Eligible (The Austen Project #4) by Curtis Sittenfeld ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

25852870

 

Published: April 15, 2016

Pages: 513

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

At first I was a little leery, thinking this was over the top, not very deep.. However, I found myself laughing out loud over and over again and reading late into the night, never wanting to put this book down.  I would literally be aching to read it while at work or with the kids during the day. It is highly addictive, highly inventive and utterly hilarious!!  I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much while reading a book.

So, the plot:  five sisters who grew up together in Cincinnati are reunited there again to support their parents when their father is recovering from heart surgery.  They are in their 20s and 30s, with the eldest two being 37 and 39.  Their mom,  the social climber, feels the need to try to marry them off well.  The social dynamics within the household and with various suitors is hilarious.  The sexual tension that develops between Liz (the 37-year old sister) and Fitzwilliam Darcy becomes a thread winding it’s way through the book to it’s conclusion.

It is a hugely fun read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys romantic comedy!  It’s been forever since I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice,”  but this story evokes similar tensions, comedy, and excitement about the outcome.images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Would this book be as good on it’s own without the comparison to “Pride and Prejudice?”
  2. Compare this novel to “Pride and Prejudice.”  Discuss relationships, setting, plot, comedic value.
  3. The book read mostly through the voice of Liz.  Did you find yourself identifying with her to any extent?
  4. Why do you think there have been so many adaptations to Jane Austen’s books?  What is it about them that lend them to retellings?

A Negative New York Times Review

A Positive New York Times Review

Curtis Sittenfeld’s website

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

27245980

 

Pages:  208

Published (in Sweden):  September 22, 2011

Expected Publication (in USA):  July 12, 2016

 

This novel brought to mind The Stranger by Albert Camus, a novel I read back in high school, due to the absurdity of the premise and the situation of the protagonist.  The Invoice is not nearly as dark and in fact this novel has everything to do with happiness.   The protagonist is a 39-year-old single male living in Sweden who works part-time in a video store.  His only friend, Roger, seems to be pretty miserable.  He has a sister who seems overrun with her family life.  His parents are deceased.  Yet, he receives an invoice stating he owes a ridiculous sum of money for his assessed happiness.  Through his investigations into the reasons why he owes so much money which is primarily through the woman he reaches at the call-in center, Maud, it is revealed that calculations were mistaken and the amount he owes keeps increasing.  It seems incredible to him that he could owe so much working a dead-end job, having very little actual life experience, and no money to speak of.  In the end, he realizes just how lucky he his that he is able to experience happiness with the simple things in life where others do not.  He ultimately finds that the ridiculous sum of money they wanted to charge him does not come close to the amount he should owe for all of the happiness he has in his life. I enjoyed this philosophical, satirical novel that seems light-hearted and deep both at once.  It is a novel that makes you think about happiness, the roots of happiness, what it means to be surrounded by people who are truly happy and to be truly happy yourself.  I give this novel images-2 and recommend it to everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the protagonist is so happy?
  2. Do you think we could ever truly quantify a person’s happiness?
  3. Compare and contrast Roger and the protagonist’s perceptions of similar events.
  4. Explain the importance of the scene in The Bridge to this novel.
  5. Why do you think Maud spends so much time speaking with our protagonist on the phone?
  6. What do you think are the strongest components or personality traits to being a happy person?
  7. Do you feel happier when you are around happy people?
  8. In what ways is this novel a commentary on governmental regulation?

 

Review of “The Invoice” in the Independent

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

26890725-1

 

Pages: 304

Published:  June 7, 2016

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

 

A book written about a friendship between two women and how it changes, develops, pushes and pulls…  by a man.  Actually, he does a very good job portraying the intricacies of a female friendship.  It is a book many would describe as a “summer read,” a book that doesn’t really go anywhere.  Nothing extraordinary happens, but you feel the nuances of the friendship and relate to them.  It is a friendship between two girls who met when they were 11 years old and the novel follows their friendship into their 30s.  One of the girls is “rich” and the other is “pretty.”  These adjectives don’t define them, but definitely play a role in who they are and who they become.  The novel is a realistic look at how friendships look uneven at times and from many different angles, at how there are intrinsic and external factors that push and pull the friendship together and apart.  It shows how beautiful a thing friendship is when it is long-lasting with so many shared experiences that make two people feel like siblings, even when the two people on the surface may seem so different.

