Tag Archives: Five stars

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

18383325Pages: 32

Published:  April 1, 2014

Awards:  OLA Forest of Reading Blue Spruce Award Nominee (2015), Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Nominee (2015)

Format:  E-book from netgalley


Wow!!  What an amazing book with a beautiful, truly insightful message for young children!  I just loved it through and through!!  It is the story of a little girl who wishes to create “the most magnificent thing.”  Despite all her efforts it does not come out as planned.  She is frustrated and upset, but is able to calm herself down with a walk.  When she returns to look at her work, she slowly realizes the goodness and rightness in pieces of what she has created and is able to work with that to achieve something she is quite happy with and proud of. It is a message that even adults need to hear and can learn from.

The illustrations are lovely.  I love the black and white backgrounds against the colorful foregrounds where the action is happening.  I love the writing style and think that there is so much new language and vocabulary that can be developed in the reader by the reiterations of different verbs and adjectives in the sentences.  This is a book that can be read again and again, and new things will be noticed, learned and appreciated.

I received this as a netgalley ARC, so was surprised when I read it to my children and they told me they had already heard/read it “thousands” of times at school.  I now realize, it had been published 2 years earlier, so I’m not at all surprised that schools are making this a part of the curriculum and school experience.  I highly recommend this to all children ages 3-10! images  It is wonderful!!


Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is the most magnificent thing that she attempts to make?
  2. What are some of the ways she tries to modify what she made so it will be as she imagined?
  3. Why does she get so upset?
  4. What does she do to calm herself down?
  5. What is something you would like to create?  How would you like to go about making it?  Do you think you might get frustrated along the way?  How might you help yourself to calm down?
  6. Do you think taking a break from work might be a good thing?  Why?
  7. If you were to have an assistant help you with your magnificent thing, who would it be?  Why?
  8. Do you think it’s ok to not be able to make something exactly the way you wanted to?
  9. The girl in this book, keeps trying, she perseveres… what do you think would happen if she just gave up after she got mad?

Ashley Spires’ website

Teaching Guide for The Most Magnificent Thing

Too Many Moose! by Lisa Bakos ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide



Pages:  40

Expected Publication:  July 5, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley



A memorable, masterful story that is melodious, metrical, mesmerizing, merry and  amazing.

My children immediately picked up on the alliteration throughout the book.  “Mom, did you notice that the moose spend all their time doing M things?”  This is a whimsical tale of a girl who mail orders a pet moose.  It is so fun to read because of the rhyming, alliteration and poetic format.  The illustrations by Mark Chambers are a perfect fit. They, too, are cheerful and comical.  This book is pure delight.  I give it images and would recommend it to all 3-8 year olds!

Discussion Questions:  (My children & I had a great time discussing this one.)

  1. What letter do you keep hearing throughout the book?  What are some examples?
  2. Do you think a moose would make a good pet?
  3. If you were to order an animal for a pet, what would you choose?  Why?
  4. Would you get upset if your pet moose used all of your shampoo?
  5. How many pets do you think are reasonable?

Lisa Bakos’ website

Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide



Pages:  352

Published:  February 16, 2016

Format:  E-book





Brilliant, insightful, imaginative,  philosophical and unique!  This novel, written by Russian born Olga Grushin is an incredible read.  It is a collection of short stories each taking place in a room that the narrator has lived in or spent time in during her lifetime.  The stories initially are set in Russia and then move to America when the narrator travels there for college.  There are so many life truths illustrated beautifully within this novel:  the twists and turns life takes us on; it’s meaning;  the perceptions of others as well as ourselves;  the changing vision and perspective of life as we age;  the rooms we choose to inhabit and their impact on us.  This was so despite, or perhaps as a result of, the overwhelming use of fantasy/magical realism within the book.

This novel is so powerful and rich with language, metaphors, imagery, mirrors and reflections.  There is so much depth to the novel added by the insertion thoughts that the various other characters are having; by repeating scenes with different scenarios, leaving it open to interpretation what might have actually transpired and what was fantasy;  and of course by the magical or fantastical characters.  The whole novel has a “dizzying,”  dream-like quality to it.  Many of the scenes occur, followed by Mrs. Caldwell waking up.

The novel is divided into parts which represent different time periods in Mrs. Caldwell’s life.  Within each part are chapters representing the rooms within which each of the short stories occur. Forty rooms was very purposely chosen.  As the narrator’s mother tells her: “Forty is God’s number for testing the human spirit.  It’s the limit of man’s endurance, beyond which you are supposed to learn something true.  Oh, you know what I mean- Noah’s forty days and nights of rain,  Moses’ forty years in the desert, Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation.  Forty of anything is long enough to be a trial, but it’s man-size too.  In the Bible, forty years makes a span of one generation.  Forty weeks makes a baby.”

