The Supremes at Earl’s All-you-can-eat

The Supremes at Earl's All-you-can-eatThe challenge: to read a novel in less than a week AND prepare an online book club (with some research), while being in the midst of the Winter Olympics craze.  The bonus: with Moore’s story it was almost easy, considering how fun it was to get immersed in his characters’ world.  I didn’t want the feeling to end!  I want to walk into Earl’s All-you-can-eat every Sunday and see what other crazy story is about to unfold among the group.  And after reading it, you’d want to become their friends too.  How this has not been selected as an Oprah pick yet, is beyond me!  Well, seems I’ve got dibs.
I’m here to tell you that this story is one wonderful ride that will keep you laughing all the way to the final page.  Along the route, there is heartache and drama but everything turns out sunny in the end.  Family and friends will do that to you, sometimes.  So, what is this fabulous book about?
Three girlfriends (who have known each other since high school) get together at Earle’s All-you-can-eat every Sunday in their home town of Plainview, Indiana, to stuff themselves silly and get the latest scoop on what is happening in the community.  In the 60’s they were dubbed “The Supremes” because they hung out together all the time but they also supported each other through all the ups and downs—including troubled childhoods and then racial tensions that were happening between their neighborhood and the white folks across the wall on the other side of town.
Odette is the strong one of the group, who was born in a sycamore tree; Clarice is the charming one, who was the first black baby to be born at University Hospital; and Barbara Jean is the one who turns heads wherever she goes, but was born on her teacher’s davenport.  Each woman has their unique personality trait and they compliment one another seamlessly, truly making them seem like a force to be reckoned with.
We are introduced to their spouses and we also travel back in time when the three first become friends and they learn how to cope with the social problems around them during civil unrest.  As Barbara Jean tries to deal with her tragic past (which involved a forbidden love affair with a white man), Clarice struggles to come to terms with her on-going tribulations of a cheating husband (while also contemplating her musical career) and Odette must face the biggest challenge that will question the fate of her future—concerning both her mind and body.
It is easy to conjure up words in a short amount of time when you are passionate about a novel.  I cannot praise this book enough; my only regret is that I did not read it sooner!  If you liked The Help by Kathryn Stockett, this story will mean even more to you.  It makes you feel better at the end too!  It is a novel that possesses heart and soul.  It also has the power to comfort and heal.  I have not read a “feel-good” story like this since the Fall.  Do NOT miss out on this one—you will be sorry if you do.  It is storytelling at its best.  Besides invoking laughter, it is perfect material for book clubs too.

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 Supremes at Earle’s All-you-can-eat, please click on the links below.
From Publisher’s Weekly.

From The Washington Informer.

For information on Edward Kelsey Moore, click below:
http://www.edwardkelseymoore.com/about-ekm.html

Discussion Questions

Here are a few questions that I found from Moore’s website:

-Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean are best friends, but they’re quite different.  What is a defining moment in each of their lives?
-The chapters alternate between Odette’s voice and an omniscient third-person narrator. What is the effect of this in storytelling?  Why does Moore choose Odette as a narrator rather than Clarice or Barbara Jean?

For more of these questions, please refer to the link provided below: http://www.edwardkelseymoore.com/uploads/1/0/6/6/10663888/supremes_reading_group_questions.pdf

Interesting Tidbit
Although I have heard that smoking pot can help cancer patients with pain, I did not know it could also stimulate appetite (as Odette’s mother suggests), which is what many who are diagnosed with the illness need (to gain strength back and fight off infections).  From the National Cancer Institute website, I read how this theory has been tested and may be the case.  For more information on the medical uses of cannabis, please click here.

This book reminded me of …
Several good stories entered my mind, while I read Moore’s novel.  The Help came to the forefront because of the time frame shared between the books.  Even though Moore’s story jumps from the present to the 60’s, it is still very much part of the plot, along with all the hardships that black communities had to face and deal with.  The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis covers similar issues, including spiritual beliefs of congregations and the infidelity of husbands.  When Odette speaks about good and bad omens, that got me thinking about Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters Who Walk This PathIn Dancing Lessons, by Olive Senior, we are shown how the main character deals with her insecurities about getting older, becoming the woman she has always wanted to be and making worthwhile friends.  All these themes mirror Moore’s work.  Finally, with Thrity Umrigar’s The World We Found, friendship is the core point which causes best friends to risk their lives for one another.  Armaiti is diagnosed with cancer, just as Odette is, and we see how the women support one another in similar ways (even though the place and culture is different).

Favorite quote from book:
“I loved that time of day, that time just before sunrise … I was free to appreciate the quiet and the way the yellowish-gray light of the rising sun entered the room, turning everything from black and white to color.  The journey from Kansas to Oz right in my own kitchen.” (p. 5)

Most memorable moment in the story:
I will tell you that this was the most difficult part for me to decide.  There are just too many memorable, crazy, hilarious and shocking moments to choose from that I just want the whole experience to stay with me for a long time.  I do have to settle though, on one that blew me away, in terms of humor and spunk.  Odette’s loyalty to Barbara Jean and her “fearlessness” gets a chance to shine when she threatens to have a boxing match with Forrest Payne, in her underwear. (p. 117)