I feel like there is a whole class of books like this, some with much more depth than others.  This felt light and fluffy, leaving me wishing for more from the book.  I would give it 3-stars.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why does this friendship work?
  2. Who did you relate to more, Sarah or Lauren?  Why?
  3. Did you feel that their friendship was lopsided or equal?  How?  In what ways?
  4. What do you think the most important components of a friendship are?
  5. How do you think friendships are changing in this digital age?
  6. Do Sarah and Lauren seem closer to themselves or their families? Do you think this is typical?  Does this change with marriage and relationships?
  7. Describe an important friendship to you.  How much work do you put into your friendships now and in another time in your life?
  8. If you were to rank your priorities in your life, where would friendships rank?
  9. Were there any clues while reading this that the novel was written by a man?

Interview with the author done on NPR

Review on Rebl Nation Blog

 

 

 

 

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

Published: September 28, 2015Smoke Gets in Your Eyes PBK mech.indd

Literary Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Memoir & Autobiography

Pages: 272

Format: E-book

 

 

 

“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”  – Nietzsche

I was thoroughly impressed by this memoir and social commentary on death and dying written by such a young woman.  Caitlin Doughty, at the age of 23, has produced an impressive, well researched commentary on how we as a society perceive death, talk (or not talk) about death, and view the body and what happens post-mortem.  She brings the death industry to light as well as the options available for burial or cremation.  She speaks frankly and does not gloss over details that some may find distasteful.  This is a book written by someone who has spent a lot of time ruminating over what makes a good death and what should happen with the body.  She has worked in various facets of the death industry, most notably a crematory and has attended mortuary school.

Admittedly, I approached this book with some level of apprehension, presupposing that a book about cremation would be awfully dull.  Yet, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of wit and humor sprinkled within such a dark and morbid topic.  The author is wise well beyond her years.  The fact that she can discuss these topics and make them so riveting, compelling, and in some cases, downright laughable make this book not only a super important read, but a highly enjoyable one.

I am an emergency medicine physician.  I see dead people often.  One of the greatest gifts I can give a patient and family, is a death with dignity.  Too often, patients come through the ER, without a hope of surviving a tragic accident or disease, yet everything is done to try.  The more humane option in my opinion is to speak to the family about the prognosis and how much they want done .  These conversations can lead to a much more peaceful end of life, and lead to a much more gratifying experience by all involved (nurses, physicians, family & loved ones).  Caitlin speaks to the increasingly ever-aging population; the increasing physician-shortage, especially in the area of geriatrics; and the increasing need for care-givers for the elderly.  These are critically important topics where increased awareness and discussion need to be held on many levels.

Caitlin speaks about the need for people to think about their own mortality and what they would like to happen with their bodies after their death.  It is a huge burden to families and loved ones, emotionally and financially, to know what to do these circumstances when the wishes of the deceased are unknown.  This is a book that everyone should read.  It is a book that will hopefully change misconceptions about death and encourage more conversations.  Death should not be such a mysterious process.images-2

Unknownimages

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think constitutes a good death?
  2. What would you like done with your body after you die?  Did reading this book change your answer to this?
  3. Are you afraid of death?  What could you do to lessen your fear of death?
  4. Why do you think that society at large hides death and it is spoken of very little?
  5. What kind of celebration/remembrance would you like there to be for you after you die?
  6. Natural burial (being buried with embalming and without a casket) is presented as the most ecologically sound burial.  What are your thoughts on this?
  7. Should there be a manual on the “art of dying?”
  8. Discuss some traditional ways of celebrating death honored by different eras and cultures.
  9. How do books like “Younger Next Year” and the “Fountain of Age” affect our conception of mortality?
  10. Have you discussed your wishes about your manner of death and post-mortem handling with your family and loved ones?

