of the novel, doomed to extinction simply because of its overuse of resources and the corruption of the social elite.5.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen So Odd a Mixture by Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer published in 2007 examines multiple characters in Pride and Prejudice finding autistic traits in 8 of them, 5 in the Bennet family and 3 in the extended family of the Fitzwilliams.  Autism was not a recognized disorder in Jane Austen’s time.   Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer proposes that Jane Austen wrote about people with this condition, without knowing exactly what she was describing.6.  Mindblind by Jennifer Roy – Fourteen year old Nathaniel Clark, is told he is a genius with sky high IQ and perfect SAT scores.  However, he has read that a true genius uses his talent to make a contribution to the world.  Thus, begins his quest.  The character in this novel is inspired by Jennifer Roy’s son who inspired the “Amazing Race” charts and the narrative at the back of the book.7.  The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon – In this science fiction novel, Lou Arrendale is part of a lost generation that did not reap the benefits of being born during the disease-free era.  He has autism and it is part of who he is and his quiet life.  However, a new treatment becomes available.   If he accepts this treatment, will he still be the same person?  How will it affect his life, his relationships, and perceptions of the world?8.  Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco S. Stork Marcelo Sandoval hears music that no one else can hear, part of his autism-like impairment that doctors can’t quite identify.  He attends a special school where his differences have been protected.  However, the summer after his junior year, his father demands that he work in the mail room of his law firm to experience the “real world.”  Here he learns about jealousy, anger, suffering, injustice…9.  Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – This is a middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss and discovering the true meaning of family.  Willow Chance, a 12 year old genius, has found it hard to connect with anyone except her adoptive parents.  Her life is tragically changed when her parents die in a car crash.  Willow is able to push her way through grief and find a surrogate family.10.  Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine –  Winner of the National Book Award for young people’s literature in 2010, this novel is about Caitlin, an eleven year old girl with Asperger’s.  In her world, everything is black and white, good or bad.  Anything in the middle is confusing.  When her older brother passes away, she looks up the definition of closure.  In her search for it, she discovers a messy beautiful world.

 

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  307

Published:  January 31, 2017

Format:  Audio Book

 

 

 

 

This thriller alternates between the perspectives of two women, Adele and Louise.  It also alternates between Adele’s past and present.  Louise is a divorcee and single mother who begins an affair with her married boss, David.  Soon after, she literally bumps into Adele, David’s wife, and they start a friendship.  From Adele’s perspective, we know the the meeting was not mere coincidence.  However, the reader is unsure what secrets lurk beneath the surface nor the reasons behind the forced meeting.  Louise is charmed and won over by both Adele and David.  Adele pleads with Louise to keep their friendship secret because David prefers to “compartmentalize” and Louise gladly agrees, as this allows her to spend time with both members of this couple whom she views as such wonderful creatures.

Despite the fact that Louise finds Adele and David to be so wonderfully charming, the reader (or at least me) found all three of the characters to be unlikeable.  David appeared to be a shell of a person, making poor choices, hiding away secrets and drinking constantly.  Adele appeared to be manipulative, two-faced, self-absorbed, and mentally unstable.  Louise was perhaps the craziest of them all, having only accidentally stumbled into this couple and immediately getting wrapped up in their drama.  She was an easy target, dishonest, easily manipulated, and having an affair with her so called best friend.  She dropped Sophie, her best friend of years, after befriending Adelle and not liking the advice Sophie had given her regarding Louise’s relationships with this couple.