In the beginning of the novel, the young Mrs. Caldwell hopes to achieve immortality.  She wants only to write poetry and devote herself fully to that art.  She is told by her Apollo that “the meaning of a single individual human life,.. consists of figuring out the one thing you are great at and then pushing mankind’s mastery of that one thing as far as you are able, be it an inch or a mile.”  She really does work hard at her poetry and it seems all-consuming until she meets Paul and settles into married life, not even telling him her aspirations or love of writing poetry.  She becomes a mother in a foreign country, with no friends and does not even learn to drive for quite some time.  She seems to have lost herself and is trapped in her family life, and in so doing, her marriage starts to fail as well.

I loved that this novel encompassed an entire life.  The reader is able to observe the changes occurring from childhood through adulthood to the very end.  It leaves you wondering how Mrs. Caldwell’s  life might have been under different circumstances or had she made different choices.  As a mother to young children who has made career concessions of my own, I felt swept away with this novel eager to hear the author’s final message or verdict on what might the right path be.  I think this book is amazing!  It is wonderfully written, incredibly insightful and sends many powerful messages!  I must say, this book would appeal much more to women than men and would make a great book club read.  images


Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think is the meaning of life?  How does it change as we age?  Do you think that meaning is different for men and women?
  2.  Where is truth in this novel really found?  In the real life circumstances or in fantasy?
  3. What is the perspective on the “showing of wealth”:  the large house and the many belongings and how it affects people?
  4.  Paul makes a statement about how easy it is to stay at home.  How easy is it really?  What sacrifices are made?
  5. Why don’t you think Mrs. Caldwell ever confronted Paul about his affair?
  6. Do you think her poetry was ever any good?
  7. Who is Olga to her?  Does she exist or is she fantasy?
  8. Do you think the man who visited her mother in the afternoons was real or fantasy?  Do you think this is the same person as her Apollo?
  9. How might her life have been different had she gone back to Russia?
  10. How might her life have been different had she gone to Paris with Adam?
  11. Why do you think she kissed Adam in the wine cellar?
  12. Do you think Mrs. Caldwell ultimately led the life that made her happy?
  13. What are Mrs. Caldwell’s reasons for having children?
  14. Her grandmother tells her she won’t find happiness unless she gets greedy and looks for it.  Does she follow this advice?
  15. What do you think makes for a happy life?  Is it the small moments as Mrs. Caldwell alludes too?
  16. What do you think the author’s opinion is of the institution of marriage?

Olga Grushin’s website

New York Times’ Review

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide


61F+t-ywhCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Published: September 15, 2015

Pages: 400

Awards: National Book Award Finalist (2015), Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (Finalist) (2015), Amazon’s 2015 Best Book of the Year

Format:  E-book



Fates and Furies unfolds and reveals itself like a piece of art.  It is so multi-layered, deeply complex and philosophical that it left me spellbound, awed, & utterly impressed with this author.  It is a sexy, brilliant, exquisitely written novel that pivots around the intensely bright love and marriage between two people, who seem so different, but love each other so fiercely.  The husband, Lotto, is exuberant and narcissistic, but alternates between extreme highs and lows in his moods: between mania, with extreme passion and love for others and creativity; and depression with suicidal thoughts.  The wife, Mathilde, is so loving and devoted to her husband, but also has a cold, calculating, manipulative side that she conceals.  There are striking differences between the two:  he is always bathed in light and she in darkness.

Appearances can be deceptive in his book.  Mathilde feels that she is evil to her core, which stems from her childhood memory of being implicated at the age of 4 in the death of her younger brother.  Lotto, however, saw kindness at the very core of Mathilde.    There are so many twists and turns in this novel, making it an exciting read, one that keeps you thinking, guessing, and questioning what you know about the characters and people in general.  It is told in two parts:  the first, “the fates”, is from Lotto’s perspective and the second, “the furies” is Mathilde’s perspective.  The two halves read very differently complimenting the protagonist whose story it is.  Everyone is bathed in warmth and light from Lotto’s perspective and you begin the see the evil hidden side of the characters revealed when reading Mathilde’s story.  You also realize how she is the bedrock of his success, his glory, his glamorous life.

Lauren Groff’s command of the English language (as well as French) is incredible.  The inlaid humor, wordplay,  many layers of imagery, stories within stories,  parallel characters, and juxtapositions of character traits are fascinating.  It was a pure delight to read.  I recommend this book to anyone who loves high quality literature.  All the pieces come together perfectly like a puzzle, but it is never trite.  images  I also love the autobiographical element:  in the afterward the author speaks to how she told her friend that she would marry her now husband of many years after her first glimpse of him.

While reading the first half of the book, I keep being reminded of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides which was a book about a couple who marries right out of college.  It is revealed that he is bipolar in the course of getting to know him.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did you feel about Antoinette sending Lotto off to boarding school?
  2. There are several suicides that occur within this novel.  What do you think their significance is?
  3. Chollie accuses Mathilde of being the “predator” and Lotto, the “prey” in their relationship.  What do you think he means by this?  Do you agree?  Is it the reverse as Lotto suggests?
  4. What do you make of Antoinette’s transformation from beautiful mermaid to “sucker fish gobblemouthing the glass?”  What has caused her to change so?  Why is she always in an aquarium?
  5. Why do you think that Lotto thinks back to his relationship with Gwennie on his way to see Leo?
  6. Did you think Lotto was a misogynist when regarding his comments about the difference between genders?  Why do you think that Mathilde walked out?
  7. Why do you think Mathilde did not want to have children?
  8. If Lotto and Mathilde had children, how do you imagine it would have affected their marriage and love for each other?
  9. Why did Chollie never tell Lotto that Gwennie’s death was a suicide?
  10. Mathilde thinks that by becoming a wife she became invisible.  Is this what she wanted?
  11. When Mathilde moves to the United States as a young girl, she changes her name.  Is she pretending to be someone else from that point forward?  Why else might she be changing her name?
  12. How do you feel the plays add or detract from the novel?
  13. Why would Land steal “The Springs” manuscript?  What was it about that play that spoke to him?
  14. Is Mathilde a “pathological truth-teller”  as Lotto accuses her?
  15. What do you make of the letters exchanged between Mathilde and Antoinette?
  16. Why do you think Phoebe Delmar finally comes around to writing a good review of one of Lotto’s plays?
  17. Do you think that Mathilde maliciously tripped her brother to his death down the stairs as has been told to her all her life or is her more buried vision of the story the truth?  Do you believe that a 4 year old can be that intentionally evil?
  18. What do you suppose the author’s view of marriage is?

Lauren Groff’s website

Review published by The New Yorker magazine

Discussion Questions by LitLovers

When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide





Published: January 12, 2016


Format:  E-book




This brief memoir is interposed between a foreword by Abraham Verghese, the brilliant author of Cutting for Stone and an epilogue by author’s wife, Lucy Kalanithi.  It is a beautiful, heartrending, deeply philosophical piece by an accomplished young man who dedicated heart and mind to his work and study in neurosurgery.  He discovers that he has terminal lung cancer at the age of 36, just before completing his grueling neurosurgical residency and embarking on the career he has worked so hard to attain.   The book is very thoughtful and reflective in nature, especially upon the meaning of life.  It made me wonder if the author was truly always so interested in finding the meaning of life, or if only when told of this terminal diagnosis, that reflection back on  his life made this search so apparent.  As one nears death, what is most important, becomes glaringly more obvious, and Paul Kalanithi describes this so well.

Abraham Verghese speaks in the foreword of how he had met Paul in person several times before his death, but it was not until he read his book that he felt  he really knew him.  I too, felt like I got to know Paul through this book.  He is very open and honest about himself, his sickness, his relationships, and struggles and triumphs throughout the process of dealing with cancer.

I find it interesting that Paul did not always think he wanted to be a physician, but rather thought he might be a writer.  He may not have realized his full potential as neurosurgeon and professor, but he surely achieved his goal to be a writer.  He has left behind a beautiful book that will be read for many years to come.  It will be of great interest to those with life-threatening disease, their family members, and really everyone, because we will all be in those shoes at some point.  He has also left behind a wonderful gift of himself to his daughter.  She will not remember her time with him, but she will be able to know him through this book and well as through the memories that I’m sure his close relations will share with her.  Aside from writing and even delving back into neurosurgery residency at one point, he spent the last years of his life following his diagnosis, building closer bonds with his family, and the love there was overflowing.

Aside from being an important read for anyone facing a life-threatening illness themselves or loving someone who is, I think it is a very important read for all medical professionals.  It puts a face behind a patient, who is clearly able to articulate the thoughts and feelings of being a patient in our medical system.  It emphasizes and highlights the importance of the physician-patient relationship.

I give this memoir images for it’s thought provoking, beautiful prose, as well as for writing it’s way through a death with utmost dignity.  He strengthens his belief systems, forges stronger relationships with family and loved ones, and finds greater meaning in life once he is given this terminal diagnosis.


Stanford University neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi savors a moment with his daughter, Cady, earlier this year. Kalanithi, who had never smoked, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. He died March 9 at the age of 37. Illustrates SURGEON-ESSAY (category l), by Paul Kalanithi , special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, March 13, 2015. (MUST CREDIT: By Mark Hanlon/ Stanford University)
(MUST CREDIT: By Mark Hanlon/ Stanford University)

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think is the meaning of life?  What makes life meaningful?  Are these two questions different?
  2. Paul says in his book, Darwin and Nietzsche agree that the defining characteristic of live is striving.  Do you agree?
  3. Why do think doctors sometimes lose sight of the doctor-patient relationship?
  4. How does terminal illness change Paul’s identity?
  5. If you were to die tomorrow, what meaning would your life have?
  6. Jeff kills himself because of a bad outcome.  Do you think we put too much responsibility upon physicians?
  7. Do you think the long hours that residents work is a good thing?  How does it affect the doctor-patient relationship and the quality of care?
  8. How do you think physicians are treated differently when treated for illnesses than people unknown to physicians?  Do you think there is a difference in the care they would receive?
  9. Lucy asks Paul at one point, “What are you most afraid of?”  He answers that it is leaving her.  What would you be most afraid of?
  10. How did you feel about Paul and Lucy’s decision to have a baby?
  11. What does “death with integrity” mean to you?

Paul Kalanithi’s website

New York Times Review

Discussion Questions by Random House

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide



Published:  January 12, 2016

Pages: 208

Format:  E-book




I LOVE Elizabeth Strout’s writing!  Olive Kitteridge is one of my favorite books, and this reminded me of that novel in the beginning, but it was a very different kind of book.  Olive Kitteridge is a collection of short stories which involved characters in the same town whose lives intersected, some in very major, others minor ways.  This book was told by a single narrator and even though it was divided into chapters, it flowed like one continuous story.  The writing is profound and soul-searching, and her characters are so deeply human.  Such depth of emotion and feeling are felt while reading this.

My name is Lucy Barton begins with the narrator reflecting on a particular time in her life when she was hospitalized for appendicitis which becomes complicated by mysterious persistent fevers following the surgery.  This was a pivotal point in the a narrator’s life to reflect back on her childhood with the poverty and abuse that accompanied it and well as project forward into the future as to what she wanted from life and what was to become her life.

There is a powerful dialogue between Lucy and her mother within the hospital and during this, what goes unsaid is just as important, maybe more important than what is said.  The mother tells Lucy story after story of failing marriages, but there is hardly a mention of Lucy’s father.

Sarah Payne, a character in the novel later tells Lucy of her writing about this time period: ” This is a story about love, you know that.  This is a story of a man who has been tortured every day of his life for things he did in the war.  This is the story of a wife who stayed with him, because most wives did in that generation, and she comes to her daughter’s hospital room and talks compulsively about everyone’s marriage going bad, she doesn’t even know it, doesn’t even know what she’s doing.  This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter.  Imperfectly.  Because we all love imperfectly.”  This quote speaks to the major theme of the book so well:  it is about how love can coexist with abuse, neglect, poverty.  The book also speaks to memory and how we can all remember things differently.  How we may choose to hide certain memories or pretend things never happened to cover up for the people we love.  It is shocking towards the end, that she speaks with her brother and sister regularly and how much they choose not to speak about or ask each other about.   Lucy Barton is reminded by Sarah Payne, “to go to the page without judgement”  reminding her “that we never knew, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully.”

Another quote from the book that I really liked:  “It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people.  It happens everywhere, and all the time.  Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”  Throughout the book, Lucy feels distanced and alienated from others because of her poor upbringing.  She and her family were ignored by others in town, and when she went off to college, she often felt that others made comments conveying that they were feeling superior to her circumstances.  She comments to her friend, Jeremy, that she envied the men with HIV, because at least they had a community.  She even feels distanced from her husband by the different circumstances of their upbringing.

