Tag Archives: New York City

The Changeling by Victor LaValle ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  448

Publication Date:  June 13, 2017

Format:  E-book from Netgalley





This intelligent, intriguing modern day fairy tale starts out in what seems to be a normal world.   It begins with the birth of the protagonist, Apollo, a child of mixed race to Lillian Kagwa (a Ugandan immigrant) and Brian West (a white parole officer.)  His father had held him as a baby telling him he was Apollo, the God.  This becomes a mantra for Apollo later in life.  Brian West disappears by the time Apollo is four years old, but Apollo continues to have dreams, or maybe nightmares, about his father returning.  In a box of items left behind by Brian is a well-read copy of Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There.  The Changeling becomes a retelling of this award winning children’s book.  Apollo is an avid reader and at a young age becomes a buyer and seller of used books.

Even before the witches and trolls appear in this novel, there are hints of the monsters in the ordinary.   In childhood, “Apollo would find himself wondering if he actually was frightening, a monster, the kind that would drive his own father away.”  Then later, Emma’s friend, Nichelle, explains to Apollo, about the nude photo of Emma hanging in Amsterdam.  Nichelle says of Emma, “She looks like a fucking sorceress, Apollo.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

Race and casual racism is discussed throughout this book.  When Apollo is young and trying to sell his books in the higher end spots in Manhattan, the author writes “Every kid with excess melanin becomes a super predator, even a black boy with glasses and a backpack full of books.  He might be standing at the entrance for fifteen minutes while the clerks pretended not to notice him.”  Later in the novel, Apollo is stopped by a cop in a white section in Queens and says, “that was fast.”

This book also speaks to the new age of parenthood, of more involved dads, and of social media.  Apollo Kagwa is one of these new age dads who is very much involved in the parenting of his child.  He enjoys taking him to the playground and bragging with the other dads about new milestones.  He posts countless photographs of his son, Brian, on Facebook.  Apollo’s wife, Emma, meanwhile, begins showing signs of postpartum depression.   She tells Apollo that she has received strange texts of pictures of the baby that have disappeared shortly after receiving them, which Apollo dismisses.  “You’re what’s wrong with our family, Emma. You. Are. The. Problem. Go take another pill.”   The horror in this novel is the experience of parenthood itself, the no-win situation regarding the expectations facing parents, the feeling of needing to protect your child, and ultimately the loss of a child.

Apollo finds a signed first edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with the inscription to Truman Capote, “Here’s to the Daddy of our dreams.”  He knows that this book could have a great payday, however, it does not pay in the way he expects.  After barely surviving the wrath and rage of his wife, he realizes that perhaps his wife was right.  He ends up on a journey with many twists and turns through mystical realms of witches, trolls and even some human monsters.

This novel warns of the dangers of social media and putting your life out there for all to see, judge, and possibly take advantage of.  William tells Apollo, “Vampires can’t come into your house unless you invite them.  Posting online is like leaving your front door open and telling any creature of the night it can come right in.”  It seems that Emma Valentine and Brian Kagwa were the perfect target for trolls with the publicized birth of their son, followed by continuous Facebook posts by Brian.

This book speaks to deeper truths about the monsters within each of us.  The glamer we are able to superimpose over our own misbehaviors to make us feel better about ourselves.  It warns of trolls lurking in everyday places and people.  This book is not simply a retelling or a fairy tale, there are many layers and depths to it.  The social commentary is sharp, but easily consumed within the context of this fantastical setting.  It is about the stories we tell ourselves as well as our children and the effect these stories have on us.  There is some pretty graphic violence though, so consider yourself forewarned.


Discussion Questions:

  1.  In the words of Cal, one of the witches, “A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral.  A great fairy tale tells the truth.”  According to Cal’s guidelines, is this a bad or great fairy tale, or somewhere in between?  Explain.
  2. Why did Brian Kagwa become a changeling.  Who was responsible?  Why was he chosen?
  3. How is Scottish glamer or “glamour” used in this fairy tale?
  4. Why do you think Apollo’s father read Outside Over There to Apollo when he was little?  Discuss the similarities and differences between these two books.
  5. What is the meaning of the inscription in Harper Lee’s book in the context of this book?
  6. What is this book’s message about social media?
  7. What is a changeling?  Where else in literature and film do we see changelings?
  8. Discuss the social commentary of this novel on parenthood and expectations of mothers and fathers from this novel.
  9. What genre do you think best characterizes this novel?


Utube reading of Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There

New York Times Review by Jennifer Senior

New York Times Review by Terrence Rafferty

Interview with Victor LaValle published in the Los Angeles Times

Victor LaValle’s website



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




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





YOU by Caroline Kepnes ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide




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

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




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

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

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