Next month’s title:
Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

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The Drowning House

The Drowning HouseClare Porterfield is a photographer who is going back to her home town in Galveston, Texas for a photo exhibition that she has been invited to do.  The exhibition is to celebrate the history of the town through portraits and the invitation is made on behalf of the wealthiest man on the island, Will Carraday—who also happens to be the next door neighbor that Clare remembers living beside.  In fact, it is his son, Patrick whom she remembers growing up with when she was young and whom she got quite attached to.
Unfortunately, an incident happened long ago with Clare and Patrick, which involved a burning house and the death of a teenage girl.  It is from this moment that Clare is suddenly separated from Patrick and gets sent to live with her grandmother in Alabama.   Sadly, tragedies seem to follow Clare wherever she goes: before coming back to her beloved island, she has lost her only daughter to an unfortunate accident and her marriage is falling apart.
When she arrives in Galveston, nearly fifteen years later, she is determined to have all her questions answered.  One mystery deals with an ancestor of the Carradays.  Her name was Stella and legend has it that she was killed in the Great Hurricane of 1900.  Another thing she is bent on finding out is why she was forbidden to stay on the island after the episode with the burning house.  Everyone else in Galveston is well aware of all the secrets of the island—even her mother and sister—except for Clare, herself.   She eventually finds out more than she would have ever expected.
As she gets closer to the answers, Clare also remembers moments of her childhood that would best be left unvisited.  When the pieces of the puzzle slowly start coming together, harsh realities are presented to her and she must decide whether it is worth staying in her home town or leaving for good.
Although there are many things to grab your interest in this novel, I found it fell short when it came to the conclusion.  That may have been the author’s point but I thought it could have had more closure at the end.  Do you think the story should have finished differently?

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

To read reviews on The Drowning House, please click on the links below.
From StarTribune.

From The Dallas News.

For information on Elizabeth Black, click below:
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5814862.Elizabeth_Black

Discussion Questions

Here are some questions for you to consider, after reading the novel:

-Did you know much about the Galveston Storm of 1900 before reading The Drowning House?  What do you think it means to live in place like Galveston, where storms are a way of life?
-Almost every character in the book has a secret. Talk about the role secrets play in The Drowning House.  What are some of the different motives that keep the characters from sharing what they know?

For the rest of the questions, please see the following link from Random House: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/217216/the-drowning-house-by-elizabeth-black#discussionquestions

Interesting Tidbit
I never knew that Galveston, Texas had so much history because of the Great Storm that hit the island in 1900.  There is an interesting website you may want to consult that explains the tragedy and provides links to further details about the hurricane.  Click here to access the site.  I also learned that the island was inhabited, at one point, by pirates.  You can find more information about that by clicking here.

This book reminded me of …
This title brought to my mind three other ones that I read recently.  The first book I thought about was The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard.  It involves forbidden loves and father-daughter relationships.  In Lisa Genova’s Love Anthony, there is a character who is also a photographer and views many things around her as snap shots of reality.  Finally, The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic deals with islands and family secrets.  I would say this novel is very similar to The Drowning House.  They both have the same tone and each island lives through tough times (whether through Mother Nature or war).

Favorite quote from book:
“My first photos were of a chair.  The seat, the back slats, from in front, from the side.  I discovered that the act of photography alters the most straightforward objects, perhaps permanently.  That something once observed and photographed, from a certain angle, is never the same again.  I was less interested in things like flowers and sunsets that grew or altered naturally.  Their eventual transformation was to be expected.” (p. 50)

Most pivotal moment in the story:
When Clare finds out what the rest of the town already knows.  (p. 215)

Next month’s title:
The Supremes at Earl’s All-you-can-eat by Edward Kelsey

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Me Before You

Me Before YouIn a quiet town of Britain, Louisa Clark is twenty-six and has just found out that she is out of a job.  She still lives with her parents, as she is the main person who is supposed to support them.  Finding a new job is quite vital but her skills and qualifications are close to nil.  In the household, Lou must sacrifice her bigger room to her younger sister, Treena because she went ahead and got knocked up and now needs the room for both her and her son.  After a trip to the job bank, Lou gets an interview to be a caregiver for a wealthy thirty-five year old quadriplegic, named Will.  Since the money is good, there is no way for Lou to reject it.  What follows is a new stage in her life which will change everything she knows about quadriplegics, but most importantly, herself.  She second guesses her long-time relationship with her triathalon obsessed boyfriend, Patrick; she realizes that Will’s happiness should absolutely be a priority and she discovers her strengths through these two challenges.  Meanwhile, Will is determined to end his life gracefully at Dignitas in Switzerland, right when Lou’s six-month contract ends.
When Lou finds out about Will’s plan, she confides in Treena and together they try to come up with ideas of how to change Will’s decision.  Despite the shaky start to their relationship, Will becomes softer to Lou and she begins to have feelings for him.  Lou joins a forum for paraplegics and their caregivers, to help give her advice on how to deal with Will’s difficult situation.
Lou and Will form a bond that only they could understand and the two proceed to go on outings or attend events that bring a heartfelt smile to Will’s lips.  It is during the six months of Will’s ups and downs that Lou notices the suffering he goes through.  She decides to give him the trip of a lifetime to turn his permanent torture into brief bliss.
True love knows no bounds … or does it?  Perhaps the most ironic and touching part of the novel is the fact that an ill person gives a totally fresh perspective on life to a completely healthy being.
Sadly, Will would not have become the man he is or met Lou if it weren’t for his accident and Lou in turn becomes someone who she never would have imagined becoming.
Moyes’ romantic tale will make you laugh and cry.  It will also open your eyes.

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

To read reviews on Me Before You, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times.

From The Independent.

For information on Jojo Moyes, click below:
http://www.jojomoyes.com/

Discussion Questions
Here are a couple of questions to ponder on, after finishing the book:

-If you were Louisa, would you have quit working for the Traynors?  If yes, at what point?
-Discuss the meaning of the novel’s title.  To whom do the “me” and “you” refer?

For the rest of the questions (which are provided by Litlovers), please click here.

Interesting Tidbit
I had a feeling that an organization like Dignitas did exist but I did not know that Dignitas was the real name of the organization.  I have really been out of the loop in terms of news, such as this.  When Moyes mentions the Rugby player who wanted to end his life at Dignitas, it really was based on truth.  Assisted suicide is one of the things they carry out but they also work on prevention, as well.  What really shocked me, however, was that apparently, not all people who want to end their life there are terminally ill or dying.  I cannot fathom that it is legal to assist someone in dying simply because they are depressed.  Euthanasia is definitely a conflicting topic, especially for those who value life and believe that every life is precious, no matter what a person may be suffering through.  For more information about Dignitas, click here.

