Online Book Club

Hello all!

Happy New Year!  I just wanted to thank you for following me and supporting this blog for almost four years now.  Alas, it is time to change the format of what I have been doing.  I will no longer be having this blog by itself.  Although I know many appreciated it and used my information for their own purposes, it never ended up being a real online book club.  Discussions never took place and I have decided, since it takes up a lot of my time, that I would integrate these types of posts into the CSL library’s blog.  It will no longer be called an Online Book Club but something along the lines of Book Review and will be posted every once in a while, not every month.  I hope you understand and I invite you to follow the library blog, where I will also incorporate my Book Lovers Musings.  You will also find other wonderful information about what the library is offering in terms of service, programs and good old sharing.

Thanks again and all the best!  :)

Melissa

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Frog Music

Frog MusicI really liked this book and had absolutely no idea that it was based on real-life people, until I got to the author’s notes at the back!  I had a feeling this novel would be up my alley because it has a historical setting, which involves murder and brothels to boot!  Not that I am a particular fan of those two topics but put together, Donoghue does a great job creating an atmosphere—bringing you to the San Francisco of 1876.
It is sweltering hot and a smallpox epidemic has spread, causing residents to put up yellow flags outside their buildings and creating an animosity between the Americans and Chinese immigrants.  Among this chaos, Parisian burlesque dancer and prostitute, Blanche Beunon, must find out who killed her only friend (Jenny Bonnet).  Although their acquaintance is brief, Blanche feels drawn to Jenny’s outlandish ways, which include being dressed like a man and catching frogs for a living.  Blanche’s beau, Arthur and his sidekick Ernest, show signs of jealousy and give her the impression that they may have had something to do with the murder.  Added to these triangles,  Blanche also discovers that the one-year-old son she had with Arthur was kept at a baby farm, under terrible conditions.  The personalities come out very strong in each of these characters—I almost don’t know who I like the best!  Even with the difficulties Blanche goes through to stay alive, reunite with her son and find the killer, there are funny moments that she reflects on.
The story goes back and forth between the present situation Blanche is facing and all the events that lead up to this moment.  I especially love how she tries to embrace motherhood with her awkward child, who has rarely seen her face for the better part of a year.
As expected, there are a few sexually explicit scenes in the story, all involving Blanche—if you are not ready to take the nitty-gritty of it, skip over those parts.  If you have read Fifty Shades, then this is nothing for you.  It just goes to show that throughout the history of civilization there were always vulgar ways to enjoy sex and the men who attended these shows were no different from the ones who go to strip clubs today.
I also enjoyed how women’s societal roles are brought to the forefront, showing us what was considered acceptable at that time.  Issues of women’s rights and freedoms, their status and sexual urges are all explored.  There are no two better characters to prove society wrong than Blanche and Jenny.
What did you think of the book?  Did the fact that these people actually existed bring any fascination to the novel or an element of surprise?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy, Large Print and as an audiobook.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

If you enjoyed this novel, you may have already read her other books but in case you have not, here are other stuff she has written:

Stir-fry
Hood

Astray
Room
Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature
The Sealed Letter
Landing
Touchy Subjects: stories
Life Mask
The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: stories
Slammerkin

To read reviews on Frog Music, please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post

From The Guardian

For information about Emma Donoghue, click here.

Discussion Questions

The following questions are to help you talk about the story:

-Discuss the title.  How do frogs relate to the story?

-What taboos does Emma Donoghue address during Frog Music?  Do any of them still exist today?

For more questions to explore, please access them here.

Interesting Tidbit
So, we all know by now that these characters really lived and I found an obituary of “Jennie Bonnet” but the page only loaded once, so I didn’t want to link to something that couldn’t be read.  I also couldn’t find any information about women being banned from entering bars in the evening.  Instead, I found an intriguing article that explains more inspiration and research from Emma Donoghue, which was featured in the New Yorker on April 9th, 2014.  Read it here.

This book reminded me of …
Four books that I had previously read came to my mind while reading this.  It’s been a while but scenes from Sheri Holman’s The Dress Lodger sprang up when the same time period and prostitution is mentioned.  The prostitute also has a baby that doesn’t seem like other children and similarly, there is the presence of an old scary woman.  In The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay it also takes place in historical America (except in New York) and also deals with prostitution.  It even discusses the very young age of prostitutes that men are willing to pay higher amounts for.  One of my all time favorite historical novels is Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White.  When Blanche is offered to be taken care of by an admirer, it brought back memories of Sugar becoming the sole prostitute of a wealthy man and there are also quite a few sexually explicit moments in the novel (same tone as Frog Music).  Finally, Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth showcases the whole issue of testing women’s gender roles and lesbianism.

