Tag Archives: Romance

“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” by Bryn Greenwood

Pages: 346

Published:  August 9, 2016

Literary Awards:  Kirkus Prize Nominee (2016), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2016), Book of the Month’s first Book of the Year Award (2016), Goodreads Best Fiction of Nominee (2016)

 

 

This is a book written by a woman who grew up in Kansas, the daughter of a “very successful” meth dealer who had his own private plane.  At the age of 13, she fell in love with a much older man.  This novel was not meant to be autobiographical, but it definitely draws upon a known past.

This novel has stirred much controversy about the nature of the relationship that develops between the two main characters in this novel.  I admit that as their relationship started to change,  I cringed at the idea of a romantic relationship between Kellen and Wavy, but I grew to love them together.  The book brings up so many questions about the nature of romantic relationships.  Is it better to first experience romance with someone you love and trust or as a fling at a party, like Rene and Amy?  Is engaging in a romantic relationship with a much older man who has been acting as your care-giver breaking boundaries of trust?  Is it morally reprehensible?  Was Aunt Brenda’s extreme reaction to the relationship between Wavy and Kellen due more to her guilt at not being there or true repulsion at the idea of this inappropriate relationship?

I loved Wavy in this novel. I felt she was an angel, a beautiful, bright and intelligent child, trapped in an ugly situation.  Her father is a meth dealer, with multiple girlfriends, not even living at home with her mother.  Her mother has extreme OCD and paranoia which she self medicates with substance abuse.  Wavy is left to her own devices, neglected, ignored, physically injured at times, witnessing the debauchery and reckless behavior of the adults around her.  She appears feral in part due to her neglect and in part due to her mother’s extreme reactions and instructions to her daughter.  Wavy will not speak to people and she will not eat in front of people.  This scares most people around her.  The teachers feel she is a lost cause.  When her parents are in jail, her Aunt Brenda becomes so frustrated by Wavy that she is made to leave.   Only certain special people are able to connect and get through to Wavy.  These include Amy, Donal, her grandmother and Kellen.

I felt so much truth, humanity and love expressed through this book. I loved that this book made me rethink some hard and fast rules that I have for behavior.  I think looking at everything as being black and white is dangerous.  There are always shades of grey.  Wavy and Kellen proved this.  This would make an excellent book club book.  There is so much to discuss and from reading other reviews, there are people with polar opposite feelings about this book!  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did Liam treat Wavy so poorly?
  2. Why did Liam often turn his attention away from Wavy?
  3. Why do you think Liam has so much control over those around him?
  4. Why did Uncle Sean kill Val and Liam?
  5. If you had to clinically diagnose Val, what would her diagnosis be?
  6. Discuss the female role models Wavy had in her life and the effect they had on her.
  7. Discuss the title and it various possible meanings?
  8. How did you feel about the relationship between Kellen and Wavy?  Did your feelings about their relationship change over the course of the book?
  9. Did this book make you re-evaluate your belief systems?
  10. Compare and contrast Wavy’s first experience with sexual activity to Amy and Rene’s.  Which is the better?
  11. Discuss the reasons behind which Wavy does not speak initially and will not eat in front of other people.

 

 

Bryn Greenwood’s Blog

LitLovers Discussion Guide

Interesting Viewpoint from Nobody New Yorker

 

“Sorcerer to the Crown” by Zen Cho

 

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Pages:  371

Published:  September 1, 2015

Awards:  Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel

 

 

 

This magical, fantastical, witty comedy of manners meets magical fairyland is so fun to read.  There is much foreshadowing to provide plenty of excitement and anticipation for the sequel which has not yet been published.  For all it’s playfulness, there is also an underlining seriousness to this novel.  This has to do with the politics of Britain and the treatment of women and people of color.  In fairyland, race does not matter, it is not even noticed.  Likewise, in fairyland, women are equally adept and capable of practicing magic as men are.  This is in stark contrast to England.  Politics and society are portrayed as a comedy of manners in Britain where people are tripping over themselves to maintain decorum despite the pervading racism and sexism.

The story is set in 19th century England.   Upon the death of his guardian and mentor, Zacharias Wythe becomes the “sorcerer royal” more out of obligation, than desire.   Given that he is a freed slave, a black man, there is much outcry against him.  There is an underground movement afoot to unseat him, led by the unscrupulous and dishonest Geoffrey Midsomer.    This all comes at a time when there is a drain on the magic in England, there are political entanglements with magicians from foreign lands, and war is ensuing with France.

Zacharias is asked to visit a school for gentle witches where the main objective is to banish or hide their magical abilities.  Zacharias immediately notices the magical talents of Prunella Gentleman, who was orphaned and left in the care of Mrs. Daubney at a young age.    Prunella has fallen out of favor with Mrs. Daubney, the headmistress of the school and Prunella’s guardian since her father’s death.  She asks Prunella to move to the servant’s quarters, but instead Prunella accompanies Zacharias back to London and begins to study thaurmatorgy with him.  Prunella has recently discovered herself in possession of a singing orb and seven familiar’s eggs.  As she begins to grow her familiars while looking for a husband, her powers grow, and a love interest develops between Zacharias and Prunella.   Prunella is certainly a “Cinderella” character, but one with much bravery, talent and ambition.  It is she who becomes the true star, the heroine of the novel, able to take the reins of her position, to succeed as the ultimate “Sorceress Royal.”

This is, of course, a very simplified and scaled back version of the novel.  There are many subplots within the main plot.  The novel is chock full of an interesting array of characters:  nosy society ladies, seedy politicians, faeries, vampiresses, curious familiars, mermaids, dragons, and much more!

This novel is craftily written, full of surprises and larger than life characters.  It is at once serious and whimsical.  It delights and  exceeds expectations.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction!! images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What similarities do Prunella Gentleman and Zacharias Wythe share?
  2. Is magic seen as good or evil?  How does this differ depending upon the practitioner of magic?
  3. Discuss race and gender in the British society of this novel.  Does the author construe them as they were in 19th century Britain or modern day?   Is there a depiction of white supremacy and institutionalized oppression?  How so?
  4. How is Prunella like a Cinderella story?
  5. Discuss Mak Genggang’s role.
  6. How does Zacharias respond to Sir Stephen’s advice?  How does this differ from when Sir Stephen was alive?
  7. Discuss Prunella’s plans for the future of England.  What specific changes does she have in mind?
  8. How does Zacharias sacrifice himself for Sir Stephen?  How ultimately is the repaired?
  9. What is the value and cost of having a familiar?
  10. Zachary’s does not confront Sir Stephen about his parents until the end.  Please discuss.
  11. Discuss the parallel between Sir Stephen wanting to train a black sorcerer and Zacharias championing the rights of female magicians, or magiciennes.

Review by Marina Berlin published in “Strange Horizons”

Review published on “Galleywampus” blog

Review by Amal El-Mohtar published by NPR

Zen Cho’s website

“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

“The Summer Before the War” by Helen Simonson

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Pages:  496

Expected Publication:  March 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

This historical fiction novel is set in the idyllic countryside of Rye the summer before England enters WW1.  It begins as a comedy of manners as Beatrice Nash arrives at the home of Agatha and John Kent to be the new Latin teacher in Rye.  Agatha’s nephews are there for the summer as well and there develops a romantic interest between Beatrice who has decided not to marry and one of the nephews who had planned on proposing to another woman.  The social milieu of the time is explored throughout this book.   The book explores society’s reaction to divorce, upward mobility, women’s rights, homosexuality, pregnancy outside of marriage (even if the result of rape).    The scope of this book is large.   The reader gets to know the Kents, their nephews, and Beatrice intimately through this novel, as well as their closest friends and associates.  You learn how the politics and society are deeply entangled in the way the town functions and decisions are made.

All plans for the future are turned on their head with the start of the war, however.  First, refugees from Belgium arrive and are taken in by various residents of Rye.  After getting to know and love so many young people in this idyllic setting, the young men begin going off to war.  Some are injured, some are killed; all are affected by the war in different ways.  People come together in ways they wouldn’t have pre-war.  You watch the social fabric and rules start to change in subtle ways.  There is a dramatic shift from prewar to wartime notable in the pace of events.  The speech even changes from verbose to succinct.  As Daniel says to Hugh, “War makes our needs so much smaller.  In ordinary life, I never understood how much pleasure it gives me to see you.”  The characters realize more than ever, through war, what and who is most important to them.

I loved the characters, the hilarity of the social scenes, the budding romance between Hugh and Beatrice.  I loved the social banter, the eloquent wordy ways in which they would argue and criticise each other, especially pre-war.  The characters were very well developed such that I truly cared about them, who they ended up with, and how they fared.  I thought that the contrast between the pre-war scenes and after war was declared very well done.  The final reveal in the epilogue was something I had been wondering the entire book, and I was glad that that piece finally came to light.  I gave this novel  images-2  for a brilliantly written, enjoyable novel complete with family drama, societal etiquette,  romance, and major societal commentaries on the values held by the people in England at the time.

My favorite laugh-out-loud scene in the book is when Agatha Kent and Beatrice Nash are naked sunbathing in Agatha’s garden the morning following Beatrice’s arrival in Rye.

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Map of East Sussex, where Rye is

 

 

 

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Map demonstrating the military alliances of the time

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who was your favorite character and why?
  2. Why did you think Agatha Kent favored Daniel over Hugh?  Did this change after reading the epilogue?
  3. How would you describe Daniel’s relationship with Craigmore?
  4. Why does Lord North dislike Daniel?
  5. How would you describe Hugh’s relationship with Lucy Ramsey?
  6. Is the role of social class and standing more or less important in this novel than it is in modern day England?
  7. How would you describe Snout?
  8. Why did the school not want Snout to take the Latin examinations?
  9. Why do you think the Marbely’s felt that Beatrice needed someone to overlook her finances?
  10. What was the common view of the suffragettes?
  11. How does Agatha Kent wield power in this novel?
  12. What are the accepted roles of women in this novel?
  13. Why do you suppose that Celeste’s father sacrificed her to the Germans that were burning their city?
  14. What is the real reason that the German nanny is sent to America?
  15. What is your opinion of Mr. Tillingham?

 

Helen Simonson’s website

New York Times Review

Lit Lover’s Discussion Guide

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

 

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Published:  February 3, 2015

Pages:  440

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction (2015)

 

 

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.

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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.

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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