The story line and writing were ok, but not great. I was intrigued in the beginning, but found the story lacking in depth.  Louise and Adele were so enraptured with David, however, I did not feel his character was developed enough to understand why.  Yes, David felt trapped by Adele, but why feel it is his obligation to stay with her?  I found it difficult to see how and why he felt he could control her, as repeatedly Adele proved he couldn’t.  Then, when the thriller took a trip into the paranormal with it’s twists at the end, I really felt cheated of a normal ending.  It felt like the author was writing this as if we should believe that type of thing is entirely possible.  Many parts of this book, with both the coincidences and the choices the characters made required a leap of faith to accept.  Then, to add a paranormal ending, for me, required  tremendous suspension of reality.  I know many people loved this book and the ending and it is one of the best selling books this year, but for me it was not great.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Which of the three main characters did you like best?  Did you find Adele or David more believable?  Did this change as the novel progressed?
  2. How did you feel about the choices that Louise made?  Could you justify to yourself why she was keeping up the charade and getting closer to both Adele and David?
  3. What were your suspicions about what the ending might be?  Would you ever have imagined the ending that came?  How did you feel about the ending?
  4. When Adele seems to know what is happening between David and Louise, what are your suspicions on how she is spying?
  5. There is a side story of Louise’s son Adam, Louise’s ex-husband and his pregnant girlfriend.  What does this side story add to the novel?
  6. Adele is fixated on improving Louise.  She gets her a gym membership and has her switch to e-cigarettes.  Why did you imagine Adele was so invested in Louise?
  7. Adele teaches Louise how to use lucid dreaming to control her night terrors.  This evolved into out of body experiences.  How did you feel about this paranormal evolution on lucid dreaming within the context of the novel?
  8. The meaning of the title does not become apparent until the end of this novel.  What did you think the meaning of the title was prior to getting to the end of the book?
  9. Would you recommend this novel to a friend?  Why or why not?

 

Negative Review by Zoe at The Sporadic Reviews of a Beginner Blogger

Positive Review by Luccia Gray at Rereading Jane Eyre

 

 

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  544

Publication Date:  August 29, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

Joan Ashby, a talented writer, who at a young age vows not to let a husband or children get in the way of her art, ends up married, then pregnant.  Joan falls in love with her first baby, not so much with second.  Her first son has the gift of writing, but stops when he discovers at age 11 his mother is a brilliant writer and he compares himself to her and feels like a failure.  He feels she has crushed his dreams.  His father is a brilliant neuro-ocular surgeon traveling the world restoring people’s vision.  His younger brother drops out of school at age 14 to design his own software program used throughout the world in hotels and is worth billions.  The family dynamics and sibling rivalry conspire against him to make him feel small.

Joan ever intuitive when it comes to her children is able to sense when things are well and when things are awry.  She understands her children far better than her husband.  She understands their strengths and weaknesses.  She gets swept up in motherhood and in helping her children build on their strengths and supporting them through difficult times.

Joan hides her writing.  She keeps it a secret, not wanting to have to share what she is writing about with her husband.  She feels like a prisoner in motherhood, only able to eek out stolen hours to write her newest novel that gets hidden in a box for two years before she is ready to have it published, because life (her family and their needs) get in the way.  In the meantime, her book is published in its entirety, except for a gender change by her son, under a pseudonym and in two parts.

There are three parts to this novel.  The first and third are told by a third person narrator, but the focus is mostly on Joan.  The second section is recordings made by Joan’s son, Daniel, that he will eventually send to Joan as explanation for his actions.  Interspersed within these pages are short stories written by Joan as well as the beginnings of another novel Joan is working on during part three.  In addition, there are writing samples from Joan’s writing students.

Joan is so hurt by Daniel’s actions, publishing her novel without her knowing about it, that she flees to India, a country she has always wanted to visit and the place where Eric had retreated after sobering up and selling his company.  In India, Joan is able to rediscover herself, realize her present day wants and needs, as well as forge a closer relationship with her younger son.

The writing is amazing.  Each short story seems publishable on it’s own.  The story of Paloma that Joan is writing in the third part was particularly intriguing to me.    However, I felt like all of these stories within the actual novel detracted from what constituted this novel.  It seemed like I was constantly readjusting to new stories within the original and back out again.  For me, it was too much bulk.  The writing is great though, and I never wanted to skim.  I just wish the author had constructed this novel differently.  I felt way too happy to be finished reading this book.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How is Joan’s genius evident?
  2. Why does Joan hide her previous literary success from her children?
  3. Why does Joan feel she must keep her art a secret?
  4. Discuss how the short stories within the novel add/detract from the novel as a whole?
  5. What were your feelings about Joan’s trip to India?  Do you feel that she did this to escape or to rebuild herself?  Did you see strength or cowardice in this?
  6. Do you feel that Joan’s plight of giving up her career for so many years is something experienced broadly by women?  Do you think Joan sees positives and negatives in her choices?
  7. Why do you think Joan was so annoyed by Martin’s line of questioning about what she was writing?
  8. Discuss the title and possible religious connotations of it.
  9. Why do you think Daniel feels justified in his actions?
  10. Discuss the character of Kumar.  Could this be the same Kumar interacting with both Joan and Daniel?
  11. What are your thoughts about Joan’s marriage with Martin?  Is Martin a good husband?