This book reminded me of …
At first, I thought that there was only one or two books that brought similar topics to mind but then I realized that several titles popped into my head because of certain things.    One novel was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, only because in both, there are some witty, funny and charming moments that deal with the relationship of an odd but surprisingly well matched couple in love.  The other story was David Nicholls’ One Day.  It is also British fiction and focuses on how the female character tries to win her man but the ending is just as sad as in Moyes’ book.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is also about love between two people, where death is inevitable.  Finally, Lisa Genova’s Love Anthony and Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett are both tales where characters must learn to accept the fate of their loved ones, no matter how painful.  I would compare Moyes’ work to Bridget Jones only because it has the British humour and the main character has to decide which man she truly loves, just as Louisa must do between Patrick and Will.

Favorite quote from book:
“The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life—or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window—is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are.  Or how you might seem to other people.” (p. 58)

Most cruel moment in the story:
Will’s ex-girlfriend and his friend from work finally come to visit him, only to tell him that they are engaged.  I don’t know about you but I really think that move was in poor taste. (p. 49)

Next month’s title:
The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

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The First Rule of Swimming

The First Rule of SwimmingGrowing up on a secluded island of Croatia, sisters Magdalena and Jadranka have learned from their grandfather, the importance of swimming.  The first rule is to make sure you can stay afloat.  In life, they try very hard to do just that, when family secrets find their way back to haunt them after they have grown into young women.  One of the biggest challenges is accepting the fact that they are only half-sisters; Magdalena is the eldest and when she finds out that Jadranka has a different father, she tries to keep this news hidden  from her for as long as she can.
They are raised by their grandparents, since their mother lives on the mainland and has nasty rumours surrounding her.  They also find out at a young age that their uncle had left Croatia for his own safety, during desperate times of war and that his present location is a mystery.  Jadranka knows that she is quite different from her sister and she has the feeling of not belonging.  She is restless, artistic and cannot spread her wings stuck on the island.  She gets an invitation from her cousin (Katarina) in New York, to try her luck there but Jadranka also has other reasons for going across.
When Katarina calls Magdalena to inform her of Jadranka’s sudden disappearance, tension and worry mounts.  Magdalena visits her mother and demands to know the truth from the past.  Their mother, Ana, holds her tongue and allows her older daughter to go search for the younger sibling in America.  It is not long before Ana herself follows her daughter with vital information that might just reveal where Jadranka has hidden.
While stubborn Jadranka is trying to discover who she is and who her real father is, their grandfather is dying and their uncle’s whereabouts have been revealed.  No matter what, Magdalena is just as determined to find her sister and prove to her that their bond is stronger than any sibling tie could be.
This novel spells out the importance of sisterhood, whether or not it is blood related.  It also shows how family secrets can cause more pain and anger than if things were initially mentioned.  In addition, we can see how war can cause much chaos within families because of dangerous situations.  Sacrifices are made with good intentions but may be misunderstood—as in this story.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy (F B8627f) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on The First Rule of Swimming, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times.

From Washington Independent Review of Books.

For information on Courtney Angela Brkic, click below:
http://courtneyangelabrkic.com/bio.html

Discussion Questions
Although at the back of the book it says that a reading group guide can be found from the publisher online, it was not there.  I searched high and low for questions and came up with nothing.  So, I must resort yet again to my own.

1-When Magdalena finds out that they do not share the same father, why do you think she wants to keep this knowledge from Jadranka?

2-Why does their mother, Ana, end up with an abusive boyfriend?

3-Why is Rosmarina such a burden to Jadranka?

4-How do you think Nona Vinka knew about Jadranka?

5-Why is Katarina jealous of Jadranka’s artistic skills and why does she invite her to New York, if this is the case?

6-Why doesn’t Marin bring his sons to visit his birthplace once it is finally safe to do so?

7-How does Jadranka find out about her uncle Marin’s whereabouts?

8-Why doesn’t Jadranka get in touch with Magdalena when she decides to leave Katarina’s house?  Why doesn’t she want to be found?

9-Why doesn’t Ana finally tell her daughters, when they are adult women, the truth about Jadranka’s paternity?

10-Do you believe that everyone finds out the truth about everything in the end?

Interesting Tidbit
Rosmarina is just a fictional island in the story but I did not know that Croatia actually had more than one thousand islands and islets off its shores.  Only 50 of these are actually inhabited today.  One of the remotest islands is called Zirje, so I guess it can be likened to Rosmarina in that resepct but I don’t know how long it takes to get there.  For more information on these islands click on the following link: http://croatia.hr/en-GB/Destinations/Islands

This book reminded me of …
There were several titles that I thought about because there were many themes running through this book.  One of the novels was The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler.  The idea of someone running away without a trace is shared between these stories, even if Jadranka is not a mother leaving her child.  Téa Obreht’s, The Tiger’s Wife came to my mind because it takes place very near Croatia (in the Balkan Peninsula) and there is the grandfather relationship too.  It also reminds me of The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard because of the half-sister relationship.  In terms of The Virgin Cure and The Painted Girls, these had daughters who did not have close connections to their mothers, just as in The First Rule of Swimming

Favorite quote from book:
“It bothered her that so few people knew of Rosmarina—even among New York’s Croatian population—as though it were a mythical kingdom like Atlantis.  It seemed to cast doubt on her sister’s existence by association.  As if one day Magdalena would pull out the photograph she carried for sentimental reasons—a shot of the sisters in a Split photo booth—only to discover a picture of herself, sitting alone.” (p. 173)

Most revealing moment in the story:
When we find out that Ana is not the women people say she is. (p. 242)

