Category Archives: Book Reviews

“Practicing Normal” by Cara Sue Achterberg

Pages:  336

Expected Publication:  June 6, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

As with most ‘women’s literature’ I found things to love and things to hate within this novel.  I think the title is brilliant.  What family isn’t practicing normal?  Every family has it’s own struggles and issues that it is dealing with.  Society expects certain behaviors from people and many families struggle to live up to expectations, both expectations they hold for themselves and those they perceive others to hold of them.

This novel is told from three perspectives:  that of the Dad, Everett;  that of the mother, Kate; and that of the daughter, Jenna.  Within this family unit, there is also an autistic brother, who does not serve as a narrator.

One of my biggest struggles with “women’s literature” is this theme of putting up with an awful male partner for the sake of the family.  This book is a prime example of this.  Kate, the mother, has given up a nursing career she very much enjoyed in order to be there for her family and care for her mother who lives down the street.  She has no friends or outside interests that she pursues.  Her whole life revolves around her family.  However, her husband is absent and deceitful.   One of her his mistresses has already shown up on the doorstep introducing herself and she’s very suspicious he’s cheating again.  He is “working” all hours and constantly checking his phone.  Kate’s mother thinks he’s a louse, but Kate would rather continue putting up with it all, denying the obvious.  Maybe this is to keep up appearances, maybe to prove something to herself, maybe to prove something to her mother.. maybe she is practicing some kind of normal she had hoped for.  The thing that made me most angry about the relationship between Kate and Everett is when she relates a story where Everett raped her.  Since then she is more submissive  to his sexual advances, not wanting a repeat incident.  Kate’s son requires a lot of attention due to Asperger’s and only she and her daughter Jenna seem to know how to relate to him.  Kate’s mother also is increasingly relying on her, refusing to leave her home down the street and refusing to cook for herself.

Everett is an egomaniacal child in an adult’s body.  He is always putting himself first.  He has no real relationship with his children.  He has been caught in one affair and is currently in the midst of another.  He is constantly exchanging text messages while at home with the other woman, Veronica.  He is continually visiting his mistress under the guise of woking late or needing to run out of the house at all hours for something that just came up at work.  He is also attempting to understand Kate and her sister’s blood relationship to their parents through DNA evidence, without first consulting Kate in this matter.

Jenna seems to be the most self-honest and most relatable character to me.  As she is capable of taking care of herself, she is largely left to her own devices.  She is fully aware of her father’s infidelity.  She avoids him and refers to him by first name.  She is angry, dresses in black, has short spiky hair, multiple piercings and spends her days breaking into neighbor’s houses.  She doesn’t break in to steal per se, but to check things out, spend time with cats, experience someone else’s domain.   She gets caught breaking into the neighbor’s house across the street around the same time that their son, the high school football star, is taking a break from football because of his grades.  She begins spending time with this unlikely friend, Wells. The woman with the cats, Cassie, also aware of Jenna’s presence in her home, begins paying Jenna for her time spent playing and feeding her cats.  Wells and Jenna spend time with each other in Cassie’s home, which becomes a refuge for them and their developing closeness.  Jenna, who had seemed such a misfit starts to come of age, grow and become happy with herself.

In the end, Kate does finally awake from her self-delusion.  It is interesting how Kate’s life and her mother’s were similar in their solitary confinement as they tried to practice normal and hide from the glaring problems their family was built on.  If you enjoy “women’s literature,” you will probably love this book.  It is well written and there is a nice metamorphosis of the characters as they are developed within the novel.

 

Cara Sue Achterberg’s Blog

Review by Olga, author, translator, forensic psychiatrist

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Read Recommendations

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  Anyone can play, so go ahead and check it out.  With Memorial Day rapidly approaching, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is based around the theme of beach reads.  What is a beach read?  Most people think of beach reads as light books that are not to emotional or mentally taxing as to distract from the vacation.  However, what people choose to read on beaches varies greatly.  I agree that I’m not interested in reading anything incredibly academic while attempting to relax, but I prefer to avoid overly light and fluffy as well.  I enjoy well written, emotionally and mentally engaging works of literary fiction when I relax on the beach.  Normally, I very much enjoy non-fiction and historical fiction, but I avoid these on vacation.   If you are like me, you might enjoy some of these too!  If you have any to recommend to me based on my beach preferences, I’d love to hear your recommendations!  Next to each book, I’ve included a brief excerpt from the Goodreads description of each.  I’ve also linked to my review for those of which I’ve written reviews.

