Tag Archives: netgalley

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  320

Expected Publication Date:  August 1, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

An intense collection of stories, each one told from the perspective of a young girl living in NYC in the 1990s with parents who had immigrated from Shanghai.  The stories demonstrate the manifestations and aftermath of the trauma experienced by the parents in Mao era China and the varying coping mechanisms they utilize.  Some parents drink excessively, others work such long hours such that they almost never see their children, while others cannot get enough of their children and are by their sides at all times.  One father is physically abusive to his wife while another has an endless string of girlfriends.  There is a grandmother who feels the only worthy thing in life is being a mother, so attempts to become the mother to her grandchildren, confabulating about the days when she breastfed them.  She demands that they love her to an extreme.  These are stories that show how the horrors of a generation (the Chinese in 1960’s China) affect future generations of children (American-Chinese growing up in NYC in the 1990s.)

It is about the children of immigrants in a country where English is not their primary language.  It is about the interaction of these girls with both their families and the outside world.  One girl is made to go back to ESL classes with each move and new school district, even though she has placed out them them repeatedly.  There is an intensity to childhood friendships, a pushing and pulling, a competition that feels far more negative than positive.  The stories delve into the girls’ exploration of their bodies and developing understanding of sex.  It is often vulgar and disturbing.  The emotional aspect of keeping up with peers about sex and foul language is a weight on some of these girls.  The language the children use, both in conversation with each other and with their parents,  is often angry and vulgar.  There is desperation and depression felt through these characters.  These girls are coming of age, learning about themselves and their bodies, learning about their place in the world.  It is all at once confusing, disastrous and exciting for them.

In addition to portraying 1990’s NYC, the author offers glimpses of the year 1966 in China, when schools were out and children ran wild.  The children were given the freedom and power to turn on any adult, accuse them of being counterrevolutionary, and proceed to torture and even kill them.  One disturbing scene had a teacher tortured while tied to a tree by her students out of revenge for shaming one of the students in school.   Anyone could be named counterrevolutionary.  Particularly, anyone who wore their hair long and loose, anyone thought to be an intellectual, a member of the bourgeois class… or simply as a personal vendetta.

The writing is marvelous.  Jenny Zhang is a masterful storyteller.  However, the content is graphic.  It is often horrifying, disturbing and seemingly distasteful. There is no sugar coating on these stories.  These stories are full of grit, grime and dirt.  There is anger, depression, sadness and sometimes joy.  For me, Zhang was a unique original voice.   I am glad I read these stories, but I caution others who might be sensitive to foul language or graphic subject matter.  Sour Heart is the first book to be published with the LENNY imprint, a new imprint, in partnership with Random House, led by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner.

 

Jenny Zhang, the author, her twitter image

Discussion Guide:

  1.  Do the characters in this book face discrimination?  In what forms did it manifest?  Who feels self hatred because of race  and why?
  2. Explain the title of the novel.  Which character is referred to as sour?  Why do you think she is this way?
  3. Many of the characters in this novel are searching for ways to be love or people to love them.  Why is this such a strong theme within this book?
  4. How do you think most of the characters felt? What was their emotional state of mind?
  5. These stories are all told from the female perspective.  Would you describe the writing as feminist?  Why or why not?
  6. Zhang does an excellent job illustrating various experiences of Chinese American families in NYC in the 1990s.  How does she portray/sterotype other races (Dominican, Caucasian, Taiwanese, Hispanics, Blacks) within her stories?
  7. Did you feel that the vulgarity within this book was over the top or genuine to the experience?
  8. What is the motivation for Lucy’s mother to take Frangie in?  How does Lucy retaliate?
  9. In many of these stories there is a competition to be loved most.  Why do you think Annie’s mother needs to be the center of attention and feel the most loved?  Why is this also true for Stacy’s grandmother?
  10. Discuss the evolution of Jenny’s relationship with her brother and how this changes with age.
  11. Mande’s parents have a physically abusive relationship.  Mande and Fanpin become friends because of their mothers.  Why do you think Fanpin becomes domineering over Mande?
  12. What do you suppose happens after Mande’s mother gets pushed out of the car?  Do they go back for her?  Does she survive?
  13. Discuss some of the self destructive behaviors exhibited by the characters in these stories.  Why are these characters becoming self destructive?
  14. We know that the author was born in Shanghai and grew up in Queens.  In one story the protagonist is Jenny.  In another, the family name is Zhang.  How autobiographical do you think these stories or any one story might be for the author?