Next month’s title:
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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The Dark Road

The Dark RoadImagine you are only allowed to have one child but you get pregnant again, by mistake.  Your government is sending out patrols to make sure that women cannot produce more children.  They find child-bearing women and either insert IUDs into them, sterilize them or abort their fetuses.  This story captures the struggle of one couple fighting for the right to have their second baby.  It takes place in contemporary China, where the one-child policy is still being enforced (after more than thirty years of its implementation) as a “temporary” solution to overpopulation.
Not only does this book have a dark title, it has a dreary plot too.  The sad thing is that it is based on a reality that still exists in China today.  Meili, a young woman in one of the Chinese villages, finds herself pregnant once more.  She already has a daughter with her husband (a professor and descendant of Confucius), Kongzi.  The problem is that the one-child policy is still very much in force and they must now try to leave before they get caught by family planning officers.  They are faced with a forced abortion or a huge fine (which they cannot afford) if they are found.
Their nine year journey takes them from the Dark Water River to, the ironically named, Heaven Township.  If their way of life was not ideal to begin with, in their own town, it is certainly less than that while they flee from the government.  They are left foraging for food and trying to make a living on the water, along with other refugees.  Meili keeps hoping that she could stop having children for the sake of being safe and she pictures herself being a successful woman, owning her own business and dressing in fancy clothes.
Her dreams do not seem unattainable nor surprising in the modern age that they live in, yet the society that they are a part of and the husband that she has married, makes Meili’s wish impossible to reach.  She suffers through unspeakable trials, as her body is truly looked upon as a machine and something which does not belong to her.  In an effort to help the family, Meili tries to act on instincts which she feels is acceptable but gets her into more trouble than planned.
Kongzi’s determination to have a son leaves them living in conditions where fleas, bed bugs, ringworm and polluted waste-water are the norm.  We learn how others in their situation get by day-to-day and also the horrific measures that parents will go through to obtain money (selling their daughters for meat in restaurants or maiming them to collect fees from the street).
The novel opened up my eyes and I was very angry for the majority of the story.  I always say, however, that if a book can make you feel such drastic emotion that it must have been a good read.  Ma Jian’s work is very much of a downer and a perfect title to discuss in book clubs but I would not recommend this to many readers.  It is too depressing to encourage the random library member to pick it up.  Nevertheless, it is something that needs to be written about and acknowledged—just as with any book which explains the horrific truths of mankind’s errors in society.
If you read this book, what are your thoughts?  Do you agree with me?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy (F M1114d) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on The Dark Road, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times.

From The Washington Times.

For information on Ma Jian, click below:
http://us.macmillan.com/author/majian

Discussion Questions
I was looking everywhere for a reader’s guide because this is ultimate book club material.  However, I am left to my own devices, once more.

1-What did you think about the list of words provided at the beginning of each chapter?  What do you believe was the purpose of this?

2-Do you feel that Meili may have been able to avoid the life she is thrown into if she didn’t marry Kongzi?  Would her fantasies have been realistic?

3-There are a lot of references to songs and quotes from the Chinese culture.  Do you think they played an important part in the story?

4-In hindsight, why didn’t Kongzi think about giving Nannan away when he found out Meili was pregnant for the second time?  Could that have solved their problems?

5-Why doesn’t Meili leave Kongzi when she finds out about his infidelity?

6-Carrying on the family line of Confucius is very important to Kongzi.  Do you believe that is his only reason for sleeping with Meili every night?

7-Do you think the infant spirit’s point of view is a tool that is used to foreshadow what will happen to Meili?

8-The way Meili, Kongzi and Nannan live as refugees is described to us in great detail.  How did you feel about the poverty that has affected them?

9-Kongzi is a very unlikable character.  Do you feel sympathy for him at any point in the novel?  Do you think he may just be a by-product of his controlling society or government?

10-What did you feel about Nannan’s view of herself as she grew older?

11-Did you believe that the book would have a happy ending?  What did you gather from the conclusion?

Interesting Tidbit
Meili’s fourth pregnancy lasts an unbelievable five years.  When Meili mentions the old woman who had been pregnant for 60 years, she was not lying.  A few years ago, 92 year-old Huang Yijun of southern China, finally gave birth to a calcified baby.  For more on this story, click on the following link to NBC News.  This anomaly is known as a lithopedion birth and though rare, there has been about 290 cases to date.  As suspected, any baby that stays in the womb for longer than anticipated (such as after 42 weeks) has a slight chance of being stillborn or can be linked to infant death.  The risk increases each week after that.  For information on post-term pregnancy and delivery, see the following link from Web MD.

This book reminded me of …
The topic of this story is the first I have read in a novel, however, there are other books which I thought about because of certain issues.  In both David R. Gillham’s City of Women and Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter, characters feel they need to hide or keep things secretive, lest their government find out about their misdeeds.  This is definitely the case in Ma Jian’s novel.  The peasant life is depicted clearly in The Dark Road, just as it is done in Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy.  We get the feeling of how the poor and rich populations of China share two extremes of a spectrum.  The way Meili is treated by her husband totally reminded me of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also by Lisa See.  The only difference between them is the time period.  Finally, the struggle to hold onto a child or fight for a child’s rights is strong in both Jian’s book and M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans.