 

Kirkus Starred Review

Review by The Bookstalker Blog

TTT: Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

  1.  The Changeling by Victor LaValle – This is a fantasy novel, a modern day adult fairy tale of sorts that is also a retelling of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, Outside Over There.  I requested this book from netgalley and have just started.                                                                                                                                                                        Why?  This was a netgalley request and it also fulfills the Book Riot 2017 Reading Challenge of reading a fantasy novel.  I also really enjoy fantasy and look forward to this story, especially being familiar with Sendak’s creepy, but brilliant and beautiful children’s book.

 

2.  Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani – This is a volume of poetry by this Moroccan poet that addresses modern day issues of women in society.  It compares their situation to the experience of women in The Thousand and One Nights and finds many similarities.                                                           Why?  For Book Riot’s 2017 Reading Challenge I need to read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.  This is not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I love reading outside of the box and look forward to this experience.

 

 

3.  The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas – In the words of Goodreads this is a novel about “sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens and expectations of genius.”                                                       Why?  I requested this book from netgalley after reading so many glowing reviews from fellow reviewers.  The description seemed very interesting and appealing to me as well.  It is a long book and I am happy to say, I’m just about finished (but still adding it to this list – since it is fall).

 

 

4.  Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – This is a thriller told from the perspective of two women who become friends.  One is the wife of David and the other is having an affair with David.                                                       Why?  I love listening to books in the car and thrillers are really the easiest, most entertaining types to listen to.  If I listen to something more heavy, I worry that I am not concentrating enough or it would be better read.

 

 

5.  For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange – A book and also a major broadway production about what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century.                          Why?  This will satisfy the requirement of reading a classic by an author of color which is part of the Book Riot 2017 Reading Challenge.   This is also a book I am very interested to read both for content and style.

 

 

6.  A Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai –  A romance/erotica novel that one reviewer describes as “feminist, sex-positive erotica that says fuck you to rape culture, slut-shaming, and totally flips the traditional gender roles of the billionaire shiterature that has flooded the market since The Book That Shall Not Be Named was first published.”  She further goes on to say “the female lead, Akira Mori, is unapologetically sexual. Men, women, multiple partner sex, she’s down for it all.”                                                                                                                            Why?  This will satisfy the requirement of Book Riot’s 2017 reading challenge to read a LGBTQ+ romance novel.

 

7.  A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – According to Goodreads, “In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.”        Why?  This will satisfy the requirement of the Book Riot’s 2017 Reading Challenge to read a book where a character of color goes on a spiritual journey.

 

8.   Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil – According to Goodreads, “A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on mathematical modeling—a pervasive new force in society that threatens to undermine democracy and widen inequality.”                              Why?  To satisfy the Book Riot 2017 requirement to read a non-fiction book about technology.

 

 

 

9.  The  Child Finder by Rene Denfeld – According to Goodreads, “As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?”   Why?  I loved Rene Denfeld’s previous novel The Enchanted, so I cannot wait to read this latest novel of hers.

 

 

 

10.  Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – This novel, shortlisted for the Man-Booker Prize has been described by Goodreads as “Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.”                   Why?  The topic of the book is interesting to me and I have had it recommended to me repeatedly.