Caitlin Doughty’s Blog: The Order of a Good Death

Review by Rachel Lubitz that appeared in the Washington Post

Interview with the author published in Kansas City Star

YOU by Caroline Kepnes ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

20821614

 

Pages: 422

Published: September 30, 2014

Format: E-book

 

 

 

 

It’s been 14 hours and 2 days since reading YOU

Could you stand 400+ pages of being inside the head of a psychopath, a stalker and murderer?  Despite hating what I was reading and the feeling while reading that I was somehow an accomplice,  I felt compelled to finish.. and not just skim, but really read it.   It reads like an internal train of thought that happens to be that of a psychopath working in a book store, obsessed with a hyper sexualized  recent Brown University graduate also living in NYC.  He is able to uncover and follow her almost every move and is willing to murder anyone who gets in his way.  It is frightening how much information we put into the world with social media and texting and how easily discoverable it is.  This is different from any book I’ve read before and I must give it points for originality, but I didn’t love it.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think Joe’s upbringing affected him?
  2. What do you think of Beck’s friendships?  Do they seem shallow or deep?
  3. Beck always seems to need to be writing, but isn’t.  When she does the writing seems to be stories of herself.  Why do you think she writes?  Do you think she is a good writer?
  4. Joe’s first interaction with Beck in the bookstore when she is buying books.  What do her book choices say about her?
  5. What do you think of Beck’s relationships with men?  Is this typical of today’s culture?
  6. Did you find it realistic that Joe got away with all the murders?
  7. What did you think of Dr. Nicky?
  8. Were there any characters in the book you liked?  Who and why?
  9. Did it surprise you that Joe tried out a relationship with Karen Minty?  Why do you think he was dissatisfied with this relationship?
  10. Joe and Beck seem opposite in many ways:  education, social media usage…  Do you see any similarities?  What do you think was the appeal of Beck to Joe?
  11. What do you think happened to Joe when he had been in the cage?  It is alluded that he was put there for an extended period or periods, but it is not spelled out.
  12. Did you find yourself rooting for Joe or against him?  How did the point of view affect how you felt about the outcomes in the book?

Discussion Questions from Lit Lovers

Reading Group Guide by Simon & Schuster

Man & Wife by Katie Chase ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

Published:  May 10, 201617230794

Pages:  212

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

Wow!  This is a wonderful collection of short stories that I hope readers will pick up and enjoy.  There are several common themes threading their way through the stories including:  societal gender roles, the competition among and between girls and women, the vulnerability and seeming powerlessness of women in many cultures and the ways in which they are able to rebel, pasts that once seemed laid to rest that come back to haunt… This is a book that is affecting and powerful.  It is a book that makes you reflect.  It is beautiful and horrific at the same time.  I highly recommend this collection of short stories to everyone, but especially to women.  images-2

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In the first story “Refugees” why do you think the mother was so easily swayed to leave with the guru?
  2. Why do you think that Sammie ran away?
  3. What do you think the appeal of the guru was to all the various people who clamored to see and hear him?
  4. Do you feel the daughter was rebelling or conforming in going to work with her father?
  5. In the second story, “Man and Wife,” why do the parents feel it is ok to marry off their 13 year old daughter?
  6. Do you feel that the daughter rebels or conforms to what society expects of her?
  7. How is the statement “The benefits mature with time” important to the story?
  8. In “Bloodfued,” what do you imagine was the conflict between fathers prior to the murders?
  9. Why do you think Conley tries to befriend Izzy?  Is she trying to befriend her or antagonize her?
  10. Why is Conley kissing Ernie so shocking?
  11. In “Old Maid,”  how do the neighbors view the “old maid?”
  12. Why has she decided to live as she does?
  13. How does her past come back to haunt her?
  14. General Questions:
  15. How are men portrayed in the stories?
  16. How do girls and women regard and treat each other in these stories?
  17. How do sisters and brothers regard and treat each other in these stories?
  18. How do boys and men assert their power and control in these stories?
  19. How do girls and women assert their power and control in these stories?
  20. How are the pasts important in these stories?
  21. What are some rites of passage portrayed in these stories?  How do they affect the characters?