Favorite quote from book:
“Shelters occupied by families with young children are surrounded by broken prams and dirty plastic toys.  Washing lines have been strung between the roofs of the shacks.  The grey bras and tights flapping from them look pure white compared to the filth below.  Along the path, pigs nozzle heaps of refuse, searching for scraps to eat, while ducks wade through waste-water streams, ruffling their wet and grimy feathers.  On this hillside, the decaying and the living emit the same morbid stench.” (p. 207)

Most unspeakable moment in the story:
When Meili gets caught at eight months pregnant and is brought to the abortion clinic.  No words can explain the trauma.  I was so horrified and angered that I could not shed a tear.  I can’t even describe the emotion I felt, as I witnessed helpless Meili succumb to the doctors.  I was almost nauseous from the clinic’s monstrous actions. (p. 66-75)

Next month’s title:
The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic

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The Rosie Project

The Rosie ProjectAre you a person who is always late?  Do you smoke?  What about enjoying a drink or two?  If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you would probably fail Don Tillman’s survey for his Wife Project.  This would simply mean that you are not a match for him and so it would be best not to get involved.  Of course, Don has always had a hard time being a sociable person—he does only have two friends.
Set in Australia, Don is a genetics expert who just wants to avoid the hassles of dating to find the right person.  After all, he has never been on a second date.  It is a waste of time to spend precious moments with someone who is not compatible and he knows all about time—he even has a daily schedule set to the precise minute and a fixed meal plan for the week!
Enter Rosie.  She needs to find out who her biological father is and she heads to Don’s office at the university, for his help.  He thinks she is there because she is one of the candidates who filled out his survey.  Very quickly, the Wife Project goes on the back burner as soon as Don is approached with a more tempting proposal: the Father Project.
Without even realizing or admitting it, Don falls for Rosie even though she is the farthest match possible, according to his standards.  What he doesn’t understand is how his feelings are totally illogical to what he knows about the facts.  How could he love Rosie when she is always late, smokes and is a vegetarian?
By helping Rosie to find out who her real father is, they take crazy risks and go great distances together, which will prove to Don how the chemistry between them cannot be denied.
The novel is both charming and humorous.  You will want to cheer for Don and hope that Rosie finds the answer to her paternity question.  If you need a “pick-me-up” type of story, Simsion’s book is the perfect medicine.  It is his debut novel and I’m glad he decided to write it (even if it did take a few years to come to fruition).  I can definitely call this one a romantic comedy and it is a perfect read for women and men alike.  What did you think?  Were you just as smitten by the storyline?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy (F S6143r) and as an e-book.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on The Rosie Project, please click on the links below.
From The Guardian:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/apr/28/rosie-project-graeme-simsion-review

From The Independent:
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/review-the-rosie-project-by-graeme-simsion-8591076.html

For information on Graeme Simsion, click below:
http://graemesimsion.com/?page_id=2

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions to consider after reading the novel.

-At the conclusion of the Father Project, were you surprised to discover who Rosie’s real father was?
-What was your favourite scene in the novel? Why?

For more questions, please go to the following link, from the Text Publishing Company:
http://textpublishing.com.au/static/files/assets/896677ac/TheRosieProject_ReadingGroupNotes.pdf

Interesting Tidbit
Rosie’s mom was convinced that eye genetics was a factor in determining who Rosie’s father really was.  In the “old school” thinking and research, it was widely believed that if a child had two blue-eyed parents, they would also inherit the “blue” gene.  It has now been proven that the child can actually get brown eyes, despite what their parents have.  The details of eye genetics and passing on blue or brown eyes is explained in more depth by clicking on the link below.  Quite fascinating:
http://genetics.thetech.org/how-blue-eyed-parents-can-have-brown-eyed-children

This book reminded me of …
The novel has a wittiness about it that I have read in at least two other books.  I would say that Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is one of those stories which makes you laugh and root for the main man trying to get his woman.  Though the age of the characters are different and it takes place in England instead of Australia, the tones were definitely the same.  Also, Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared had similar fun and silliness as The Rosie Project.  It is not too late even for a centennial man to get a chance at love in the end!  One more book that I can relate Simsion’s work to is The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  Out of the three titles, this one mirrors The Rosie Project the most, simply because both men have a special condition which makes them stand out in society (one with Asperger’s Syndrome, the other with bipolar) and they are determined to have their love life the way they see it happening, not what is really in front of their own eyes.  Not only that but each novel has a point in the story where they end up dancing with their potential girlfriends in front of a larger crowd (whether it is at a Ball or a dance competition).

Favorite quote from book:
“Why do we focus on certain things at the expense of others?  We will risk our lives to save a person from drowning, yet not make a donation that could save dozens of children from starvation.” (p. 110)

Most cute moment in the story:
When Rosie finally proves Don wrong about his ice-cream flavor test and taste-buds theory. (p.227)

Next month’s title:
The Dark Road by Ma Jian

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City of Women

City of WomenBerlin, 1943.  You are seated in a darkened movie theater when a strange young woman sits next to you and asks you to tell the Gestapo (who are looking for her) that she has come in with you.  What do you do?  1) Oblige and lie to the Secret State police. 2) Turn the woman in. 3) Leave the theater without acknowledging her.  Whatever you choose to do will have an outcome that will change everything—if not in your world, then someone else’s.  Sigrid Schröder has been faced with just this situation and she is supposed to be a German soldier’s wife in good standing.  She is later asked to help hide Jews from being sent to the concentration camps.  Sigrid’s decision is understandable when we find out that she has a Jewish lover.
I can say that I have now read quite a few Holocaust books, but never have I approached the topic from the other side (i.e. a focus on those who tried to help runaways).  The novel has a strong tone of Noir fiction and it never gets boring.  There totally is a feeling of mistrust from almost everyone Sigrid meets and you are left guessing who is on who’s side, until the conclusion of the book.
She seems to be at war with so many people, in the midst of a World War.  While her husband is away providing service to his country, Sigrid must live alongside her patriotic mother-in-law, who is more than happy to reveal any traitor for suspicious acts.  Danger is lurking in every corner—from the bombs above, from the Nazis, from “catchers” and from spies.
Things get heated when Sigrid believes that she is helping to hide her lover’s wife and children.  There is an inner war within herself when she debates whether she should hide them or expose them.  Till the very end, you are drawn into a realm with twists and turns—as Sigrid tries to survive in her house, her workplace, the bomb shelter and a world where friends can be foes or vice versa.
I loved this novel.  Gillham first started out as a screen writer and it shows when you read the story.  There is a lot of description and attention to detail, as well as getting a visual perception of everything the characters are doing (you can imagine it being a movie).  Did you like it as much as I did?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy (F G4792c) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on City of Women, please click on the links below.
From USA Today:
http://books.usatoday.com/book/realism-tenderness-elevate-%E2%80%98city-of-women/r817549

From Book Reporter:
http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/city-of-women

For information on David R. Gillham, click below:
http://davidrgillham.com/biography/

Discussion Questions
The following are some questions to get you thinking after reading the novel.