Favorite quote from book:
“But one of the many things about babies that nobody told her is that every incremental advance makes them harder to handle … before she can get away, P’tit is clawing himself to his feet again, heaving himself up on her brown polka-dot skirt like a sailor climbing rigging.  Or no, like Quasimodo straining at the ropes of the great bells …” (p. 195)

Most unexpected moment in the story:
When we realize John Jr.’s admiration of Blanche goes farther than just a young boy’s crush. (p. 351-353)

Take the poll!


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The Good Luck of Right Now

The Good Luck of Right NowI did not think that this book could make me cry as much as it did.  Yet, it makes for a perfect Summer read too.  I did not even expect to cry when I heard about it—I saw it as a humorous book more than anything.  There are great moments to laugh about, though.  In the end, the novel was a combination of The Rosie Project meeting The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  I also finished it within three days.  I find Matthew Quick has the knack of pulling at your heartstrings just as much as John Green does.  As a reader, you automatically sympathize with the main characters and hope that everything turns out right in the end.

Bartholomew Neil is 39 and has just lost his mother to cancer.  That in itself is sad but what is really quite troublesome is how he is a recluse—he never had any job or friends, besides the Irish priest from his congregation (Father McNamee).  Things take a turn when, after the funeral, Bartholomew finds a signed letter by Richard Gere in his mom’s underwear drawer.  While his mom was deteriorating from the tumor in her head, she would call her son “Richard” many times and Bartholomew connects this phenomenon to the letter she received and the fact that Richard Gere was her favorite actor.

So begins a one-sided relationship, where Bartholomew writes to Richard and tells the actor about how his life is going.  We learn that he has a therapist, Wendy, who is much younger than him and who is in an abusive relationship.  We are also told that he has a major crush on the “Girlbrarian” at his local library, whom he one day hopes to ask out.
When Father McNamee renounces his ties to priesthood and moves in with Bartholomew, that is also the time that Bartholomew decides to go to group therapy and meets a future friend, Max—who happens to be the Girlbrarian’s brother.

Although there are many fun and silly moments in the story, there is a deeper philosophy weaved throughout the book.  Bartholomew calls it synchronicity—when things happen almost by coincidence.  He tries to follow his mother’s view of life and her motto: “The Good Luck of Right Now”, which explains how if one is having a bad day, it is only to give someone else a good one.  The idea of balance to create harmony is explained more specifically in one chapter, which is where I cried a river of tears.
It is through the lovable misfits in the novel that the message is revealed: it is good to be different and it takes all walks of life to make life interesting.  Everyone has a place—even Bartholomew and his newfound friends and everyone has the right to be respected.  I fell in love with the quirkiness of the book and every character that Bartholomew meets.

What was even more special to me was the mention of Ocean City (where I have had wonderful vacations), Saint Joseph’s Oratory (where I had childhood fantasies about getting married there!), Montreal in general (I am from here), Ottawa’s cat Parliament (where I remember going to visit all the time) and that I had a pet bunny named Pooky too (spelled with “ie”)!  Synchronicity?  Maybe🙂

Quick has the skill to write successful stories about those who may feel powerless or in the minority because of their conditions.  He gives a voice and courage to many who may feel like an outcast or unwelcome.  Finally, someone is telling their side.  I don’t know about you, but I put this one up there in my top ten favorites.  Thanks for writing this one, Matthew Quick.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy and as an audiobook.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

If you liked this novel, you may want to read other books by Matthew Quick:

The Silver Linings Playbook (made into a major motion picture)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

To read reviews on The Good Luck of Right Now, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times

From The Star

For information about Matthew Quick, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are a couple of questions to get the conversation started:

-Bartholomew Neil fears he is a failure.  Is he?  How does society determine success or failure in life?  Do these measures work for those who are different, like Bartholomew?

-Bartholomew muses, “What is reality if it isn’t how we feel about things?”  How do you answer this?  Can we create our own reality?

For the rest of the questions, please click here to access them from the BookBrowse website.

Interesting Tidbit:
The famous Cat Parliament did actually exist for many years and probably while the book was being written.  Unfortunately for tourists, the place closed in January of 2013.  Fortunately for the cats, they were adopted into loving homes.  To read about the history of the cat sanctuary, click here.

This book reminded me of …
As I mentioned in the beginning, aspects of the quirky characters and oddball love story is very similar to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project.  Along the same lines of misfits overcoming their insecurities, I thought about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and Quick’s other book The Silver Linings Playbook.  Another title that has fun with dysfunctional families and makes dark topics a little lighter is Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French.  Finally, the philosophical elements and questions mirror one of my favorite books: Philip Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, which is still on a waiting list at our library (after I helped to spread the word).  As in that novel, Good Luck brings up a lot of queries which also provide answers that allow you to contemplate and appreciate certain things—changing your world view. 