 

Jenny Zhang’s website

Interview with Jenny Zhang by Charlotte Shane in Medium

Kirkus Review of Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart

The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan-American Highway by Teresa Bruce ~ Book Review

Pages:  320

Published:  June 13, 2017

Format:  E-book care of Netgalley

 

 

 

 

“It isn’t practical, my quest to find my rolling childhood home and say a thirty-years-too-late goodbye to a four-year-old-boy.”

This is a memoir of Teresa Bruce who travels the Pan-American Highway in an avion camper with her husband Gary shortly after marriage.  This trip mirrors the trip that Teresa went on as a young girl in 1974 with her parents and her sister 2 years after the death of her younger brother.  The ultimate goal of the trip is to find the camper that her family had travelled in and eventually sold before heading home.   Ulterior motives include recollecting memories, exploring South America, reconnecting with people whose paths they crossed 30 years prior, understanding her parents better, and coming to terms with her brother’s death.  She seems particularly interested in learning about her parents’ motives and grieving process during this journey.  She does not recollect her parents talking about the death of her brother or even mentioning his name.  It is obvious when meeting people along this journey that her mother spoke to others very much about her dead brother, a realization that surprises the author.

To me, this journey felt very foolish.  Both trips contained near death experiences.  The travelers were pitted against corrupt police demanding bribes.  The travelers made poor choices.  For instance, Teresa brings a gun along, which haunts her the entire trip. They are continuously embarrassed by their apparent flaunting of wealth in their Avion with American plates as they drive through poverty stricken regions.  The writing is disjointed, the characters are coming undone…  So, for me, it was a tedious unenjoyable read.

The journey begins after a visit to Teresa’s home and parents.  What I couldn’t understand was why Teresa never engaged her parents in conversation about the past rather than decide to relive this journey, that for her, didn’t seem enjoyable the first time.  I took a chance on this book from netgalley knowing that I needed to read a travel memoir as part of the BookRiot 2017 reading challenge.  I almost gave up so many times.  I’m surprised that I actually read to the end.  The writing felt disjointed.  It read like diary entries that had been slightly reworked with some facts and tidbits thrown in about the history & geography of the area that didn’t necessary fit with the driving themes of the book.


Map of the Pan-American Highway from Brilliant Maps

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Teresa Bruce, her husband Gary, and her dog, Wipeout, who accompanies them on the trip until her death in front of the Avion.  Picture taken from the Facebook page for “The Drive.”

 

We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  288

Expected Publication Date:  July 4, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

I thought this book was quite brilliant, very literary, and highly intriguing.  It takes place over a few days, however, there are flashbacks to earlier times such that the reader gets a much longer and larger view into the lives of the characters.

The setting is July 1964 during the era of McCarthyism on Seven Island in northern Maine.  Seven is a fictional island home to two very wealthy families whose history is interconnected dating back to  the 1700s.  In present day, each family owns a beautiful house on the island, one yellow and one white.  There is a barn for the animals and outbuildings for the staff, all in bright red.  The Hillsingers are in one house and the Quicks are in the other.  Interestingly, although their histories are connected and the men of these houses married two sisters, their lives have been very separate until these 3 days spent on the island where past and present collide.  There is a huge cast of characters which includes  Billy Quick, Jim Hillsinger, their immediate families, their guests, and the staff.  Within each chapter past and present are described  and the narration jumps from one situation to another.  At first I found this confusing and difficult to track, but fairly quickly on, I had figured out who was who and reading this book was like watching a movie unfold.  It really had a cinematic quality of switching from one scene to another as in a movie.  I can’t compare this quality of the book to another like it, it seemed quite unique.  The effect was tantalizing and compelling, making this a very quick read.  The storyline builds and compounds as the novel progresses reaching the crescendo point by the end.