-Did you feel sympathy for Carin Kessler, Frau Junger’s half sister, or for Wolfram? Why or why not?
-How important is amorous passion in the novel?  Is that the driving force that motivates Sigrid?  Is it emblematic of something else?

To get the rest of the questions, please visit the author’s website below:
http://davidrgillham.com/book-clubs/reading-group-discussion-guide/

Interesting Tidbit
There are still some new and different things that I learn from every Holocaust novel and in this one it was the knowledge of “catchers” (Jewish informers hired from the Gestapo to catch other Jews).  I was totally shocked by this, yet after finding out, I contemplated to myself: what other option did some have?  What would you have done?  Apparently, there was a well-known catcher named Stella Goldschlag.  To find out more about her, please click on the following link: http://www.internationalresearchcenter.org/en/holocaust-forgotten-or-revisited/stella-one-woman-s-true-tale-of-evil-betrayal-and-survival-in-hitler-s-germany

This book reminded me of …
Although The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer certainly came to mind, it narrates the hardships of three Jewish brothers born in Hungary and their quest to get a proper education during the beginnings of WWII.  In other words, it shows the side of the Holocaust that I am more familiar with.  When Sigrid hides with fellow neighbors in the bomb shelter, it reminds me of a scene in Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress.  The relationship Sigrid has with her mother-in-law is very reminiscent of another situation in Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay.  Here too, there is a bitter feeling between a young woman and the mother of her husband, where they are also forced to share a roof and live in dangerous times.  One more thing I wanted to mention was that Gillham’s book has the same feel as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards.  Not the violence aspect, but the movie theater subplot and how people are trying to get back at the Nazis, without them knowing.

Favorite quote from book:
“An odor of human dank deepens.  A familiar bouquet by now.  It is the smell of all that is unwashed, stale, and solidified.  It is the smell that has replaced the brisk scent of the city’s famous air.  The ersatz perfume of Berlin, distilled from all that is chemically treated and synthetically processed.  Of cigarettes manufactured from crushed acorns, of fifty-gram cakes of grit-filled soap that clean nothing.  Of rust and clotted plumbing.  Damp wool, sour milk, and decay.  The odor of the home front.” (p. 34)

Most twisted moment in the story:
When Sigrid finds out a shocking secret about her lover, Egon. (p. 318-319)

Next month’s title:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

The Twelve Tribes of HattieThere is a lot of misery in this story.  Where sorrow begins in Hattie’s young life, it continues on with her offspring.  The book is broken up into chapters that look into the lives of Hattie’s twelve children.   It covers the time span from 1925 to present and even though it is a novel, each chapter reads like a short story. Despite the sadness, I still liked the book but I was expecting something different.  I couldn’t say that it was one of my favorite reads, however, there were some parts I admired.
In particular, I enjoyed the moments whenever Hattie was mentioned and how she is viewed as the years go by (whether through her own eyes or through her children’s points of view).  What made me rather unsatisfied were the lives of all her sons and daughters.  We don’t get to know everything about all of them and we are left hanging to wonder what their fates are.
Basically we are introduced to Hattie as a very young mother who is struggling to care for her sick babies, while her husband (August) is out trying to earn an honest dollar—but he can’t seem to hold onto his money long enough to bring it home to the family. Eventually, we learn that their marriage is more carnal than anything else because although Hattie knows that August spends the money on booze and other women, she can’t keep her hands off him at night.  There is a moment when she thinks she could leave August and start a new life with someone else, but she is sadly dissatisfied when she finds out that her new affair is just as disappointing.
The novel focuses on unhappy marriages, grief, depression, racial issues and the estrangement between a mother and her children.  There are instances of hope and reconciliation but in the end, you are still not sure what to think of Hattie as a maternal person.  Granted, nothing can prepare a person to accept their child’s death—in fact, Hattie can almost be excused for the way she behaves with the rest of her nine children afterwards but something leaves me to feel that her life could have been more fulfilling if she took her grief and turned it into unconditional love for the rest of her kids.  Maybe her children would also have had better lives if she focused her attention on them, instead of dwelling on her past and worrying about her own contentment.
There is definitely a lot to discuss in terms of book club material because there is a lot of “meat”.  This is Mathis’ first novel.  What are your thoughts about the story and would you read another book by her?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy (F M4312t), as an ebook and as a CD audiobook.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, please click on the links below.
From The New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/books/the-twelve-tribes-of-hattie-by-ayana-mathis.html?_r=0

From The Guardian:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/feb/08/twelve-tribes-hattie-mathis-review

For information on Ayana Mathis, click below:
http://www.randomhouse.com.au/authors/ayana-mathis.aspx

Discussion Questions
Here are a few questions to think about after reading the book.

-Does August change throughout the course of the novel? Do you feel differently about him at the novel’s end than at the beginning?
-Discuss the use of point of view in the chapter “Alice and Billups.” Whose point of view did you initially trust in this chapter? How does this change by the chapter’s end?