  1.  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – “Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.”
  2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Temple -“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.  Then Bernadette disappears.”
  3. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – “Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.”
  4. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – “Brimming with all the insight, humour, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity.”
  5. Commonwealth by by Ann Patchett – “One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.”
  6. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld -“This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.”
  7. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – “A lush, raw, thrilling novel of the senses about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant.”
  8. The Girls by Emma Cline – “Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.”
  9. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti – “After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.” 
  10. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novel – “Deep in gambling debt, the celebrated Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda is last seen holding a suitcase and a cigar and climbing into an almond tree. She abruptly vanishes.”

“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall

Pages:  287

Published:  January 2009

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2009)

Format:  Audiobook

 

 

 

 

“You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running”

This book is an insightful, fascinating and inspirational look into the world of long distance running.  There is a group of people, known as the Tarahumara, who live in the cliff sides of Copper Canyon in Mexico.  This is a lawless area where Tarahumara enjoy relative isolation.   The only other people who spend time in this area are the drug lords.  The Tarahumara run long distances as part of their culture and tradition.  They are a peaceful people who enjoy longevity and a life without crime or mental illness.  They are mistrusting of the outside world, as in the past they have been exploited, enslaved and even decapitated.  They eat a diet composed mostly of corn and corn beer. This novel seeks to understand the world of ultra marathoners, both of those who run as part of their culture in the case of the Tarahumara and those who are drawn to it despite their culture.

I always felt that running great distances was a detriment to one’s health, that running should be done in moderation so as not to wear out one’s body.  However, this book changed my thinking.  The feats that the runners in this book were capable of was awe inspiring.  This book makes the reader believe and understand that we were made to run, we should run and furthermore, that running should be enjoyable.

A group of researchers back in the 1980s came to the realization that human beings were not evolved to be walkers like their closest relative, the chimpanzee.  Human beings were evolved to be runners, to track their prey over long distances.  This is why humans have nuchal ligaments, achilles tendons, an amazing foot structure,  a stride greater than a horse’s, and a pattern of respiration that is not fixed to their stride.  The injuries we see now from running did not exist prior to the advent of the modern running shoe.  With the modern running shoe, feet become weaker.  With the modern running shoe, pain signals are not sent to the brain to indicate improper form.  Thus, poor form and injuries result.  The modern day running shoe has led to an increase in heart disease, knee replacements, and more sedentary lifestyles.  If we trained and ran more like our ancestors we would be much healthier and happier.

Listening to this audio book, I was enthralled by the stories, especially of the races.  Who knew that telling of an account of a 100 mile race could be so riveting and exciting?  Not I.  At least, not until I listened to the tales of the races in this book, including Leadville races and the ultimate race in Copper Canyons.  This is one sport where women can excel and often prevail over the men.  Consider this statistic:  90% of females finish ultra marathons, while only 50% of the men do.  There is great psychology involved in these races according to the author.  The racers often think of themselves as hunter or prey in order to motivate themselves.  In the case of the Tarahumara, there is the joy of sharing a tradition, running together as a people.    It is “character” that the author concludes makes a truly great runner.  Scott Jurek was able to find his tribe wherever he went, transcending cultures and communities, always demonstrating tremendous character.