 

 

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is about the fall’s most anticipated reads.  This is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Many of my reads here are dictated by Book Riot’s 2017 Reading Challenge which I have a love-hate relationship with.  I love that it makes me read books that I wouldn’t normally.  My reading selections are much more diverse as a result.  However, it gives me less time and opportunity to read the books I most desire to read.  I have not decided yet as to whether or not continue with these challenges or abandon them.  How do you feel about these reading challenges?  Did you create a Top Ten for today?  If so, please link your top ten below!

 

 

 

Swing Time by Zadie Smith ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  453

Publication Date:  November 15, 2016

Format:  Audiobook

Awards:  Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017), National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Fiction (2016), Europese Literatuurprijs Nominee (2017)

 

A sweeping multi-layered novel that reads like a dance through childhood into adulthood, across cultures, exploring race, class and gender issues.  At the heart of this novel is the friendship between two “brown girls” growing up in public housing estates but in school with a largely white community in London.   They see each other at dance class and are immediately drawn to each other, to the same tone of skin, similar but opposites.  They are opposites in that one has a white obese doting mother that lathers her daughter with praise and attention while the other has a black mother subsumed with leftist politics and educating herself seemingly hardly noticing her daughter.  The narrator feels like an accessory to her mother.  She feels barely noticed and out of place until her friendship with Tracey begins.

The narrator is unnamed throughout the novel and her childhood friend is Tracey, who is  boisterous, adventurous, fun loving and narcissistic.  The narrator seems to float through the novel on the energy of others.  First and foremost, there is Tracey’s energy that dictates their play and social lives.  Tracey is a brilliantly talented dancer and though the narrator loves dancing, she lacks Tracey’s talent.  They spend countless hours watching videos of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Michael Jackson to name a few.

The narrator’s Jamaican mother, a modern day Nefertiti, is a left wing feminist and activist studying politics and philosophy.  The father lacks motivation, but is loving and doting towards his family.  This is in sharp contrast to Tracey’s family, where there is an absent father.  Tracey creates stories to explain where he is and what he is doing, but it seems he left them and has a new family.  Though the narrator’s mother criticizes Tracey’s mother and her habits, the narrator enjoys the quiet of Tracey’s home compared to the anger in her own home where her mother no longer wishes to be married to her father.

Jealousies arise and tensions result.  The girls in childhood had written stories of “ballet dancers in peril.”  Tracey would create and dictate these stories while the narrator transcribed.  Always, just as it seemed the happy ending would arrive, disaster would result.  Thus, Tracey’s stories foreshadow the end of the beautiful friendship of Tracey and the narrator.  Tracey tells the narrator a story about her father, which may be fact or fiction, that causes them to cease speaking to each other for over a decade.

The narrator goes off to college and leaves behind Tracey and their friendship.   After a few gigs as a dancer, Tracey’s dancing career fades and she is a single mother to three children all by different fathers and is still living in the public housing estates, a fate the narrator’s mother warned against.  The narrator begins working for a big name singer/dancer named Aimee.  Aimee’s life is large.  She has many people who work for her, numerous boyfriends, children by various men, she travels widely, and becomes interested in opening a girls’ school in an un-named country West Africa, which by geographical description can be identified as Gambia.  The narrator again is living in the shadow of another large personality, not living a life of her own, running on the energy of another.  The narrator travels back and forth getting to know the inhabitants this West African country, watching the fall out of diaspora that occurs there as people (especially men) begin to leave.

The narrator is eventually drawn back to Tracey through her mother who has been working for Parliament.  The narrator’s mother reaches out to the narrator pleading with her to ask Tracey to stop harassing her with countless letters that initially ask for help, but then begin to criticize the government, and her mother, and the inability of anybody to help with her situation.  Her mother becomes consumed and tortured by these letters, unable to think of anything else.  She is guilt ridden and seemingly identifying Tracey rather than the narrator as her daughter as she is dying,

When the narrator confronts Tracey, Tracey asks her who she is trying to be.  The narrator’s voice has changed, her life has changed.  After leaking the childhood video, Tracey sends it to the narrator with a note saying, “now everyone knows who you really are.”  Are we our childhood selves?  Is who we are defined by who we connect and interact with?  Is that identity forever changing?  How much of that identity is tied to gender, class and race?  How much of our childhood identity, our moral core, do we keep with us?