For more questions, please go to the LitLover’s website:
http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/9047-twelve-tribes-of-hattie-mathis?start=3

Interesting Tidbit
When Hattie said that penicillin could have saved her first two babies from pneumonia, it was an afterthought that occurred to her when she thinks of how the medicine would have helped her twins survive, if it was found out sooner.  Indeed, penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Flemming in 1928 (only two years after Philadelphia and Jubilee die) but it was only introduced to the public in 1941.  For more information on the history of penicillin, click on the following link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dm28pe.html

This book reminded me of …
The very first title that came to my mind when I read Mathis’ work was Olive Senior’s Dancing Lessons.  In fact, the tone and theme almost mirror each other.  I will be honest and say that I actually enjoyed Senior’s book a little more but they both deal with black women struggling in unhappy relationships and becoming estranged from their children.  Of course, there is a part or two that reminded me of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  There are those moments where we clearly see the racial prejudices and how some of the white people in a community treat the black citizens as though they were unequal.  Yet even smaller portions of the book made me think of two other novels.  The chapter that explains how Hattie deals with giving her daughter, Ella to her sister, revisits that same feeling of a desperate and helpless parent—just as in M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans.  Finally, Web of Angels, by Lilian Nattel features characters with multiple personalities and I thought of this when one of Hattie’s daughters (Cassie) also has a similar condition.

Favorite quote from book:
“The Negroes and whites in the town knew one another.  For all of the shucking and ducking, they greeted each other frequently, often by name.  There was something almost intimate in their knowledge of one another, and it was this intimacy that disturbed Six most.  These people had probably known each other all their lives, and still one had the power to demand that the other step into the gutter, and that other was cowed enough to do it.” (p. 58)

Most painful moment in the story:
It starts almost right at the beginning.  The description of Hattie’s little ones struggling for breath—for life and the realization that their time in their mother’s arms is short.  Hattie can only look on and cry as her first-born babies die in her embrace. (p. 13)

Next month’s title:
City of Women by David R. Gillham

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The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansI have not read a heart-wrenching, dramatic novel such as this one in a long time.  The power of a parent’s love is clear and it is strongly felt, even if you have never had children.  The time period of the novel matches the plot perfectly, providing a somber backdrop to the story, which is set in Australia (1920’s).
Tom Sherbourne has just come back from serving in the first World War and although he has survived, there are things he lived through and witnessed that he wouldn’t wish on anyone.  Estranged from his brother and father, Tom is offered the post of a lighthouse keeper on isolated Janus Rock.
After being on the island for six months (keeping the seaway safe for ships and maintaining the lighthouse), Tom goes back inland to the town of Partaguese, where he meets his future wife, Isabel Graysmark.  He is amused by her and despite her being nine years his junior, is easily charmed by her personality.  It is not long before he returns to Janus Rock, taking on the lighthouse keeper’s role permanently, with Isabel as his wife.
It is their efforts of trying to become parents without success that starts to take the wind out of Isabel’s sails.  Shortly after they lose another child by a late miscarriage, a miracle washes upon the shores of Janus Rock.  The findings are bittersweet: in a small fishing boat, the couple discover a dead man and a baby girl, who is barely two months old.
The infant is alive and healthy but the absence of a mother is troubling.  Isabel can only  conclude that if there were a mother, she is surely gone as well.  Tom is hesitant about what to do with the baby but he is adamant about writing the event in the lighthouse log and sending word to Partaguese about it.  In her grief and desperation, Isabel believes that the little girl was sent to them from God as a blessing in disguise and convinces Tom to keep the child as their own.  They name her Lucy.
Their secret fools the people of Partaguese (for a time) but it eventually causes much pain and confusion to everyone involved, including innocent Lucy.  Loyalties are broken, lies are told and heartaches ensue.
Never have I been presented with two sides of a story that I felt pulled equally in each direction.  However, as we continue to read, the real tragedy lies in the unhappiness of the poor child (which fails to be acknowledged by all the adults).  This is Stedman’s debut novel and I don’t know much about her but what I do know is that she can write a real captivating story that will challenge you to wonder what is truly just and whose side you should be on.  She offers a strong argument for both sides, which leaves you feeling as though you are swept out to sea but her conclusion will reign you in, like a beam from a lighthouse will guide you to land.
What did you think?

If you are a member of the library we have this title currently in Hard copy (F S812L) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on The Light Between Oceans, please click on the links below.
From USA Today:
http://books.usatoday.com/book/light-between-oceans-is-tough-to-shake-off/r821979

From The Sydney Morning Herald:
http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-light-between-oceans-20120414-1x05y.html

For information on M.L. Stedman, click below:
http://authors.simonandschuster.ca/M-L-Stedman/402860890/biography 

Discussion Questions
Below are some questions to think about after you have read the book.

-Tom believes that rules are vital, that they are what keep a man from becoming a savage.  Do you agree with him?
-Which characters won your sympathy and why?  Did this change over the course of the novel?  Did your notion of what was best or right shift in the course of your reading?

For more questions, please click on the link below to access them from the Litlovers website:
http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/8859-light-between-oceans-stedman?start=3

Interesting Tidbit
I always liked lighthouses and would visit as many as possible when on vacation (depending where I would go).  Stedman’s book was the first one I read that features lighthouse keeping.  In doing some research on these beacons of hope, I found out that one of the very first lighthouses was built in 285BC at Alexandria, Egypt.  For more information on the history of lighthouses, please visit the Lighthouse Preservation Society’s website, by clicking below:
http://www.lighthousepreservation.org/history.php

This book reminded me of …
Surprisingly, I thought of a few different titles when reading this novel.  First off, the way Stedman’s story was written and how it revolves around the ocean and someone being washed ashore, reminded me of Galore by Michael Crummey.  It also made me think about Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House because of the whole notion that if you keep secrets, disaster is bound to strike in merciless ways.  Then I thought about Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, for obvious reasons.  In both books, the fate of the child in question is determined by two families (the biological and the adoptive) and in both instances, the child is a girl.  Another novel that came to mind was Mary Curran Hackett’s Proof of Heaven.  The question of God and how prayers are offered or deals are made between the desperate characters and their Saviour are a strong point in each tale.  The last one I thought about briefly, was Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Yes, the time frame and place in Stedman’s book is completely different from Chiaverini’s novel but they both feature a war, which affects everyone in it and those on the side lines.  In fact, mothers losing sons in battle was a shared theme.  