I won’t say much more as I don’t want to give too much away.  I would definitely recommend this book.  It would make a great beach read as well as a great book club choice.  It contains many historical elements without feeling like it is beating you over the head with them.  They simply exist in the book only because they are important to explaining the characters and their situation.    There are no wasted words in this novel.  It is written succinctly, beautifully and intentionally.   However, the reader, needs to pay close attention, or will miss something.  In short, well written, well researched and well worth the read!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  John Wilkie says “Seven Island is impossible.”  What does he mean by this?  Why does lila enjoy this comment?
  2. In the ARC version, lila’s name is not capitalized while the other characters names are.  Why do you think this is?  What effect does it have on the reader?
  3. “We shall not all sleep” is part of 1 Corinthians “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”  which is also part of the dedication of this novel.  Explain the title and it’s meaning in the context of this novel.
  4. Jim Hillsinger’s father is referred to only as “Old Man.”  Why do you think this is?  Does this have the effect of building him up or diminishing him?
  5. Catta dreams of an eagle dropping out of the sky hunting a rabbit.  Why do you think this it?
  6. Why was it important to Catta to know whether or not the eagles’ nest was a lie or not?
  7. Why was it important for the Old Man to have Catta spend the night on Baffin?
  8. Why does lila find herself now in love with Billy Quick when previously she had merely tolerated him?   What has changed?
  9. In the final conversation between Jim and Billy, Billy is left with the impression that Jim had traded his wife for a list of names.  What do you think the future holds for Billy, Jim and Lila?  Where will there relationships go from here?
  10. Describe the character of James.  Why does he get away with his violent schemes?

Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg ~ Book Review

Pages:  336

Expected Publication:  June 6, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cara Sue Achterberg’s Blog

Review by Olga, author, translator, forensic psychiatrist

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  272

Published: April 25, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elizabeth Strout’s website

Review by Heller McAlpin for NPR

Review by Anthony Domestico in the Boston Globe

Discussion Questions:

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

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  320

Expected Publication Date:  May 9, 2017

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Edan Lepucki’s website

Review by Kaleigh Maeby at Book Stalker Blog

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages: 480

Expected Publication Date:  March 28, 2017

Format: E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

This was a beautiful story of a father – daughter relationship.  It tells of a past pertaining to the father, Samuel Hawley, from which he is trying to protect his daughter at all costs.  His past is Herculean, it is a time of it’s own, yet it cannot be separated from the present.  He has scars from  twelve bullets.  Twelve bullets are the equivalent of the twelve tasks of Hercules, the twelve hours on a clock.  Hawley’s past is shady, but he is a good man and wants the best for his daughter.  His job now is taking care of his daughter.  The chapters describing the circumstances leading up to each bullet striking him alternate with chapters about his daughter coming of age.  It is a unique intersecting of two lives, one in the past and one in the present.

The setting is Gloucester, Massachusetts, a fishing town that has a renowned greasy pole competition in the summer.  However, the author has renamed Gloucester, Olympus, giving it heroic proportions, suitable for the Hercules of this novel to tackle.  He tackles it with humility and for his daughter.  He does not enter the competition to win glory for himself.  The town is well developed in the novel.  The reader gets a sense of the determination and culture of the fishermen.  This is set against the environmentalists, embodied by Mary Titus and her ex-husband, who are fighting to protect against overfishing.