Favorite quote from book:
“… in order for someone to win, someone else has to lose; and in order for someone to become rich, many others must stay poor; and in order for someone to be considered smart, many more people must be considered average or below average intelligence; and in order for someone to be considered extremely beautiful, there must be a plethora of regular-looking people and extremely ugly people as well; you can’t have good without bad, fast without slow, hot without cold, up without down, light without dark, round without flat, life without death—and so you can’t have lucky without unlucky either.” (p. 153)

Most revealing moment in the story:
Finding out who “Richard” and Bartholomew’s father really is.  (p. 241)

Next month’s title:
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Take the poll!

 

 

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Bone and Bread

Bone and BreadIn a book whose title has so many symbolic meanings, it is hard to express how I felt about this story when I read the last page.  I really loved the writing and appreciated the relationship between sisters Beena and Sadhana but I wish the conclusion had some finality.  Maybe it does in some way—however, it left me angry with Beena.
I suppose it is fitting that anger and sorrow are the main emotions felt throughout the novel.  It deals with many subjects which can stir up these feelings: politics, complicated family relationships, anorexia and grief.  At the same time, you get a sense of culture weaved into the plot, which somehow manages to invite prejudice moments too.
The Singh sisters would have been twins, if it weren’t for the discrepancy of their birth year.  As Beena is the older sibling, Sadhana is always being watched for her actions—-so it is no surprise that when Sadhana becomes anorexic, her every move is observed like a hawk.  While Beena gains more weight because of an unexpected pregnancy, Sadhana starts withering away to skin and bones.  These life changes happen the year after they lose their mother and are taken under the wing of their Sikh uncle, who is now the owner of the bagel shop, which they live on top of because their deceased father previously owned it.  They are left without parents and no sense of direction.
The story opens with Beena in the present, recollecting memories of the past because she must go back to Montreal after she finds out that Sadhana has died of a heart attack at 32.  Quinn, Beena’s now 18 year-old son, is living with his mom and acting very distant with her.  As the chapters move along in Beena’s voice, we find out about her complicated relationship with her sister and also all her other ties to boyfriends or lovers (one of whom is the father of Quinn).
As the narrative goes back and forth between past and present, we discover the complex personalities of most of the characters and learn certain answers to the mysterious person Sadhana was.  We also see how Beena is trying to take her life back by dating a younger man and closing the gap between her and her detached son.  Because the last words spoken to one another were harsh, Beena needs to know if Sadhana had forgiven her before she died.  Supposedly, the answers lie in Sadhana’s diary, which Beena has difficulty finding in the now vacated apartment.
I immediately got sucked into the book because of the writing style and the storyline kept my attention till the very end.  Even though I would have wanted a more satisfying finish to Beena’s tale, I imagine things eventually right themselves in a fashion.  Life doesn’t always have clear solutions either and if I must describe this novel with only one word (besides haunting), it would be: real.  What is your opinion?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy, as an e-book and as a book club kit.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

If you liked this novel by Nawaz, you may be interested to read her collection of short stories called, Mother Superior.

To read reviews on Bone & Bread, please click on the links below.
From The National Post

From The Globe and Mail

For information about Saleema Nawaz, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are two questions to start off the discussion:

-What role do secrets play in Beena and Sadhana’s lives?

-How does Bone and Bread explore the issue of racism?

Looking for the rest of the questions to continue a thought-provoking debate?  Click here to access them from the publisher.

Interesting Tidbit
The topic that interested me the most, raised awareness, provoked questions and was well researched was, of course, anorexia and how a person lives with it or how it affects loved ones around them.  Scenes with Sadhana’s struggle seem so personal and real that I wanted to know more and look into how the victims of this horrible illness can be helped.  For more information on anorexia and other eating disorders, click here.

This book reminded me of …
In all honesty, I have not read anything like this that made me think of another book.  Sure, I have read about sisterhood and novels with complicated family issues set in Montreal (like Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride), but I cannot relate this story to anything else yet.  Perhaps when I read My October by Claire Holden Rothman, I will see some similarities with setting and character relationships.

Favorite quote from book:
This month, it was hard to choose.  Nawaz had many beautiful sentences which conjured up interesting images and there were wonderful descriptive metaphors or analogies, making the story more poetic.  I chose two quotes.

“… my relationship with Uncle has shifted, grown a new layer of sediment, like a softer sand washed back onto shore.  Things moving, slipping away underfoot, some replaced altogether.  Contempt on both sides giving way bit by bit to respect.” (p.10)

“Growing up seemed to mean that the only kind of pretending that was still safe was pretending we could do without it.” (p. 60)

Most ironic moment in the story:
When Beena and Sadhana cook chicken for their vegetarian mother, with fatal consequences. (p. 77)

Next month’s title:
The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Take the poll!