Favorite quote from book:
“Anyone who’s worked on the Offshore Lights can tell you about it—the isolation, and the spell it casts.  Like sparks flung off the furnace that is Australia, these beacons dot around it, flickering on and off, some of them only ever seen by a handful of living souls.  But their isolation saves the whole continent from isolation—keeps the shipping lanes safe, as vessels steam the thousands of miles to bring machines and books and cloth, in return for wool and wheat, coal and gold: the fruits of ingenuity traded for the fruits of earth.” (p. 109)

Most ironic moment in the story:
When Tom recognizes Lucy’s real mother in Partaguese from a chance encounter he had with her, a few years before.  How he must have felt to know that things from the past could potentially come back to haunt you. (p. 191-192)

Next month’s title:
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

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Telling the Bees

Telling the BeesWhat an insightful and interesting book, despite the fact that it has sad undertones.  Eighty-year-old Albert Honig from California, who is a beekeeper and has been a bachelor all his life, is still a very likable and sympathetic character.  We feel for him when he recalls the day he discovered the bodies of his next door neighbors (The Bee Ladies), lifeless with gags in their mouths and tied up, in their very own house.
We get the sense that Albert has always been a quiet type of person who would keep most things to himself—even vital secrets that, he believes, has no business being mentioned.  After Detective Grayson comes on to the crime scene, however, Albert’s acquaintance of the dead women becomes very important, if not crucial to solving the case.  There is so much more to the story than meets the eye and Albert has to admit with grave sadness that he had distanced himself from the two sisters long before the home burglary was committed.
The horrifying incident allows Albert to remember and analyze everything he did and said in the years that he was friends with both of them (but more so with Claire, whose friendship he cherished dearly).  It also makes him feel tremendous guilt that the crime took place without his knowledge and that he may have been able to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place.  He regrets the years he rarely spoke to Claire because of a past episode that truly offended her and made her angry at him.
As detective Grayson searches for answers by showing Albert pictures from the past, so do memories get conjured up in Albert’s mind—from when he first meets Claire as a young girl, to the last time all communication between them halted because her temper flared due to a certain visit from an estranged family member.
Albert is left to ponder on how silence from pride and hurt or misunderstandings, can cause unnecessary pain.  At one point in the book, he is a witness at court and finds out who the suspects are, which eventually concludes that there was no real motive for the murder.  Yet, almost twenty years after the crime, Albert finds out the real truth regarding the connection between the burglars and the elderly sisters.
Throughout his narration, we also learn about honey bees and beekeeping.  At the start of each chapter, there is a definition of bee terms.  While he tells us his tale, Albert also gives us lessons on how to manage bee hives and delivers facts on the life cycle of honey bees.
Hesketh is a very talented writer.  Her words are lyrical and she uses Albert’s character to weave sentences that are truly literary.  The idea of the plot and how it is presented makes for a genuinely good read.  There is much about this storyline to discuss in a book club.  Telling the Bees is her debut novel and if she continues to write with such a fine skill, I would look forward to any other story she has to offer.  What are your thoughts?  Do you agree with my opinion?

If you are a member of the library we have this title currently in Hard copy (F H584t) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on Telling the Bees, please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post:
http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-25/entertainment/38813086_1_albert-s-bees-claire

From Kirkus Reviews:
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/peggy-hesketh/telling-the-bees/

For information on Peggy Hesketh, click below:
http://peggyhesketh.com/about

Discussion Questions
Here are some questions to answer after you have read the book:

Telling the Bees is narrated from Albert’s first-person perspective, the story unfolding entirely through his internal thoughts and memories.  Did you trust Albert’s recollection of the past?
-Do you think Albert is freed from the past by the novel’s conclusion? Does finally solving and closing a chapter on the murders give Albert a sense of redemption?

For more questions that are generously provided by Oneworld Publications, click below:
http://www.oneworld-publications.com/sites/default/files/books/telling-the-bees-9781851689873-readers-guide.pdf

Interesting Tidbit:
Everything that is mentioned in the novel about bees and beekeeping fascinated me.  There were so many facts that I never even thought about but was impressed when I learned them from this book.  If you are also interested in honey bees or becoming a beekeeper, take a look at this website: http://apiculture.ncf.ca/

This book reminded me of …
There were surprisingly four titles that were prominent in my mind when I read this.  This book had the same tone as The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard.  Something about the farming of bees versus farming strawberries and the melancholy plot just connects these two stories.  Another novel that focuses on beekeeping, of course, is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  I read that one quite some time ago, but the importance of beekeeping is present in both works.  I also thought about how philosophical Albert is in Hesketh’s story and realized that because of the thought processes about truth and life that it conjured up memories of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  Finally, I have to mention Web of Angels by Lilian Nattel.  Claire’s family situation reminds me of what Cathy goes through in her household.  The tragedies of things happening behind closed doors, while others are unaware or choose to be naive, rings true in each book.

Favorite quote from book:
“It was Cicero, I believe, who observed that no snares are ever so insidious as those lurking as dutiful devotion or labeled as family affection.  You can escape from an open foe, but when deceit lurks in the bosom of a family it can pounce upon you before you have spied it or recognized it for what it is.” (p. 262)

Most revealing moment in the story:
As readers, we already guess earlier on in the novel who may be the father of Claire’s baby (David Gilbert).  When Albert reads Claire’s diary nearly 20 years after her death, he sadly realizes the truth about the child’s paternity, even though he had figured out long ago that David was hers. (p. 305)

Next month’s title:
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

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Posted in Literary Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments