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!

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so their Children can Succeed by Jessica Lahey ~ Book Review

Pages:  243

Publication Date:  August  5, 2014

Format:  Softcover book

 

 

 

 

“Children whose parents don’t allow them to fail are less engaged, less enthusiastic about their education, less motivated and ultimately less successful than children whose parents support their autonomy.”

The bottom line of this book written by parent and educator, Jessica Lahey, is don’t bail your children out.  They need to learn from their mistakes.  They need to learn how to organize themselves, regulate themselves and deal with mishaps in the world they live in now so that they can become high functioning adults.  Jessica Lahey, being an educator talks at length about maintaining good relationships with teachers.  She incorporates much history of parenting and various theories and research from many other sources.  Anyone reading this will come come away with their own take-away points depending on their children’s ages, family dynamics and unique family stressors.  Below I am outlining ten take-away points that I felt were important as regards my own family and parenting philosophy.

  1.  Grit = ability to attend to a task and stick to long-term goals –> greatest predictor of success.
  2. If parents back off pressure and anxiety over grades and achievement & focus on the bigger picture –> grades will improve and test scores will go up.
  3. Intrinsic motivation happens when kids feel autonomous, competent, and connected to the people and world around them.
  4.  People can be divided into 2 mindsets:  fixed & growth.  A fixed mindset believes that intelligence, talent and ability are innate and remain the same through life, no matter what one does.  A person with a growth mindset believes that these qualities are simply a starting point, and that more is always possible through effort and personal development.  These people thrive on challenge and understand that failure and trying again is part of becoming smarter, better or faster.
  5. Parents should praise for effort, not inherent qualities to foster the growth mindset.
  6. The more independent you allow your children to be the more independent they will become.  However, children also need rules, behavioral guidelines and structure.  Limits make kids feel safe and cared for.
  7. Communicate family participation (rather than chores) and avoid nagging or pestering.
  8. Free play is undervalued in our children’s social and emotional growth.  Peer play is significantly more predictive of academic success than standardized achievement tests, by 40%.  Avoid intervening in conflict resolution between children’s friends and siblings.
  9. As kids get older, we need to trust them more, and when they live up to our trust, catch them doing things right and praise them.  Keep an eye out for good judgement, character and resilience, and let them know that’s what you value above all else.
  10. Practical guidelines can help your child manage transitions: create predictability in the household, keep a family calendar, kids should keep their own schedule as soon as they are able, a regular sleep schedule and model calm.

 

 

TTT: Required Summer Reading for Incoming US College Freshmen 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s theme was “back to school,” which was a bit of a freebie as there are many directions this one could take.  Having read an article recently about what books college freshman are reading this summer and finding it fascinating, I decided to create a list of some of the most popular required reading titles of the summer for incoming college freshman.  I’ve included my two most heavily relied upon sources below.  I’ve read only two of these books, but the others on the list (some of which I had heard of and others I had not) sound thought provoking and will be added to my ever-growing TBR list.  Have you read any of these books?  Which sound interesting to you?  Do you remember what you were required to read the summer before entering college?  I remember reading Don DeLillo’s Libra, a fictional account of John F. Kennedy’s asassination.

  1. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – At least 70 colleges have recommended this book to incoming college freshmen over the past 3 years.  According to Goodreads:  “Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.”  (published in 2014)
  2. Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance – Chosen by several colleges, this memoir explores issues of social breakdown including poverty, drug abuse and isolation in working class whites living in middle America.  (published in 2016)  My Review.
  3. The Circle by Dave Eggers –  chosen by several universities, is about a young woman drawn into the nefarious practices of a global tech company she works for.  (published in 2013)
  4. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson –  is an exploration of high profile public shaming.  (published in 2015)
  5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is this year’s choice for at least 10 colleges.  Goodreads says, “In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives.”  (published in 2015)
  6. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a dystopian novel whose Goodreads description is as follows:  “In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”  (published in 2011)
  7. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet is about a young Cuban-American woman torn between her working class family in Miami and life at a liberal arts college.  (published in 2015)
  8. Citizen:  An American Lyric by Claudia Rankin – Goodreads says, “Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media.”  (published in 2014)
  9. Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, is about 8 families in Milwaukee living on the edge in extreme poverty.  (published in 2016)
  10. Becoming Nicole:  The transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt is a biography of a transgender girl and the journey her family goes on to nurture her and find support in their community.  (published in 2015)  My review.

 

Sources:

Depenbrock, Jane.  “Summer Reading for the College Bound.” NPREd, June 30, 2017.

Goldstein, Dana.  “Summer Reading Books:  The Ties that Bind Colleges.” New York Times, July 1, 2017

TTT: Ten Book Recommendations for Lovers of Magical Realism

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

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

 

 

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

Pages:  320

Expected Publication Date:  August 22, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Discussion Questions:

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

 

Kirkus Review of Young Jane Young

Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk

Gabrielle Zevin’s website

Review by Bookspoils, a fellow book blogger

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

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

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