 

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The Quick

The QuickIf you are looking for something which is similar in tone and theme to Kostova’s The Historian, this may be a good choice.  It is set in historical times and focuses on vampires.  James and Charlotte Norbury have spent most of their childhood without parents, so James relies on his big sister to teach him the alphabet and how to read.
In fact, English Literature is so entrenched in his being, that James eventually becomes a poet and even tries his hand at writing a play.  When he is in his prime and studying in London away from home, he meets a gentleman named Christopher Paige, whom he decides to board with.  Eventually, James can’t deny the feelings he has for his room mate and they start a secret affair.  Just a day before they travel abroad to get away from prying eyes, they get attacked by a vampire.  James’ world is changed forever and Charlotte must find out (the hard way) what has happened to her brother.
The vampires belong to The Aegolious Club and follow strict guidelines about who can become one of them.  A Mr. Mould is part of the society (even though he is not a vampire), as far as doing research for them and occasionally performing autopsies on the un-dead or other unfortunate corpses.  He is promised to be turned when the time is right but the group has become risky with their rules and have started to test their boundaries.  Their nemesis is another group of vampires named The Alia, lead by Mrs. Price, who are a quirky set of individuals and are only looking for their fair share of what they deserve.
All in all, I enjoyed the writing and the characters but I feel that it did not play out how I imagined it would.  There were two things that I wanted to know more about: the sister-brother bond between Charlotte and James and the exploration of James’ homosexuality.  Unfortunately, these two issues fell short of my expectations and though it is almost clear that there will probably be a second book—I was still a bit disappointed how the plot spiraled downward towards the end.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on The Quick, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times Sunday Review

From The Dallas News

For information about Lauren Owen, click here.

Discussion Questions

The following questions are aimed at helping you to start a conversation about the book:

-What literary influences do you see in The Quick?

-Why do the Club members refer to the living as the “Quick”?

For the rest of the questions (provided by Litlovers), click here to access them.

Interesting Tidbit
So, I was wondering about The Aegolious Club and whether or not it really was a secret society.  Well, it turns out that this club was actually made up for the story but the idea for it was probably planted in the author’s mind due to the many “secret societies” that existed in London.  One club was called The Order of Chaeronea (formed in 1897), where gay men would gather and socialize during a time when only a few years prior, they would have been sentenced with the death penalty.  I thought discovering this particular club was quite fitting for The Quick, as this is relatively the time period that James was going through his struggles.  Find out about The Order of Chaeronea and other interesting secret societies by clicking here.

This book reminded me of …
As I mentioned at the top, this novel can give you the same sense as Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian for obvious reasons.  In A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, there is again the whole vampire theme, even though it takes place in contemporary times.  As for Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black, the historical and Gothic feel of the book definitely is comparable, while two other titles came to mind because of certain parts in The Quick.  For instance, The Alia totally remind me of the misfit group in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  Finally, “Doctor Knife” or Mr. Mould makes me think of Sheri Holman’s The Dress Lodger because of the theme of autopsies in historical London.

Favorite quote from book:
“But as he sat and watched the fire, he was also uneasy.  This was not what he was used to.  Perhaps it was like being in a poorly lit room: you saw well enough, because your eyes were accustomed to it.  But if someone brought in a lamp, everything was suddenly very bright—unpleasantly so at first.  You might well hate the person with the light, for arriving so rudely and unannounced.” (p. 42)

Most surprising moment in the story:
When Shadwell and Adeline are faced with much more than they bargained for. (p. 399)

Next month’s title:
Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Take the poll!

 

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Fin & Lady

Fin & LadyWhat a charming and cute novel.  I really liked it, partly because it takes place in the 60’s and uses terms such as “Groovy” and “Good Grief”, while also mentioning classic oldies that I used to hear on the radio when I was young.  What is really nice to see is the bond that becomes strong between Fin and his half-sister, Lady.  It is, first and foremost, about the closeness between siblings and how they would do anything for each other. In this book, Lady becomes Fin’s guardian when he loses his mother at eleven years old.  Their father (who was never really paternal to either of them) has long passed away, so now all they have is one another.  Lady takes the responsibility, at twenty-four, to look after Fin and make sure his finances are all in order for when he becomes of age.  But being so young herself and living in the era of psychedelic enlightenment, she feels unfit to be a proper guardian.  At times it seems like the blind is leading the blind.  She tries her best to steer Fin in the right path, enrolling him in a free-thinking school and dissuading him from taking drugs.  In return, she asks that he help her find the right man to marry before she turns twenty-five. As the story unfolds, you are left wondering who is taking care of whom—but maybe that’s what the message of the novel is all about.  At a certain point among siblings, no matter who is older, one will take care of the other (depending on the situation).  There is certainly love and admiration between them and they want each other to be happy. Fin reminisces with fond affection about his older sister to a specific person in the book, which begs us to ask: who IS this person and why is Fin talking about Lady in only past tense?  We find out the answer as we get closer to the end and though it is sad, it is also sweet.  Many times I laughed out loud and I enjoyed reading about how Fin must tolerate all of Lady’s suitors and even go so far as to choose HIS favorite one.  His life is never the same, once Lady enters it and it is clear through his recollections that he is grateful for the years he did spend with her.  What did you think about the novel?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

If you liked this novel, you may want to read other books by Cathleen Schine:

The Three Weissmanns of Westport
The New Yorkers
She is Me
The Evolution of Jane
The Love Letter
Rameau’s Niece
To the Birdhouse
Alice in Bed

To read reviews on Fin & Lady, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times Sunday Book Review

From Star Tribune

For information about Cathleen Schine, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are two questions to start off a discussion about the book:

-Do you think Lady was happy in New York?

-Do you think Fin & Lady has a happy ending?

For more questions, click here to access the Reading Group Guide.

Interesting Tidbit
I obviously knew about the Vietnam War that took place in the 60’s and Lady worries about whether Fin may become drafted when he is of age.  In the story, there are protests of the war and men trying to avoid going into service (even one of Lady’s boyfriends finds a way out).  What I wasn’t aware of was the fact that this war had the highest resistance to drafting in history, which almost crippled the Selective Service System.  For more information about the evasion of drafting during this period, click here.

This book reminded me of …
As I was reading this, I could not think of any other titles.  I guess the whole plot and time frame is different from the stories I have read so far.  If anything, though, it has the same tone as a Miriam Toews or Heather O’Neill book.

Favorite quote from book:
“Fin was astonished.  Lady, his wild, untamed Lady, who had been so open to the world when the world had seemed so closed—now, now that the world was shaking off the oppression of the straight and the uptight, now when the world was beautiful and free, now Lady, that most beautiful and free spirit, had closed herself off with a vicious snap.” (p. 165)

Most adorable moment in the story:
When Lady gets Fin Desert boots for his birthday but she confuses the size with his age. (p. 135)

Next month’s title:
The Quick by Lauren Owen

Take the poll!

 

Posted in Literary Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Secret of Magic

Secret of MagicThere is a sense of satisfaction when you reach the conclusion of this novel, but there is a lot of sorrow—especially since the unfairness of racism rears its ugly head in a time when even murder couldn’t change the way white people thought.
Joe Howard Wilson is on his way home from serving in the Second World War, decorated with medals for his service—and seated at the back of the bus in the colored section.  At an unplanned stop in Alabama, a few POWs are let on the bus and Joe Howard is asked to give up his seat for them.  Realizing that this is the last straw for him, Joe Howard refuses and dares to talk back.  When the driver lets him have his way, the bus continues on but stops a short while later, only to deposit Joe Howard and leave him stranded amongst a gang of white folk, who beat him to death.
His father, known as Willie Willie, wants justice for his boy and will stop at nothing to get it.  More than a year later, the woman Willie Willie works for decides she can get a good lawyer from New York to visit Mississippi and re-open the case that closed with a dead end.  She sends a  letter asking the law firm in New York to solve this murder and the one person who is just itching to solve this is none other than a woman lawyer, who also happens to be black.  In 1946, being a black lawyer was rare enough but a female one was an anomaly and Regina Robichard decides she can take on the challenge.  She also notices that the woman who sent the note is the very same famous writer who wrote a story (the Secret of Magic), which was banned in Mississippi because of its controversial content.  Regina is familiar with the book because it almost became a Bible for her when she was young.  She is familiar with racist crimes too, as her Daddy was the victim of lynching, even before she was born.
When Regina is finally in Mississippi, she starts living the harsh realities that she could only imagine back in New York.  Finding the truth will be more work and trickier than she thought but it will also endanger her own life if she is not careful.  Does Willie Willie get his reward?  Regina certainly pushes as hard as she can to make it happen but sometimes the law has to be fought in different ways to be acknowledged.
I love novels that are set in the South and particularly ones that take place in the past and deal with civil rights.  Although I thought it would end differently, it still fed my appetite and I am glad I had a chance to read it.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in
Hard copy only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

If you liked this novel, you may want to read Johnson’s first book called The Air Between Us.

To read reviews on The Secret of Magic, please click on the links below.
From Kirkus Reviews

From Clutch Magazine

For information on Deborah Johnson, click here.

Discussion Questions

The following questions are posted to help you form opinions about the story:

-What were Joe Howard Wilsons feelings toward the Calhoun family? What were his feelings toward his father, Willie Willie?

-Who was the most courageous character in the book for you, and why? How do you measure courage?

For the rest of the questions, please click on the link below  to access them from the Penguin website:

http://www.penguin.com/read/book-clubs/the-secret-of-magic/9780399157721

Interesting Tidbit
It shows how much I still don’t know about Civil Rights and the important people who made unforgettable impressions.  Marshal Thurgood is the head lawyer featured in Regina’s New York law firm.  Johnson decided to add his character to the story, to give a realistic taste of the prominent people of that time.  For more information on Thurgood Marshal, click here.

This book reminded me of …
I have read quite a few books now that deal with racial issues, so reading Johnson’s work just brought back scenes from The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis because of similar time frames and subject.  It also reminded me of Edward Kelsey Moore’s novel,  The Supremes at Earle’s All-You-Can-Eat.  The last one I thought of was Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh, only since there is a murder that needs to be solved and the main character wants to find justice for what happened.

Favorite quote from book:
“She started up the driveway, more aware than she’d been since she got here of where she was and of everything around her.  Sloping green lawn, a big white house, white tablecloths, white faces.  As Regina drew nearer, conversation faltered, then stopped altogether, as though she’d turned into a brown cork that, popping along, plugged cheerful words back up into people’s throats.” (p. 289)

Most eerie moment in the story:
When Regina finally has that conversation with Wynne and she finds out who was responsible for Joe Howard Wilson’s death. (p. 322)

Next month’s title:
Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine

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Matadora

MatadoraI was hoping that I would enjoy this book—and I did.  It was well written and I liked the topic of a woman trying to find her calling in a sport that is traditionally and primarily dominated by men.  It is especially trying when said female insists on taking a stand during times of civil unrest and war.
The novel opens with twelve-year old Luna, living on a bull ranch in Spain, where she is an orphan but decides she will change her fate by becoming a female matador.  Essentially, the story just covers about five years of her life (from 1932 to 1937) but it takes place during a dangerous time.  The Garcias, who own the farm, see her passion for bullfighting and also her potential.  They take pains to train her and she ends up in Mexico, where she is able to finally prove herself.
Although her skill and fame earn her the name El Corazon, her desire to face a bull on foot is what she truly wants to attain, back home.  As it is against the law for a woman to fight on foot, she struggles to answer questions that begin to gnaw at her—making her doubt her deepest wishes.  She even starts to realize that she is attracted to women and hides her feelings of lust toward a Canadian redhead, named Grace.
Luna eventually finds out who her real father is (her mother died giving birth) and she does go back to Spain, defending her career against political groups of people (Grace being one of them) who think that bullfighting is cruelty to animals and that she is a murderer.
The book ends during a bittersweet moment and ultimately, it is quite sad and dreary but it still makes for a very good story and brings a lot of subjects to the surface.  There is even a glossary of bullfighting terms at the back of the novel, so you can understand the important words that revolve around a bullfighter’s life.
What did you think about Ruth’s tale?  Would you have preferred for it to end differently?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only. This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

You may also be interested in another book that we have by this author called Smoke.

To read reviews on Matadora, please click on the links below.
From The National Post.

From The Globe and Mail.

For information on Elizabeth Ruth, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are two questions to start off a discussion:

-What is Luna’s greatest desire? What is her greatest fear?
-What causes Manuel to abandon his poetry for violence and bloodshed?

For the rest of the questions, please click on the link below, which is provided by the author’s website:

http://www.elizabethruth.com/downloads/Book%20Club%20Guide%20-%20Matadora.pdf

Interesting Tidbit
I was going to look up information about female matadors but the answers I was looking for were actually found in the author’s notes at the back of the novel.  She mentions the names of real women bullfighters and other small facts.  I did notice, however, that Dr. Norman Bethune makes a guest appearance in the story and I saw how Luna takes part in a little piece of real history (with the Spanish civil war). So, although Luna is not a historical figure, Norman Bethune and his blood transfusion clinic is all fact.  To read more about his efforts at that time, please click here.

This book reminded me of …
Only four titles played in my head when I read this novel.  Some were really just trivial things—for instance, in Proof of Heaven by Mary Curan Hackett, faith in God and then questioning God is very strong in both stories.  Luna’s relationship to animals (her connection to them) brought back scenes from Jan Philipp-Sendkar’s, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  In The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard, we see the love affair between two women being just as passionate as any heterosexual relationship, which is similar to Luna and Grace’s coupling.  Finally, with Timeri Murari’s The Taliban Cricket Club, we see again how a woman in a suppressed society must go against all odds to take part in a sport that is not considered feminine in her culture.

Favorite quote from book:
“A carnival of colour washed over them like holy water.  Sun bathed one side of the ring in pure amber light.  The other fell into shadow.  The sand was a flat gold circle, smooth as velvet, and above them, a cloudless blue sky.  The stands were packed all the way around, pale stone pillars and arches framing a flurry of motion as women in each section fanned themselves, handbills flew, and men argued and placed bets while their children ran the length of the stone bleachers.” (p. 60)

Most risky moment in the story:
When Luna faces a bull on foot for the first time in Mexico.  It is arranged so that no one really knows she is a woman in the ring, until it is too late. (p.187)

Next month’s title:
The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

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A Well-Tempered Heart

A Well-Tempered HeartI just knew that a second book from Sendker would be as transforming as his first novel.  I was hyped when I found out there was a sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  I was drawn in by the new story (as expected) and continued to be fascinated by the author’s knack for weaving tales about people in Burma.
At the beginning of the book, we encounter Julia Win back in New York, trying to live her life as normally as she can.  After her visit to Burma ten years ago, she realizes how her correspondence with her half brother (U Ba) has slowly diminished over the years but she has never forgotten about him.  As a lawyer who deals with many meetings and stress, Julia has been swept up in her busy life and can hardly concentrate on anything else—including her personal life, which has taken a heartbreaking dive.  In the middle of a very important presentation, Julia’s thoughts are interrupted by a strange woman’s voice who starts asking questions about her motives.
As she decides to take a leave of absence from work for a few weeks because of her mental state, she finally contacts U Ba and decides to visit Burma once again.  Although her situation seems unnatural to her, U Ba and other inhabitants of Burma see no oddity with the fact that a woman is speaking to her in desperation.  Their explanation: the voice comes from the spirit of a deceased mother, who is troubled about her devastating past life and is searching for peace.
Some critics who have reviewed this novel seem unkind, in my opinion.  I will admit that Sendker’s debut was more life changing and positive than the sequel, but I still got the same philosophical advice about how people should live their life and how to appreciate the true power of what love can do.
As for those who are disapproving about the spiritual aspects being too “mystical” or commenting that the characters are not “flesh-and-blood” enough,  maybe that is the whole point.  This is a fictional work, after all.  It is all about the eye of the beholder and what someone’s beliefs are, as well as the experience a reader wants to feel when turning the pages of a book.  There is a lot of reality in here that can actually be “taken seriously”, thank you very much.  I mean, with the first story, someone who has the skill to hear heartbeats may be unrealistic but it so magical and unique, nonetheless.  Why take that feeling away from a reader, just because hearing heartbeats doesn’t exist in real life?   What did you think about the second book?  Do you think there will be a third?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on A Well-Tempered Heart, please click on the links below.
From Kirkus.

From Publisher’s Weekly.

For information on Jan Philipp-Sendker, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are some questions to think about after reading the book:

-What role does Burma play in this novel?  How does its landscape, history and ethos provide fertile ground to tease out both Julia and Nu Nu’s journeys?

-If The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was Julia’s quest to find out who her father was, what is it she’s setting out to uncover in this sequel A Well-Tempered Heart?

For the rest of the questions, please click on the link below, which is part of the author’s web page:
http://artofhearingheartbeats.com/reading-group-guide/reading-group-guide-for-a-well-tempered-heart/

Interesting Tidbit
Health care in Burma is really as dire as it is stated in the novel.  I was saddened to know that in the book, only people in the military or those who have money can have access to treatment in hospitals.  I decided to learn more about this.  While I did not seem to find information on that particular fact, I did come across an article that explained how many residents of Burma have taken refuge in Thailand to receive medical care.  If you wanted to know more about this, please refer to the following link: http://karennews.org/2014/02/burmas-medical-refugees-find-health-care-in-thailand.html/

This book reminded me of …
So many titles popped in my head while I was reading this story.  Some, for just a particular scene, others due to the fact that they shared similar tones.  Obviously, the first novel by Sendker (The Art of Hearing Heartbeatswas brought to mind because after all, the main characters are revisited and so is the setting.  It reminds me in certain instances of The Dark Road by Ma Jian because of how bleak things seem for Meili and Kongzi hiding from their strict government, just as Nu Nu and her husband have to struggle with the oppressive authorities in Burma.  This also brought to mind Kim Echlin’s book, The Disappeared because of how so many innocent Cambodians died at the hands of people from their own country—just as the Burmese population must sink or swim with the political views surrounding them.  At the same time, the scene of Thar Thar in the military and living in the camps made me think of the camp scenes in The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  The tough and often fatal days that the soldiers had to suffer through, from deadly threats and starvation are depicted realistically in both stories.  In Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black, there are so many bad things happening one after another to the main character, that it often feels like Nu Nu has the same bad luck or karma (when we follow what happens in her life).  The part where Nu Nu must give her children to the army, can easily be compared to the pain Isabel feels when she must deal with returning her adopted daughter to the biological mother, in The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.  Finally, in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, we see how the American way of life is scrutinized by the Korean population, just as Julia tries to come to terms with the cultural differences between her American upbringing and the Burmese traditions she is exposed to.