Katie Chase’s website

Publisher’s Weekly Review

 

Zero K by Don DeLillo ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

26154389

 

 

Pages: 274

Published:  May 3, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

“Everyone wants to own the end of the world.”  Thus, opens this newest novel by Don DeLillo and these are the words of the protagonist’s father, Ross Lockhart, who becomes obsessed with cryogenics when his wife becomes ill.   The novel begins with the narrator traveling to the Convergence, located somewhere in Russia, so that his step-mother can be frozen, so that she might return many years later.  At Convergence, there is no sense of time or even identity.  People there are cut off from the rest of the world.  Jeffrey Lockhart’s room where he stays is referred to as his “introversion box.”  It forces one to wonder what creates a human identity.  Is it something deep within oneself or is it one’s associations with other people and the world.  Formless meals are eaten in isolation.  Mannequins are a continuing theme and ubiquitous decoration at Convergence.  The films showings scenes of horror and death, pointing to an inevitable apocalypse are the only other break from the quiet and solitude at Convergence.

The cryogenic process itself is brutal.  The bodies are decapitated, organs removed, and they are kept in pods.  The body expected to return would be void of memories, identity, even perhaps, gender.  They seemingly become mannequins.

When Jeffrey leaves Convergence and returns to NYC, there is dramatic contrast of noise, people, lights, and action.   Jeffrey, in his early 30s, is struggling with his identity.  He is jobless, seemingly insecure in his romantic relationship, and he is rejecting living in association with his father.  He is constantly wanting the name things.  He is constantly counting.  These attributes make him seem like he is watching and evaluating the world around him, but not fully living within it.

This is my first Don DeLillo book in over 20 years, since reading Libra which I loved.   Don DeLillo is obviously a brilliant mind, but the darkness and foreboding of this novel was a bit much for me to truly love this novel.  It is a novel that depresses the reader, especially as you get only feelings of emptiness or numbness from the characters portrayed.  However, it is brilliantly written and leaves much to discuss.3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did Jack limp as a child and then again as an adult?
  2. In what ways does this serve as a cautionary tale?
  3. Why does he call his parents by their first names?
  4. What is the role of the monk and his self-punishing life?
  5. What role does art play in this novel?
  6. What is your impression of the films playing within the convergence?
  7. Do you envision the Convergence as a opportunity for new life or as a mass grave or catacomb?
  8. Why is Jack obsessed with the woman in the stylized pose?  What does he suppose her message to the world is?
  9. Why are names so important in this novel?
  10. Was there an uplifting interval in this novel?
  11. Why do you think Ross Lockhart changes is last name?  Why is Jeffrey upset about this?
  12. What is the role of religion within this novel?
  13. What are the author’s feelings toward cryogenics?  What are yours?

Review published in The Atlantic

Review published in The Guardian

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

23503361

 

Pages: 336

Published: July 7, 2015

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

 

This debut novel by Julia Pierpont starts off with fireworks.  I found the premise very intriguing:  a box intended for Deb from the ex-mistress of her husband full of every communication  between them is intercepted by her children.  Deb, who had been able to move on with the status quo since discovering her husband’s affair many months prior, now has to rethink everything in light of her children (ages 11 and 15) knowing about her husband’s affair.

This novel is divided into 4 parts.  Part one is the fireworks.  Part two is the camera zooming out and giving a panoramic view of life to come.  Parts 3 and 4 zoom back in again. It is an interesting book that examines the effect of the affair on the husband, wife and the children.  Everyone is struggling in their own ways with the knowledge, the changes in the family dynamic, and all the emotions they are experiencing.  I particularly liked how Kay, the 11 year old daughter, imposed what she knew of the affair into her own rewriting of Seinfeld episodes.  I thought it was interesting how Simon related to the Fountainhead, and how much this bothered his mother.