Hawley’s past is tainted.  It is rough and difficult, full of narrow escapes.  The daughter, Loo, is youthful, more innocent.  Their relationship is full of respect and love.  She doesn’t fully understand who he is and what his past is made of, but she is starting too.  She may be innocent, but even she carries pieces of his past within her without even knowing it.  She often feels that sour taste rising in the back of her throat driving her to violence.  In returning to her mother’s hometown, she is subject to bullying, but learns to fight for herself.  She falls for a boy.  She starts a waitressing job.  She is coming of age, understanding her father better and the world at large.

This is a beautiful book which I highly recommend!  I loved the intersection of an exciting shoot ’em up novel combined with a  coming-of-age story and the subtle shift in the relationship between father and daughter.  It was beautifully executed and seemingly timeless.  It was  tender and sweet plus keep-you-on-your-toes, exciting.   

 

Photo from obs-us.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photo from Boston.com

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The author states in the afterward that the 3 themes she is trying to develop are time, death and love.  How are these developed throughout the novel?  Which theme do you think is most important?
  2. In exploring the theme of time, how does the past influence the present and the future in this novel?
  3. Discuss the comparison between Samuel Hawley and Hercules.  How are they similar?  How are they different?
  4. Who are the heroes in this novel?
  5. What were your feelings toward Samuel Hawley?
  6. How does the grandmother feel about Samuel?  Why do you think she does not confront him with her suspicions?
  7. Why does Principal Gunderson become Loo’s ally?
  8. How is the backdrop of the fishing town important to the story?
  9. What elements do each bullet story all have in common?

Interview with Hannah Tinti conducted by NPR

Review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post

Review by Jo’s Book Blog

Ill Will by Dan Chaon ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  480

Published:  March 7, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

 

Unique, dark, suspenseful psychological thriller that cycles back and forth in time focusing on 2 separate sets of murders.  In the 1970s, Dustin’s parents and aunt and uncle were brutally murdered while he and his cousins slept in a trailer in the driveway.  It was his and his cousin, Kate’s, testimony that landed Dustin’s foster brother, Randy in prison.  As a result of this traumatic event, Dustin became interested in studying the psychology of Satanic cults and violence expressed through them.  He developed his thesis around it, testified in many cases as an expert, and currently works as a therapist.  In present day, Dustin’s life starts unravelling as the delicate tendrils that were holding it together gradually give way.  His wife dies of cancer at the age of 43, his two sons have graduated from high school, and his foster brother Randy has been released from prison with the help of the Innocence Project working on his behalf.  In current day, Dustin is drawn into investing a possible homicide cluster of drunk college boys who were determined accidental drownings by the police.

The books chapters are narrated by various different characters (sometimes in the first person and sometimes in the third) and they deeply reflect the mindset of the characters.  The characters become more and more isolated from each, so the reader knows more about what is going on with them than they know what is going on with each other or in some cases themselves.

The chapters from Dustin’s mindset are particularly troubling.  His thoughts and sense of reality seem to be losing footing.  He takes up drinking and smoking.  His thoughts are repeating themselves.  He trails off not finishing thoughts or sentences.   He wonders if he’s in a fugue state.   His cousins and foster brother describe the young Dustin as trusting and gullible.  It seems without his wife as an anchor, he has become so again, particularly with regards to his patient Aqil.  Aqil is obsessed with the “murders” of drunk frat boys that have drown in waterways while intoxicated.  Dustin becomes drawn into “investigating” these incidences with Aqil, presenting himself to others as an investigator or writer.  He confides in Aqil so much that it seems there is a role reversal.  In fact, he knows very little about Aqil, but has become emotionally dependent upon him.  Dustin has trouble seeing what is right in front of him.  His son is getting deeper into drugs and pretends to go to a college he never enrolled in.  Dustin becomes an easy victim once again, trusting and gullible as always, without a strong sense of self.

This book brings up many questions.  What are memories composed of?  How reliable are our memories?  Can a fictionalized statement in the past be remembered as a truth?  What defines us?  Is it our perception of ourselves or how others perceive us?  How does grief shape our thoughts and mental stability?

This is a long, dark twisted mystery delving deep into the psychology of its characters.  At points it’s hard to read as the writing reflects the altered and distressed mental states of its characters.  It experiments with writing in chart format, chunking bits of information together in little boxes,  letting the reader grasp that it is not making coherent sense with the character.  I enjoyed the story and the writing, although it felt more difficult to get through because of it’s style.  I felt the quotations at the beginning of each chapter were perfect for setting the chapter up for it’s intended purpose and were very thought provoking in and of themselves.   The last chapter begins with this quote: “In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.” – Sacheverell Sitwell, For Want of the Golden City.  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Wave tells Kate that she sacrificed them and that this is her reward.  What does she mean by that?
  2. What do you think happens to Aqil at the end of the novel?
  3. Who are the gibbeners and what do they represent in this novel?
  4. How is the self defined?  By those close to us or by ourself?  Why is Dustin so concerned that Rusty will change his son’s perception of him?
  5. How are these two sets of murders connected?
  6. How were Dustin’s parents and his Aunt and Uncle really killed and why?  Who is killing these boys and why?  What is Dustin’s role in each set of “murders”?
  7. Why do you think Dustin becomes wraps up in Aqil’s investigation?
  8. Why do you believe that Dustin’s reality is decomposing in this novel? What factors are contributing?
  9. Why does Wave stop speaking to Kate after Rusty’s trial?
  10. What is the meaning and importance of memories in this novel?
  11. Why doesn’t Dustin want to read the letter written to his wife that he finds in his son’s desk?
  12. Why is Dustin blind to his son’s heroin abuse?
  13. Discuss the meaning of the title?  Ill will toward whom?  From whom?  Why?
  14. Discuss the little mantras that Dustin is always spouting.  What meaning and importance to these have to Dustin?  What does it say about Dustin that he is always spouting mantras?  Which mantras stick out in your mind?

 

Ron Charles’ Review in The Washington Post

Review by Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Times

An Interview with Dan Chaon as conducted by The Millions

Dan Chaon’s website

Trump This! The Life and Times of Donald Trump, An Unauthorized Biography by Marc Shapiro ~ Book Review

Pages: 204

Published: February 26, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Patty for writing a review on goodreads, which piqued my interest in reading this book.  I was one of many people who did not understand the Donald Trump phenomenon during the election, who could not fathom the possibility of him getting elected, but it happened.  I decided I would read this biography to better understand our president, his motivations for becoming president and what his agenda might be.  I’m not sure how much new about our President I learned, however, it was helpful to have all the information in one place.

I felt that I knew the superficial Donald Trump from media attention over many years.  I knew about him as the real estate tycoon, the Apprentice showman, the man with dazzling new beautiful wives, the alleged affairs, and most recently the run for president.  He loves the spotlight and America has seen so much of him, but I was hoping to discover something more.. to explain his run for president as something more than attention-seeking.  This book is well written and researched, covers his life from crib to ascension to president, and is easy to read.

Shapiro describes a Trump who “in his personal and professional life, has been slicker than Mercury and just as hard to handle.”  What we learn from this book is that Donald Trump denies and strikes back when questioned or attacked.  He rarely gives straightforward answers.  He waffles on his positions.  He says outrageous things and gets away with it.

He has had three marriages with beautiful women.  He seems to have been enamored of the concept of “trophy wife.”  He was having an affair with the second while still married to the first.  He tried to broker a deal for Marla (wife #2) with playboy for her to pose nude, which she ultimately declined.

What comes across in this book is that Donald is extremely vain with a mania for branding.  He is a showman and a master manipulator.  He utilizes his privilege and wealth to great advantage throughout his life.  He gets into Wharton business school by way of family ties, he is able to escape the draft by reason of being at Wharton.  He wields his money and power over the media daring them to defy him.  He cares very much about his image and does whatever he can to maintain that image, including bribing journalists.  He is extremely money hungry and very concerned with public perception of his wealth, to the extent that he has actually sued over his perceived underestimation of his wealth by the media.   He is prone to telling stories that are often untrue.  Perhaps the greatest example of this is the propagation of the “birther movement.”  Trump’s insistence on questioning Obama’s place of birth had created a rallying cry so fierce that Obama felt compelled to produce his birth certificate, finally putting the movement to rest.

Donald Trump has proven himself racist.  In his speech announcing his run for president he said “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best.  They’re sending people who have lots of problems.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”  Multiple news outlets reported that  the Trump campaign had paid extras to come and cheer for that rally and others.  Trump has stated that if it were up to him all Muslims would be banned from entering the United States.

Many world leaders have evoked a fascist comparison of Trump and his ideals, including People and NSNBC.  Trump kept a copy of “My New Order,” a book of Adolf Hilter’s collected speeches by his bed according to ex-wife Ivana.  Trump, defending his proposed ban on Muslims, in an interview with Good Morning America, cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use of the Alien and Sedition Acts following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  In February 2016, Trump retweeted a quote from fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini that said, “It’s better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”   In July 2016, Trump retweeted a picture of Clinton next to a star-shaped badge, similar to the Jewish Star of David that read “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever”  against a background of $100 bills.  It was immediately condemned as anti-Semitic, so Trump had the star replaced with a circle and #AmericaFirst.  He would soon be criticized that America First is the name of a fascist organization that encouraged appeasement with Aldolph Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

Donald Trump has proven himself sexist and misogynistic.  Megyn Kelly confronted Trump during one of the first debates with this question, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.  You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.  Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as President and how will you answer the charge of Hillary Clinton that you are part of the war on women?”  Trump responded with anger and further woman-hatred, accusing her of having blood coming out of “her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”    The Access Hollywood tape, released to the world during his campaign, revealed that among other things, Trump felt he could sexually assault any woman he wanted because he was famous.

Trump had found an effective route to the White House in courting white lower and middle class men and women in the heartland of America.  “Trump’s supporters were pro-gun, pro-flag, anti-foreigner and convinced that their shortcomings were the fault of everybody but themselves.  They came from a world that was miles removed from Trump’s.  But when it came to the countless rallies in front of thousands of confirmed believers, Trump was quite capable of speaking their language, especially on the road to the Republican National Convention.”  Trump seemed forever the showman, but had no interest in putting together an actual campaign.  Several high level members  of his campaign resigned after power struggles and subsequently, his long time campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski was fired and replaced briefly by Paul Manafort, before the press discovered he had business dealings with Russia.  Fortunately for Trump, some far-right leaning Republicans, including Jeff Sessions, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and others pledged to back him and began offering some much needed advice, like the need to pick a running mate.

Trump’s main platform for his presidential run was creating jobs, building a wall between the US and Mexico, and banning Muslims from entering the US.  He has allied himself with white supremacists, most notably Steve Bannon.  As Donald Trump’s platform has remained thin, it will likely be Trump’s cabinet members steering the ship.

This book’s publication date per netgalley, amazon and goodreads is February 26, 2016.  However, the copy that I read through netgalley took me through a history of Trump leading all the way up to the day he took office on January 20, 2017.  So, I’m guessing another edition will be released that gives this fuller biography.   Or you can request a copy directly from netgalley, here.  I’m glad I read this.  I did not feel there were a lot of surprises within this book, but it was helpful to read about Trump’s life from start to presidency to get a bigger picture.    Please note, my review is more biased than the actual book.  However, I do find it hard to believe that anyone who would read this book and take it to heart could come away singing Trump’s praises in terms of being an effective or suitable president of the United States.