There was were amazing pearls of advice streaming throughout this novel.  I was mentally storing those I thought would be important for myself and will share some of them here. Stretching leads to more injuries.  It is best to skip it.  The more cushioned the sneakers, the more likely they will lead to injury.  If you are running in a cushioned sneaker, try to add in some barefoot runs in dewy grass.  If you start running long distances, diet should come about naturally to aid the running lifestyle.  A nutrient rich vegan diet is best for a leaner, healthier body.  In the beginning, especially if you are looking to take off some weight, you should run below the aerobic threshold, in the fat-burning zone.  Building up endurance in this zone will make you stronger on longer runs.  The best form when running is to run with a short stride and quick foot turnover.  You should feel as if you have a rope tied around your middle and you are pulling something heavy.  Being a good person, it seems makes you a better runner.  Improving personal relationships and practicing abundance by giving back are pieces of advice given by running coaches.  Vigil, a long time running coach, also advises “ask nothing from your running and you’ll get more than you ever imagined.”

The Tarahumara, a culture of the greatest runners on earth share the following core virtues:  patience, strength, dedication, persistence and cooperation.  Other great runners seem to share these same characteristics, bringing them together in a beautiful community.  The Tarahumara is perhaps the last remaining culture on earth that still incorporates long distance running into their life and culture.  They reap the benefits in health, community and joyfulness.  As scientists have discovered, we were evolved to be runners.  As Dr. Bramble puts it, “Just move your legs.  Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history.  You’re denying who you are.”

This book convinced me that “running is our superpower, entrenched in the human imagination.”  I have already started to run more because of this book.  I am trying not to be obsessed with heart rate and pace, but to enjoy the meditative aspects of it more.  I highly recommend this book to everyone who runs or is even thinking about running.

The Tarahumara

 

Ann Trason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Jurek & Arnulfo running in Copper Canyon

 

 

Barefoot Ted

 

 

 

 

Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Born to Run by Dan Zak from the Washington Post

Review by Pete Larson on his Runblogger website with some great links

 

“Anything is Possible” by Elizabeth Strout

Pages:  272

Published: April 25, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

5 HUGE STARS!  AMAZING!  INCREDIBLE!  FULL OF KINDNESS, COMPASSION AND HUMANITY!

I have been looking forward to this book ever since I heard it was coming out.  It is a companion book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton‘ which was published last year.  ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ largely involves conversation between Lucy Barton and her mother in the hospital where Lucy remains hospitalized with complications of appendicitis. It is what is unsaid that is so powerful in that book. The reader becomes aware of extreme poverty and abuse in Lucy’s childhood. Lucy and her siblings were mostly shunned by the other children of their town. However, Lucy has made it out of Amgash, Illinois. She is married though that marriage is failing. She is a writer. She is looking forward, but during this time with her mother, she is also looking back. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is so intriguing, but it leaves the reader with so many questions. So, I could not have been any happier upon hearing that this book was being published.

‘Anything is Possible,’ published about one year after ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is told in short stories focusing on different people’s lives in adulthood who had lived in the town Lucy had grown up in. It reminds me so much of ‘Olive Kitteridge’ in the manner in which it is written. Each short story could be published in it’s own right, however, the flow of these stories and their connections to each other make for an incredible read.

It is heartrendingly beautiful, so full of life and heartache. It is so full of humanity.. of the human experience. It describes feelings, emotions, nuances of relationships so well. You experience the pushes and pulls of family, town and the world on the individuals in these stories. Amgash is a small poor town in rural Illinois. There are not many opportunities for upward mobility if one ends up living in town. Those who escape lead vastly different lives, but their pasts continue to haunt them.

Each story is intense in it’s own right. Each tells of a realization of self or family that is immensely important and a turning point in that person or family’s life. Some of these stories had me sobbing, they were that emotional and real. They are all deeply affecting stories, each and every one. They were so compelling that I would not want to stop reading at night. Despite wanting to keep moving ahead, I could have read the same sentence over and over and extracted more meaning from it each time. Each sentence was so loaded and powerful.

But, really what is most special about the book is the message or maybe the many messages. This book tells us that loving imperfectly is ok. Loving imperfectly can be lovely. It tells us that no one is alone, there are always others with shared similar experiences. It demonstrates how a simple small act of compassion can have such a huge impact and effect on the lives of others. It teaches us that feeling pain is actually a gift, for were we not to feel pain, that would be the real tragedy. This novel is about reconnecting with the past and making amends before death. It is about recognizing heroes and heroines, masked in normal everyday clothing. And of course, Elizabeth Strout does all this so eloquently and lovingly. This is a must read.. definitely my favorite book this year!