It is a compelling read, but also a slow moving read for the second half of the book, with characters that are trying their best to weather through very difficult times.  I found myself after the first part wishing for more action, less indecision and vacancy.  I felt like I was lost in the calm after the storm, and read faster and faster as the book went on, really just trying to finish.  Overall, I felt this was a well-written and very polished, intelligent book by an author  from whom I think we will see much more to come.  However, is a difficult book to fully “enjoy” since it deals with so much unhappiness and frustration, which is why I think the ratings for this book are all over the map.  The relationships are all fraught with sadness, loneliness, disappointment, and unfulfillment. For the writing and honesty displayed, I give it images-2, but for my overall “enjoyment” I would give it 2star.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Jack’s infidelity affect their marriage?
  2. How does this change once the children learn of the infidelity?
  3. How do Kay and Simon initially feel toward their parents about the infidelity?  How does this change as the book progresses?
  4. How does Deb envision that her children view her in this situation?
  5. Compare and contrast Deb and Jack’s relationships with their mothers.
  6. How does Simon relate to the Fountainhead?
  7. Explain the references comparing Simon to his father.
  8. How is Simon’s relationship with Teagan important in the context of the novel?
  9. Compare and contrast Deb and Jack’s love and devotion to their respective art.
  10. Do you like Jack?  Why or why not?  Do you like Deb?  Why or why not?
  11. How does it shape your opinion of the characters that Jack and Deb initially were together through infidelity?
  12. How does Simon and Kay’s relationship shift during this book?

NY Times Review

Julia Pierpont’s website

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

25814512

Pages: 432

Expected Publication:  May 3, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

Chris Cleave is a very talented writer who understands people and relationships so well.  Having loved his novel Little Bee,  I was very excited to read this book.  In this epic WW2 historical fiction novel, he deftly describes the area, the people and their relationships as shaped by love, war, and other circumstances.  This novel follows two main characters Alistair and Mary through their experience of the war and how it they cope with loss, love, and various other hardships.

It is a coming-of-age novel about Mary North who suddenly steps out of her life of luxury with the onset of war and puts herself to work as a teacher, falls in love, experiences loss, addiction and many more effects of the war.  There is so much truth to relationships (romantic and non-romantic) as depicted in this novel…the deep hurts they can cause but the huge love and support that is there if both parties are open to it.

I found it interesting and heartbreaking to read about the race relationships of the time in England.   Chris Cleave cleverly shows how people will play the roles they are ascribed to in order to not rock the boat.

There is so much to this book!  Excellent writing, beautiful character  and relationship development, and well researched history.  For whatever reason, perhaps the state of mind I was while reading, it felt lengthy and I felt like I was struggling to get through it at times.  For this reason, I can only give it 3-stars

Click here to see an interactive historical map of London from this time period.

malta-master-final

 

 

map of Malta, 1941-1942

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Describe Hilda and Mary’s friendship.  How is it affected by their appearances?
  2. What is it about teaching that Mary loves?
  3. Why do you think Mary is drawn into helping Zachary?
  4. What do you think Mary loved about Tom?
  5. How did you feel about her falling for Alistair while Tom was still alive?
  6. What is the meaning of the title?
  7. Why do you think Alistair has his friend, Simonson, start to write to Hilda?
  8. When Alistair returns to the war, why are Mary and Alistair initially strange with each other?

 

Simon & Schuster Reading Group Guide

Chris Cleave’s website

 

 

Pedro, First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

29058868

 

Pages:97

Expected Publication:  September 1, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

This is an early reader chapter book.  It is full of positive messages, word repetition, simple grammar and plenty of well done illustrations to help decode vocabulary.  I read it with my 6 year old and felt that it was very appropriate for his reading level and interest.  He very much would like to be reading chapter books and this is the perfect easier chapter book for him.   There is a lot of silly humor within this book and at the end.  It is the kind of humor you expect to hear a drumroll with to emphasize that it is funny, the kind of humor adults don’t appreciate so much, but 5-7 year olds think is hilarious.   I give itimages-2 and recommend it to 5-7 years, depending on reading ability.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is Pedro a hero?  Why or why not?  What do you think makes someone a hero?
  2. What do you think makes someone good at soccer?
  3. What kind of qualities do you think are important in a class president?
  4. If you were going to form a club with your friends, what kind of club would it be?
  5. Do you have a favorite bug?

Fran Manushkin’s webpage

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