 

 

Donald and first wife, Ivana

Children:  Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric

 

 

Donald and second wife, Marla Maples

Children:  Tiffany Trump

 

 

 

Donald and current wife, Melania

Children:  Barron

 

 

 

Mark Bowden’s 1997 Playboy Article on Trump – This article is mentioned in the book.  Trump tries to bribe Mark Bowden into writing a more favorable article once he realizes the weekend Mark Bowden is spending at his mansion is going awry.

Non-Fiction Children’s Animal Books!

My two younger children adore reading and learning about animals so much so that that has been the bulk of our reading for the past 8 months.  There are two favorites that I will discuss first and then two more that we read after requesting them from netgalley which I will review subsequently.

 

National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! by National Geographic Kids

Pages:  304

Published: October 23, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

This book is fabulous!  I cannot believe this book that is so densely packed with information entertained my 4 and 6 year old nightly for a period of 6 months.  I might have thought the content would have been too dry, describing the diet, habitat, size and lifespan of animal after animal, however, my children were riveted.  The book is divided into sections by taxonomy:  mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, amphibians reptiles.  Within each section, each page is devoted to a particular animal group and then goes more in depth on 8-10 particular species of that group.  I personally loved learning so much about all these animals.  We would make each page a game with me quizzing my children at the end of each page to see how much they retained.  Our  “Guess the Animal” game in the car has become quite sophisticated as a result of this book.  I loved how at the end of each taxonomy there is a page that goes into records: biggest, fastest, most poisonous, etc.  There are also pages describing researchers studying animal species in the wild which has served as a source of professional inspiration for my son.  If you have an animal lover in your family, I cannot recommend this book enough!  The photos are stunning, the maps detailing where the animals live are highly educational and there is so much depth to this book for great discussion to occur.  

 

Did You Know? Animals by DK Publishing

Pages: 144

Published: May 17, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Having already tackled the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals, there was great enthusiam when this book entered our house, especially from my 4 year daughter.  This book was exactly what she wanted.  She would carry it around the house, begging for someone to read it to her and once it was finished, we would start again at the beginning.  Each page focuses on one animal species and starts with a question to get you thinking.  It discusses the answer to the question and gives descriptive information about the animal with arrows from the text to the relative anatomy.  It usually talks briefly about a couple of other animals who may have a similar behavior or adaption.  Then there is a “quick quiz” which covers topics that usually have not been covered in the text.  This did not cause concern for us.  We usually discussed the question, made a guess and then checked our answers in the back.  The re-reading was satisfying for my daughter because she was able to remember many of the answers to these “quick quizzes,” most of which we had been guessing at the first time around.  The photos are beautiful, the text engaging, and as demonstrated in our family… a great book for reading over and over.  

 

“Different?  Same!”  by Heather Tekavec and  Pippa Curnick (Illustrator)

Pages:  32

Expected Publication Date: May 2, 2017

 

 

 

This is a beautiful and playful animal book that seeks to engage young readers by pointing out differences between groupings of widely different animals and then asking what similarity exists.   The similarity might be stripes, horns, whiskers or shells.  It  is wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated.  It was engaging and fun to read with my four year old.  I would highly recommend this to readers 2-5 years old.  It makes you consider animals in different ways and think about why these vastly different animals might all have horns, whiskers, shells, etc.  We had fun with the last page of the book, pointing at various animals that all had a particular characteristic or habitat.  This is a great book for re-reading and generating discussion! 

 

“Animals Do Too!:  How They Behave Just Like You”  by Etta Kaner and Marilyn Faucher (Illustrator)

Pages:  32

Expected Publication Date:  May 2, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

This book asks the child a question followed by a discussion of how a particular animal likes to do the same thing.  It is playful in that it makes animal behavior seem childlike and fun.  A couple of examples are:  honeybees dance and gazelles play tag.  There are eight such children activity – animal behavior comparisons explored in this book.   This is a great read for any young animal lover, aged 2-5.