 

Elizabeth Strout’s website

Review by Heller McAlpin for NPR

Review by Anthony Domestico in the Boston Globe

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is the meaning of the title?
  2. Discuss the relationship of this book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’ Do you think this book was a necessary counterpart?  Is this book worthy of standing alone, aside from reading ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’?
  3. Was there a particular character in these stories you most enjoyed or related to?  Who and why?
  4. Discuss the effects of extreme poverty and abuse on various characters in this novel?  How was Pete affected? Lucy?
  5. Discuss Lucy Barton’s father?  How did his past affect the way he treated his children?  How are Pet and his father similar?
  6. Discuss the secret Tommy keeps from his wife after the fire.  What happens when Tommy shares this secret with his wife?
  7. Discuss the theme of sexual inability or lack of sexual desire as relates to childhood experiences.  (Pete, Patty, Siggy)
  8. Discuss the pain that Charlie and Siggy share.  Do you think this is what attracts Patty to each of them?
  9. Discuss Linda Nicely’s complicity in Jay’s escapades.  Why is she complicit?  Why does she stay with him?
  10. Discuss the effect of compassion on someone who is not expecting it:  Patty towards Lila Lane and Karen-Lucie towards Linda Nicely.
  11. Discuss the “Hit-Thumb Theory” (the spaciousness of calm before the crash and crush of real pain) and how it relates to this novel.
  12. Compare and contrast Mary Mumford’s life in Italy as and aging woman to what it would have been in Amgash.  What is it that causes Angelina to finally recognize the heroine in her mother?
  13. Dotty owns a B&B and gets to know the guests in different ways.  Why does she feel used by Shelby and her husband yet endeared to Charlie?
  14. Annie feels a closeness with and upon understanding her father better.  Explain this.

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance

Pages:  272

Published:  June 28th, 2016

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Memoir and Autobiography;  New York Times #1 Bestseller; Named by The Times as “One of six books to help understand Trump’s win”

Format:  E-book

 

This is a memoir from the point of view of a “hillbilly”  growing up in the Rust Belt of America.  He is an anomaly of sorts in that he was able to escape the circumstances of  his past and become such a success story.  His mother was an addict and abusive.  He, as a child, was a victim of her abuse.  She had a rotation of husbands and boyfriends continuously entering and leaving their lives.  Despite this, he was able to move on.  After high school, he joined the marines and served in Iraq.  Then, he went on to Ohio State and Yale Law School.  His story drew me in right away.  He tells his story through this lens:  “…for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”

He tells his own life story alongside statistics and study data of the area, its people and culture at large.  I found this a fascinating read from a voice in a corner of the world we do not often hear from.  It provides certain insights and offers plenty of discussion points.  It is incredible that he had the resilience of character combined with the alignment of certain factors that gave him the will and drive to succeed as he did.  He comes across with great humility attributing his success to these factors that did align in the right way for him.  He could have just as easily, perhaps more easily fallen into a life of addiction and poverty.

Mamaw is a crucial supporter for J.D. Vance and a relentless voice encouraging him to be more, to think bigger for himself.  Mamaw and Papaw had moved to Ohio for factory jobs from southeastern Kentucky alongside so many others.  There is a reference to Dwight Yokam’s song “Reading, Rightin’, Rt. 23” and how relatable this was to Mamaw as well as much of Appalachia at that time.  When J.D.’s mother and aunt were growing up, Papaw was an alcoholic and the relationship between the parents was stormy, even violent at times.  Mamaw eventually kicked Papaw out and becomes a guiding force and bright light for J.D. as well as for many other of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, even though this stability was not provided for her own children. Papaw serves as her sidekick, still living in his separate house, sober now.

There is a fair amount of discussion within the book about how Appalachia and the South went from firmly Democratic to firmly Republican in less than a generation.   According to this book, there was a perceived unfairness to unemployment checks, whereby those not working would seem to actually have more luxuries, like cell phones, than those who were working hard.  Also, in the realm of housing, people could live in Section 8 housing with help from the government and be neighbors to others who are paying their full share.  Obama was apparantly unpalatable to the hillbilly people because he was so educated and spoke so differently from them.  They did not feel they could relate to him.  Oh, and maybe there was some racism involved too (but this point was strangely mentioned almost as an afterthought.)  This is a class of people, strongly united in their identity, but left feeling hopeless and disenfranchised with the loss of industry where they were previously employed.

This culture of blue collar worker with their tight knit community has higher than average levels of drug and alcohol dependence, divorce, and poverty.  The children of this community are less likely to go on to college.  The men are more likely not to work.  Those that do go off to college are unlikely to come back to their home towns.  Thus, there occurs a  phenomenon referred to as “brain drain.”  This cycle is self perpetuating and reinforcing.  It is “a culture of social decay” as J.D. Vance puts it.  There is also a “learned helplessness, ” in other words, a feeling that there is nothing these people can do to change their own circumstances.

Politically, this book is very interesting.  J.D. Vance blames the hillbilly culture for their own situation.  He believes in hard work and personal responsibility despite hardships.  His views are very conservative.

J.D. Vance is a venture capitalist in Ohio hoping to give back to the community he came from.  I will be very interested in seeing how he does give back, especially after painting such a bleak outlook for the potentiality of a solution to the problems faced by these people.  He does say that the one thing he’d most like to change about the white working class is “the feeling that our choices don’t matter.”  With his law background, it will be interesting to see if he decides to jump into politics at some point.  He certainly seems interested in public policy, although skeptical of the magic bandaid.  This is an interesting, thought provoking book providing insight into a region, a class of people, as well as a pivotal period in history.

J.D. & Mamaw                               J.D. Vance

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you feel that you learned more about the culture of Appalacia through this novel?  Do you feel it was accurately portrayed?  Why might some people in Appalacia take issue with this novel?
  2. Discuss the guiding forces in J.D. Vance’s life that allowed him to succeed.  Discuss the role of the military in shaping his perspective and work ethic.
  3. Discuss the psychological effects of J.D.’s background on his current personal life.
  4. Why is social capital important?  How does this change for the author through his life?
  5. How would you describe J.D. Vance’s political views?  If he were a politician, who policy changes would he lobby for?
  6. Explain this “learned helplessness” that J.D. Vance talks about.
  7. Why would Donald Trump as a presidential candidate appeal to this group of people?  What do you think they hope from him?
  8. Discuss Vance’s feeling of dislocation upon graduating from Yale. How does he come to terms with them or does he?
  9. Towards the end of the book, Vance asks himself, “How much is Mom’s life her own fault?  Where does blame stop and sympathy begin?”  What are your thoughts?
  10. Do you think this book would have received so much attention had it not been an election year?  … had Trump not been a candidate?
  11. What does this book say about the American Dream?  Where and for whom is this dream alive?  Where has it died?
  12. Did you feel that that J.D. Vance was blaming the victim as many of his critics have complained?

 

 

Review by Jennifer Senior in the NY Times

Review by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker

Discussion Questions by LitLovers

Ron Dreher’s interview with J.D. Vance in The American Conservative

 

 

 

“Maybe in Another Life” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Pages:  342

Published:  July 7, 2015

Format:  Audible

 

 

 

 

Light, fluffy, easy to listen to audible book.  This is a story about a young woman at a critical transition point in her life and how a small decision can lead to two different outcomes in her life.  She is in her late twenties, has just ended a relationship with a married man, is pregnant unbeknownst to her, and has just moved back to Los Angeles from the east coast.  It is the ‘Sliding Doors’ concept of following the characters past this one decision through two alternate realities.  Comparing the two realities, some things turn out differently, others the same.  In fact there are some parts that are repeated verbatim from one chapter to the next adding an element of redundancy.

There are serious life events and crises that occur within this novel, however, I did not feel like I really got to know the characters well.   Hannah, the main character, wears a high bun and loves cinnamon rolls.  These two descriptors seem to be who and what Hannah is, as they are repeated so often.  Despite the potentiality of depth given the crises that occur, it remained superficial.  The characters were G rated, lacking edginess or darkness to round them out or create intrigue for me.  Even the cheaters who hurt the main characters seem to be easily forgiven and possibly even understood by Hannah and her best friend, Gabby.

Gabby is more to Hannah than even Hannah’s family is, as Hannah’s family ran off to London while Hannah was still in high school to support Hannah’s younger sister’s dancing career.  Hannah lived with Gabby and her parents for the rest of high school.  The friendship between Gabby and Hannah is great.  It is supportive and understanding, lacking drama (in a good way).  Gabby is very concerned with wording.  She wants those around her to be politically correct and not be image conscious, to understand what really matters.   This is the part of Gabby that is especially emphasized throughout the novel.  It also contrasted sharply with Hannah repeatedly referring to herself as fat when she was pregnant.  I have to say that drove me crazy.

In all, I think the concept was wonderful, however the execution was lacking.  If you feel like a super easy, no need to think much, beach read, then maybe pick this one up.  Otherwise, I’d recommend skipping it.  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you think that there are decisions you make that affect the rest of your life?  How often are these decisions made?  How about other people’s decisions affecting your life?
  2. Was there a life path that you preferred for Hannah?  Did one of these resonate with you more than the other?
  3. Hannah says “Believing in fate is like believing in cruise control.”  What is the message within the book of fate versus free will?
  4. Why does Gabby feel the need to be so politically correct and make sure that those around her are as well?
  5. Hannah and Gabby have a conversation about soul mates.  Do you believe that there is one person everyone is destined to be with or are there multiple someones that would be good?  What do you think the author believes?
  6. Hannah feels estranged from her parents and sister as they moved to London while she was still in high school and she stayed behind to live with Gabby’s family.  How does her relationship with her family evolve in each of the realities?
  7. Discuss the role that cinnamon rolls play in this novel.

 

Review by Aestas Book Blog

Lit Lovers Discussion Questions

“Owly Vol.1: The Way Home and The Bittersweet Summer” by Andy Runton

Pages:  160

Published: September 29, 2004

Format:  Softcover book

 

 

 

 

I chose to read this book because of it’s description as an “all ages comic book,” in order to help complete this year’s Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.  I was surprised when it arrived to see exactly how few words this book contained.  The animals make noises and occasionally there are words shown from a book one of the animals is reading, but that’s about it.    Conversations are conveyed through bubbles containing pictures.  Emotions are expressed by way of pictures. I found it pretty incredible that so much could be conveyed without words and with some fairly simplistic depictions.

This book is composed of two novellas, each in comic book style.  In the first, Owly, the charming main character, is out to help others and make friends.  He puts birdseed out for the birds.  He frees captured fireflies.  He rescues Wormy from nearly drowning in a puddle during a rainstorm and stays up all night making sure he is ok.  The next day he helps Wormy find his parents.  In the second novella, Owly and Wormy go out of their way to research and find the right food for two hungry hummingbirds.  Owly also must learn to let go in this story, as the hummingbirds must migrate south for the summer.   Owly’s good deeds do not go unnoticed and those he has helped become his loyal friends, destined to return even if flying far away.

These are truly heartwarming, enchanting tales of friendship and kindness.  I read this with my 4 year old daughter who summed the book up in one word, “awesome.”  I look forward to reading more of Owly in the future. 

Andy Runton’s website – contains teaching tools, coloring sheets, animation shorts and much more!

“A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway

Pages:  293

Published: 1929

 

 

 

 

 

This book is incredible. I completely understand why it is a classic.  Hemingway is a masterful writer. There is so much to absolutely love about this novel. Hemingway paints the landscape and setting like a painter. Each setting is so beautifully and carefully described, recalling such detail. The humor and wit involved had me laughing aloud. He so articulately characterizes and ascribes characteristics to those within his novel. You can feel the personalities and love them as he must have in creating them. They are so alive and vibrant! They have characteristics and personalities we would typically think of per their nationalities. The war is seen as an absolute absurdity from any way you look at it, but he does not go over the top in driving this point home.  There is so much else layered within this book.   Yes, war is ridiculous. The whole endeavor is ridiculous. Who will win? The country that figures this out last. And the love story.. is to die for!!! It is so crazy at the outset, so real, so tender… so tragic.  It has to be one of my favorite literary romances of all time.

This fictional novel is told in first person. Frederic Henry is an American studying architecture in Rome when World War I breaks out. He enlists in the Italian army as an ambulance driver, prior to America even entering the war. This mirrors Hemingway’s life in that he too volunteered to be an ambulance driver in the Italian army, years prior to America’s entrance into the war.  In the novel, Lieutenant Henry develops close friendships with Rinaldi, an Italian surgeon, and a nameless priest. It is through Rinaldi that Henry meets Catherine Barkley, with whom he falls in love.  The war is ensuing with Austria and Germany.  The officers of Italian army at the beginning of the novel seem to be enjoying drink and brothels.  Henry even develops jaundice during a prolonged hospitalized for a wound to his knee.  Alcoholic hepatitis?  Possibly.  However, as war progresses, the men become demoralized.  There is not enough food.  They cannot stay dry.  They might be shot at by their own army.  Lieutenant Henry must navigate his men away from harm during the German attack on Caporetto.  In case you have not read this novel and plan to, I will say no more.. as I do not want to ruin the novel for anyone.

I listened to the audible version read by John Slattery, which I highly recommend.  I know prior to this novel being originally published, the profanity was removed.  However, in this audio version it seemed like there were gaps where the profanity should have been.  I would have preferred to have listened to or read the unedited version.  This was a huge  read for me!  What an amazing book detailing a very important point in history, as well as an incredible love story.

This was read as part of Book Riot’s reading challenge as a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in the United States. It has been frequently challenged as a “sex novel” and due to “language and sexual references in the book.” This book was banned in Italy, in 1929 until 1948, by the fascist regime in part for its description of the retreat from Caporetto and in part for its anti-militarism. It was also banned in Boston at that time. It was burned in Germany in 1933 by the Nazis as it was felt to be anti-war at at time when they were trying to drum up support.  It was also banned in Ireland in 1939.

Spark Notes Discussion Questions

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Study Mode Discussion Questions

“Woman No. 17” by Edan Lepucki

Pages:  320

Expected Publication Date:  May 9, 2017

 

 

 

 

This book had me cringing, yet I was intrigued and felt compelled to read to the end. The setting is Los Angeles and a great many themes are explored throughout this novel. The two main characters, are at such transitional points in their life, making rash irresponsible decisions. These two women grew up with “bad mothers,” however end up becoming their mothers, either inadvertently or purposely in the pursuit of art. They are brought together in this novel as Lady has separated from her husband and is looking for a nanny. “S,” as Esther is calling herself in her play-act of being her mother, responds to nanny position and is hired on the spot, without even a reference check.

It is about mothering, the different ways a woman may parent different children.  It is about bonds between mother and child and boundaries.  It is about identity, as a mother, as a daughter, as an individual.

It is about relationships between women and how quickly they can change.  The characters in this novel and their relationships with each other are incredibly well developed.  The reader experiences the shifts in the relationship as life changes or new facts come to light.

It is about bad choices in relationships with men that seem exciting, yet leave the women with emptiness.  It is about the possibility of good relationships with good men, that seem boring and easy to throw away.  These women, Lady and Esther, through whose alternating voices the novel is rendered, seem destined to self-sabatoge.  Esther, in becoming her mother, takes the color out of her hair, dresses in frumpy clothing, drinks herself into oblivion, and makes poor rash choices on many fronts. Lady plays with fire on several fronts.  Most shockingly, she revisits the father of her oldest son (whose identity she is hiding from her son) not just once but repeatedly.

It is about art and the subtle shifts that can change the entire tone of the piece.  The title of the book refers to a photograph taken by Lady’s sister-in-law, Kit Daniels.  It was part of a series of photographs taken of ‘regular’ women caught off guard, with clutter in the backgrounds.  Lady’s original photo had been altered for the publication, and the slight alteration made a tremendous difference in the way she presented.  Certain other details were hidden as well.

In the end, this novel is about learning to accept yourself and the life given you, your strengths and weaknesses, not trying to copy or imitate others’, but to work with what life has handed to you.

Even though, I was annoyed with the characters and their alacrity for self-sabatoge, from which they all seemed saved at the end, I do think the novel was incredibly well executed.  It is not a feel good beach read.  It is much deeper and more complicated.   The writing is excellent.  The author develops many themes and there is significant complexity to the novel.  It is intriguing and unique.  It would make a great book club book!  

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the significance of the title.  Would you have given the novel a different title?
  2. What scene resonated with you most in a positive or negative way?
  3. How do the “roles” of the various characters influence their various interactions?
  4. Were there moments you disagreed with the choices of the characters?  What would you have done differently?
  5. What past influences are shaping the actions of the characters?
  6. Do you think the ending was appropriate?  How would you like to see the ending go?
  7. What is the importance of art and perception in the novel?
  8. Did you relate to either of the main characters?  If so, which one and why?
  9. Discuss the significance of Lady and S each going by alternative names.  What is the meaning of their given names and what are the meanings attached to the names they are going by in this novel?

Edan Lepucki’s website

Review by Kaleigh Maeby at Book Stalker Blog

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I’m Dying to meet

This weeks meme from the Broke and the Bookish is about authors you would like to meet.  To be more specific, these are 10 authors I would really enjoy getting to know a bit maybe over a meal.  Are any of these authors on your list?  Who is on your list and why?

  1. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite  authors of all time.  I find her writing brilliant and her social commentary chilling yet spot on.  I felt like she was one of the first feminist writers whose writing I fell in love with.
  2. Elizabeth Strout is another favorite author of mine.  I love reading her novels and feeling like I have really gotten to know her characters well.  I find her writing brilliant and her character depiction one of the best out there.
  3. Kurt Vonnegut was a favorite of mine about 20 years ago and I devoured everything he wrote.  I would love to revisit his work with him.  This won’t be possible as he passed away in 2007 at the age of 84.
  4. Kate Atkinson is an author I fell in love with while reading ‘Life After Life.’  There was something so deeply affecting about this novel, how such small choices in life can have such large devastating consequences.  I listened to an interview with her, yet still have many questions of my own.
  5. Ernest Hemmingway is an author that sweeps me off my feet each time I pick up one of his novels.  His writing is beautiful and timeless.  I would love to meet this extremely charismatic man and get to know him more.  As he passed away in 1961 this won’t be possible, but I did have the opportunity to explore his home in Key West.
  6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie blew me away with her novel ‘Americanah.’  She is a brilliant forward thinker who is doing tremendous good with her writing, bringing more thought and insight to not only race discussions, but also gender.  I hold her in the utmost esteem.
  7. Neil Gaiman is amazing.  I love everything I’ve read by him.  I would love to meet him, just to hear him tell me stories.. I have no idea how he is able to think up all of these incredibly fabulous fantastical tales.
  8. Mariana Enriquez is a young Argentinean author who recently published a collection of short stories, ‘Things We Lost in the Fire.’  These were horror stories that spoke to a horrific Argentinean recent past and to horrors in current society.  These stories have stuck with me and I would love to speak with her more about them and what her drive was in writing them.
  9. Trevor Noah, current host of the Daily Show, and author of ‘Born a Lie’ is hilarious!  His humor and social commentary is spot on.  I would love to sit down and share some laughs with this man.
  10. Malala Yousafzai is an amazing young woman who inspires women and girls everywhere.  Her struggle to fight for education in the face of the Taliban in Pakistan was incredibly brave and heroic.  Her memoir serves as a enormous reminder that women in many other parts of the world have a long way to go in their fight for access to education, let alone equality.