This book is filled with love, but also with feelings of melancholy, sadness, fear, terror, loneliness, abandonment.  The characters, feelings, relationships and sentiments are described in such a real, human manner, that the book is very affecting.   I highly recommend this book to anyone, but do think it would appeal more to women.  It was a book that I did not want to end because I loved it so much, but it was just perfect the way it was!  A huge images !!!!!!!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  If you have read other Elizabeth Strout novels, which is your favorite and why?
  2. Why do you think Lucy experienced so much loneliness throughout her life?
  3. Why do you think teaching was so exhausting for Sarah Payne?
  4. What do you suppose Sarah was hiding from her writing?
  5. Do you think Lucy should be somewhat responsible for helping her siblings out?
  6. There were many horrifying memories of Lucy as well as others, like her friend, Molla.  Was there one that struck you particularly?  In what way do you think Molla and Lucy’s childhood memories were similar?
  7. Jeremy tells Lucy to “be ruthless as a writer.”  What do you think he means by this?  Do you believe that Lucy follows his advice?
  8. What do you imagine Lucy’s mother’s childhood to have been like?
  9. In what way or ways do Lucy and her siblings suffer abuse from their father?

Discussion Questions from Elizabeth Strout’s blog

New York Times Review

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide




Published:  February 3, 2015

Pages:  440

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction (2015)

Format:  E-book



This WW2 historical fiction novel was a slow starter for me, however the character development and historical background were so beautifully and masterfully laid out that I was compulsively reading toward the end.  In fact, I was on a plane with tears streaming down my face for the last 15% of the novel.  My 5 year old son asked me what the words were in the book that were making me cry.  How could I even begin to explain!???

This is a heart-rending novel, full of love and compassion, contrasted by war.  The quote that starts the book off and is really the theme weaving itself throughout the novel within each of the characters and their relationship to each other is, “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”  The main plot of this novel pivots on the relationship between two sisters and their different manners of resisting and/or complying with the German occupation of France during WW2.  Their understanding of war grows and helps them to better understand their father and his mistreatment of them when they were younger.

I have not read Kristin Hannah’s other books, but have heard that they are considered more of the “romance” and “chic-lit” genres.  I was somewhat skeptical at the outset of this novel that this might be the same as she is very descriptive in her writing, however, I grew to love and linger on her descriptions of items, people, and geography with such detail.  She describes aromas, tastes, feelings, and an array of other senses so vividly that I as the reader, felt fully transplanted while reading.  But, I also felt that there was a shift in her writing style from pre-war to wartime.  The writing was much more “flowery” in the pre-war era and during wartime things moved more quickly.

Kristin Hannah handled the relationships within the book masterfully.  I love how beautifully she describes the the bonds between sisters, between lovers, between mother and child.  The love, mistrust, abandonment, terror, and so many feelings are so vivid and intense in this book.

This novel goes in and out of present day for the narrator (1995) in America on the Oregon Coast to a third-person narrating 1939 and through WW2 in France.  It is unclear until the end of the book which sister the narrator actually is, Vianne or Isabelle.


This map depicts the occupied and free zones which were spoke of in the book.  Both Vianne and Isabelle are in the Loire Valley during the early part of German military occupation.  Isabelle leaves Vianne to move to Paris and become part of the french resistance and ultimately “The Nightingale” helping to take downed pilots to safety across the Pyrenees, via Tours to Spain.  Vianne’s initial instinct is to protect her child and cooperate, but ultimately resists the French by helping Jewish children to safety.  The book highlights the role of women in WW2.

UnknownLoire Valley pyrennes-spain-3518988The Pyrenees

My overall rating: images  I absolutely loved it!!! Amazing!  Moving!  Deeply absorbing!  A book that stays with you long after you’ve finished it!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why is Isabelle’s title “The Nightingale”?  Is it because nightingales sing mostly at night?  Is there another reason?
  2. How does the book’s opening statement relate to characters in the book?   “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”  How does this play out with Vianne and Isabelle’s father; Vianne; Isabelle; the German officers billeting at Vianne’s house; Antoine?
  3. How does this book compare with other WW2 historical fiction novels taking place in France?  Some examples include “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and “Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson.  Do you have a favorite WW2 historical fiction novel?
  4. Did you find yourself identifying with one sister more than the other?  Did you find yourself admiring one sister more than the other?  Who did you expect to be the narrator at the end?
  5. If you’ve read other Kristin Hannah books, how does this book compare with her other books?
  6. Do you think France felt shame at it’s role in complying with the German occupation and enforcing internment of Jews in camps after the war?

Discussion Guide from Kristin Hannah’s website

Review by USA Today