This novel is beautifully written, incredibly expansive and brings up awesome philosophical questions.  There are so many layers to this novel, that one could go on dissecting this for a very long time.  I highly recommend this book to everyone.  It would make a superb book club book.  My one wish for this novel is that the narrator had more presence, but I think that is part of the point of this book.  She floats on the energy of others, she is visible in the shadows of her relationship with others.  Class, race and gender issues are often seen in reaction to the narrator.

Quotes from the Book:

“A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow.”

“No one is more ingenious than the poor, wherever you find them. When you are poor every stage has to be thought through. Wealth is the opposite. With wealth you get to be thoughtless.”

“And I became fixated, too, upon Katharine Hepburn’s famous Fred and Ginger theory: He gives her class, she gives him sex. Was this a general rule? Did all friendships—all relations—involve this discreet and mysterious exchange of qualities, this exchange of power?”

“People aren’t poor because they make bad choices. They make bad choices because they’re poor.”

“I remember there was always a girl with a secret, with something furtive and broken in her, and walking through the village with Aimee, entering people’s homes, shaking their hands, accepting their food and drink, being hugged by their children, I often thought I saw her again, this girl who lives everywhere and at all times in history, who is sweeping the yard or pouring out tea or carrying somebody else’s baby on her hip and looking over at you with a secret she can’t tell.”

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the narrator remains un-named for the duration of this novel?  What effect does this have on the reader?
  2. Compare and contrast the fathers of Tracey and the narrator.   Discuss how Tracey’s story about the narrator’s  father drew a wedge in their friendship.  Do you believe Tracey’s story?
  3. Compare and contrast Tracey and the narrator’s mothers.
  4. The narrator’s mother compares the narrator’s life to slavery.  She is working for Amy and not living a life of her own.  What do you think the narrator really wants from life?
  5. Tracey’s father talks about how there is distinct separation of races inside prison, where on the outside there is mixing.  How much mixing do Tracey and the narrator experience?  Are they fundamentally drawn to like as well?
  6. Discuss the experience of being of mixed race, not being fully white or black as experienced by the narrator and Tracey.
  7. Discuss the complexities of girlhood friendships and how this might change as girls mature into adults?
  8. The narrator’s mother tells the narrator that she is nothing if she uses her body for work rather than her mind.  The narrator tells her mother that she is nothing.  How is this a coming of age moment?
  9. Discuss the relationship the narrator has and the warmth she feels from her father as compared to her mother.
  10. Why does our obsession with celebrities allow for a certain amount of chaos?
  11. Discuss the video made of Tracey and the narrator dancing.  What effect does it have at the time and how does this come back to haunt the narrator?
  12. When the narrator goes to West Africa she is told repeatedly “things are difficult here,” when she tries to go somewhere or do something on her own.  Why?  Why do they treat her with “kid gloves”?
  13. Compare the fates of the women in the West African village to Tracey’s fate.
  14. Discuss the culture and community that the narrator experiences in West Africa.  How does Amy’s presence and the wealth that flows in change things?  Discuss the diaspora that is happening.
  15. The narrator’s mother becomes part of Parliament, but is beaten down and tormented by the letters that Tracey sends.  Why do you think these letters affect her so deeply?
  16. Why does the narrator go to visit Tracey and her children as the novel ends?  What is her intent?

 

 

New York Times Review by Holly Bass

Review in The Atlantic by Dayna Tortorici

Review by Annalisa Quinn for NPR

Interview with Zadie Smith on NPR

 

 

 

T5W: Classes based on Books ~ A Back to School Special

  1.  Ultra Running: Why and How To:  Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
  2. Feminism  for Everyone:  We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  3. Waitressing 101:  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
  4. Preparing for Your After-Death  Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
  5. How to Avoid Being Social  at Your Child’s School:   Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Temple

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group hosted by Lainey and Samantha.  If you are interested in learning more, click here.  This week, being back to school week, is themed as such.  All of the above are classes that could be based off the books to follow.  Would you want to take any of these classes?  Did you make a list today?  If so, please share!

sharing a love of books

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