Favorite quote from book:
Among many of U Ba’s memorable sayings, this one stuck out for me: “What are people with guns most afraid of?  Other people with guns?  No!  What do violent individuals fear most?  Violence?  I should say not!  By what do the cruel and selfish feel the most threatened?  All of them fear nothing as much as they fear love … People who love are dangerous.  They know no fear.  They obey other laws.” (p. 82)

Most merciless moment in the story:
When Nu Nu is told that she may only choose one son to take out of the army.  Her decision is not surprising, but it haunts her for the rest of her life. (p. 221-222)

Next month’s title:
Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth

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Bellman & Black

Bellman & BlackI think I selected a good book for April 1st: it is a novel that definitely makes you feel fooled.  In fact, at times, I seriously did not know where this story was going.  I still don’t know what direction it intended on taking when I finished it.  I am a little bit frustrated.
On the outset, I had read the summary of the plot and thought it would really be something I would absolutely love.  At the conclusion, however, I felt confused and as if something were missing.  Besides the beautiful and whimsical cover, I thought there would be more to fawn over.  Maybe it was Setterfield’s purpose to get the reader thinking about certain things.
After reading the discussion questions, however, I decided that I may have interpreted stuff in the book differently.  I may actually have some admiration for her novel now.  I truly wish it could have been one of my Five Star Picks, but it won’t make the cut.  This is not to say that there were no interesting moments—-actually, there were more devastating instances than intriguing ones but I hoped that I wouldn’t be left in the dark, like I was, by the end.
My favorite parts are when, at the beginning, William Bellman works at his uncle’s mill (where we learn a bit about dyes and fabrics in the 1800’s) and when he opens up the business for funeral services and goods (hence, Bellman & Black).  It brings me back to a period that I have always been infatuated with.  It made me feel as though I were visiting Upper Canada Village, except this story is set in England.
The tone of the book is very dark and almost “Dickens” in style.  Everything seems to turn out bleak for Bellman just when he is supposed to be in the prime of his life (with a family and a successful business).  Misfortune upon misfortune plagues his days and all because of a rook that he had killed with his slingshot when he was ten years old.  Is the moral of the story to respect all living things, or karma will get you?  Or is it that one should never take for granted the loved ones that surround you?  Maybe it is to show people that not everything is always as it seems.  If anything, I certainly felt that perhaps it is a combination of all three!  There is also a major focus on memory and time.
In any case, there is plenty of food for fodder here, so it is a great book club selection.  If you read Setterfield’s first book (The Thirteenth Tale) and you read this one, did you like one more than the other?  Let me know what you thought.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy and in Large Type.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on Bellman & Black, please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post.

From The Star.

For information on Diane Setterfield, click here.

Discussion Questions

Below are some questions to think about:

-Which parts of the novel did you like most? Which did you like least? Why?
-What did you make of the chapters about the rooks? What roll did they play in the novel?

Please click on the link below for the rest of the questions:
http://bestsellers.about.com/od/bookclubquestions/fl/Bellman-amp-Black-by-Diane-Setterfield.htm

Interesting Tidbit
I never really thought about when funeral services and goods had actually become a business, until reading this book.  I was curious to know about the first funeral parlor and how it all started.  I think I will have to do more research on this.  There are plenty of books but nothing reliable out there on the good old web.  I did come across information about the history of funerals and practices of burial.  If you are interested, you can read the article from the British Archaeology magazine here.

This book reminded me of …
At least four titles came to my mind when reading Setterfield’s novel.  The first was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  There is that same theme of time and how Bellman seems to be forced into some sort of pact with a mysterious man he hardly sees.  The next is David Liss’ The Twelfth Enchantment.  The main character seems to be surrounded by misery and curses, while facing the wrath of the middle classes when their jobs are in joepardy because of the industrial revolution.  In a similar way, Bellman sees his employees trying to achieve better wages from the competition and everyone he knows seems to be cursed or unlucky for an unknown reason.  The other story was The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  Both books share that gothic feeling and horror as innocent people die with almost no explanation and, of course, there is that character in “black” who seems to have control over the people’s fate.  Finally, it strongly reminded me of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol because Bellman becomes so engrossed in his work that he doesn’t notice anything else around him.  He is set on making money and staying successful, while disregarding other aspects of his life—just like Scrooge.

Favorite quote from book:
“The rook is no theatrical conjuror with his top hat full of tricks, deluding your eye into perceiving what is not.  He is quite the opposite: a magician of the real.  Ask your eyes, What color is light?  They cannot tell you.  But a rook can.  He captures the light, splits it, absorbs some, and radiates the rest in a delightful demonstration of optics, showing you the truth about light that your own poor eyes cannot see.” (p. 9)

Most curious moment in the story:
Would you believe that I am stumped?  This novel is full of oddities.  There are too many moments where I thought something would be revealed or a scene which would grab me the most.  I cannot choose a point in the story that struck me, except maybe the part where Dora is drawing herself and illustrates her nose as if it were a beak (as if she were slowly turning into a rook).  It certainly is an interesting notion, especially since she is so very fond of the birds.  It is probably a symbolic message by the author.

Next month’s title:
A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

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