Tag Archives: Humor

“Eligible (The Austen Project #4) ” by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

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Published: April 15, 2016

Pages: 513

 

 

 

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

“Pedro, First Grade Hero” by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon

 

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Pages:97

Expected Publication:  September 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

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

“The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood

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Pages: 308

Published:  September 29, 2015

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2015)

 

 

 

“Then he’s unconscious.  Then he stops breathing.  The heart goes last.”

A wacked, absurd novel that becomes obvious satire as the novel continues.  As I read this book, I initially took it very seriously, trying to connect with the characters, understand motives, etc.  However, by the end with the organ harvesting, blue bears knitting by inmates for the pedophiles, sexbots, green man group, Elvises and Marilyns it became obvious that the book is entirely satirical and meant to be comical.  It also serves as a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for.”  Having someone who loves you only because she has had the laser treatment may not be so fulfilling and rewarding in the end.  Perhaps loving someone so completely is easier if you think you’ve had a brain surgery to make you do so.  This novel is very dark and makes you realize that the author believes we are heading as a society in a very unsavory direction.

I was so excited to embark on this novel after reading the premise:  a couple destitute in this futuristic world decides to sign up for “Consilience,”  a social experiment, where you spend alternate months in a prison and in a home with stable jobs within the confines of Positron.  Their relationship becomes strange and a whole lot of sex ensues, none of which is really sexy.  Their freedoms have been lost by joining this program and they have seemingly signed their own personalities away as well.  They become different, much more superficial in their needs and wants.  It’s almost as if having decisions made for them is appreciated, especially on Charmaine’s part.

I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood.  This is the 7th novel of hers that I’ve read and maybe my 6th or 7th favorite of them all.  She’s an excellent writer and this is humorous/chilling social commentary, but I just didn’t connect with it as well as I have some of her other novels.  I must give it images-2 even though it wasn’t one of my personal favorites of hers.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Charmaine continually alludes to her life preceding Grandma Win.  What do you think happened then?
  2. Why do you think Charmaine keeps quoting Grandma Win’s sayings?
  3. Why is Stan leery of getting involved with his brother, Conor, prior to entering Positron?
  4. What is the significance of the blue teddy bears?
  5. Why is it significant that Charmaine has an affair with one of their alternates?
  6. Why do you think Charmaine is willing to kill Stan?
  7. Why do you think Jocelyn coerces Stan to watch the tapes and have repeated sex with her?
  8. What do you think Jocelyn’s full agenda is?
  9. What kind of business do you think Jocelyn and Conor are in?
  10. Do you think Aurora and Phil are happy in the end?
  11. What do you make of Jocelyn’s information at the end to Charmaine for her one year wedding anniversary?  How do you think this will affect Stan and Charmaine’s marriage?
  12. How do you interpret the title?

New York Times Book Review

NPR’s Review of The Heart Goes Last

“Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey

 

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Pages: 272

Published: February 9, 2016

 

 

 

“Ways to Disappear” is a humorous mystery novel whose protagonist is an American woman in Brazil, searching for the woman whose novels she translates into English.  The author utilizes hilarity, magical realism, stories within stories, imagery, and subtleties of word meaning to create her lovable, lyrical, beautiful novel.

Emma, the protagonist,  feels very close to her author, Beatriz Yagoda, through her works as well as her yearly visits with her.  Once she hears that Beatriz has disappeared, seeming into a tree with her suitcase and cigar, she immediately packs her bag and heads to Brazil, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend.  Brazil, and the exciting search for Beatriz, seem a separate and freer world for Emma, one where she is happier and more herself.

The events that ensue are hilarious.  The characters are interesting and perfectly described. I thought the subtext about the difference between American and Brazilian ways of life very accurate and entertaining.

I couldn’t help wondering while reading this novel if the author was a translator herself, which I realized at the end of reading, that she was.  Now I wonder how much of the novel has a root of truth versus fantasy of her own.

This was an excellent read, such an enjoyable ride!  I highly recommend it to everyone.images-2

brazildisappear

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the relationship between Miles and Emma?
  2. What is the reaction of Marcus and Raquel when Emma arrives?
  3. What differences in culture between Brazil and the United States are highlighted in the book?
  4. Why do you think that Beatriz uses characters from her novels when contacting Rocha?  What additional meaning does this lend her communications with him?
  5. Do you think that Raquel questioned her paternity prior to reading the manuscript on her mother’s computer?
  6. Do you believe that Beatriz is still alive at the end?
  7. The novel is preceded  with the following quote:  “For a time we became the same word.  It could not last.” by Edmond Jabes, Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop.   How does this relate to Indra Novey’s novel?

Idra Novey’s website

NPR’s review

“My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman

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Published: June 16, 2015 (in English)

First Published in Swedish:  Sept. 4, 2013

Pages:372

 

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.  That’s just how it is.  For Elsa, her grandmother is her superhero, however as the book progresses Elsa begins to notices superpowers in all those close to her.   This book has a childlike honesty and curiosity to it.  It is told from Elsa’s 7 year old perspective.  There is much humor and sweetness to this book.

It is a heartwarming quirky tale that begins with the relationship between a grandmother and her 7 year old granddaughter.  Granny is eccentric and will do anything to protect and guide Elsa through life.  The 7 year old Elsa is a wise-for-her-age little girl who comes across as “different” from her peers and is the subject of bullying at school.  Her best and only friend is her grandmother.  The grandmother goes to great lengths to distract Elsa from her rough days, including a scene where Elsa and her grandmother sneak into the zoo late at night and when the police arrive, Granny proceeds to throw animal poop at them.

After Elsa’s parents divorce, Granny weaves a series of fantastical fairy tales that take place in a world that Elsa thinks only she and her grandmother know about, the “Land-of -almost-awake.”  The grandmother also teaches her a secret language so they can speak to each other without others knowing what they are saying.

Elsa is not told by the grandmother that she is dying until just before her death at which point she is sent on a mysterious mission whereby she must deliver a series of letters.  Through this process of letter delivering Elsa develops a better sense of who her grandmother was, her grandmother’s relationship with her mother, as well as understands the relationships of those living in the building with her.  These people in her building become sort of an extended family for Elsa.

This fantastical world that Granny tells to Elsa serves as a framework for the Elsa to understand the relationship between all of those around her.  She realizes that these fantastical stories are actually true stories about those around her, and seemingly becomes wiser and more grown up as she understands this.  She appreciates the people around her better, their relationships to each other, and feels more connected to them.

While reading the book, I wondered at the seemingly random titles given to each chapter, but they came together perfectly in the last paragraph of the book.

While the book was originally written in Swedish, it really could have taken place anywhere.  There are a few Swedish cultural references, such as Daim chocolate bars.

images-3map of Sweden

elsa    apartment building layout

I really liked this book.  images-2  It was sweet, endearing, humorous, quirky, lovable.  I was thinking while reading that it would make for very good young adult reading.

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Two other covers.  I find it interesting that another English version (published in Australia) has a different title.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think made Elsa different?
  2. Why do you think the grandmother stopped working when Elsa was born?
  3. Why don’t you think Elsa was ever told directly of the grandmother’s connection to all of the people in the building?
  4. Do you think Britt Marie was changed by her bad marriage?  How do you think leaving the marriage will affect her?  Fredrik Backman has published a novel about Britt Marie in Swedish, that has not yet come out in English.  What do you suppose Britt Marie’s future adventures will entail?
  5. If you read, A Man Called Ove, how does this compare?
  6. If Elsa were describing you as a character in this book, what superpower would she ascribe to you?
  7. What country or countries do you suppose these refugees living in the building are from?

Reading Group Guide from Simon & Schuster

Review by fellow blogger BookNAround