In Colm Toibin’s new book Brooklyn: A Novel we embark a wondrous tale of family and love beyond anything else we have read before. Before leaving her small hometown in Ireland, Eilis is surrounded by her people and cannot find a job worthy of her skills in her small town. As an alternative she considers the idea of moving to New York City, an Irish Priest will sponsor Eilis’ travel to America and she jumps at the opportunity. As Eilis leaves her cautious mother and exuberant sister who have an amazing ability to transgress situations she has some concerns for their well being.
Want an adventure story for women? Well this is it! Eilis has a wonderful sense for numbers and is able to work her way through multiple jobs with this amazing skill. She lives in a boarding house –women only- in Brooklyn where she is working on adapting to her new life, surroundings, and reinventions.
Colm Toibin’s book is truly amazing. This novel is infused with history and so much more and it incorporates knowledge of Ireland as well as individuals who surround her. Colm makes it possible for the reader to connect with characters. Brooklyn: A Novel is a story of inspirational change and alteration, this is a story of the 1950’s, affection, and change. Toibin is able to alter his prose in order to accommodate each character and create interesting language. Brooklyn: A Novel is a wonderful adventure story detailing the search for belonging and a quest for love. Although the novel takes place in the 1950’s it contains a universality that transfers to every individual, we each find a little bit of ourselves in Eilis’ character.
As it was, we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that doesn’t mean that we are alone.”
Okay Ladies, I am writing about a novel that was originally introduced to me via a friend who knew I had a huge interest in the topic. Every Man Dies Alone is a classic story of rebellion during World War II. Originally published in 1947, Rudolf Ditzen –publishing under the pen name Hans Fallada- wrote the novel in a hectic 24 days. This story is one of triumph and rebellion in a country where many of these ambitions were subdued do the impossibility of speaking out against the socialist government.
This story takes place in 1941 in war torn Berlin, where a couple attempts to fight against a hierarchy. The couple has taken it upon themselves to create post cards speaking out against Hitler, the first of which states “Mother! The Fuhrer has murdered my son. Mother! The Fuhrer will murder your sons too; he will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home in the world.”
Every Man Dies Alone details two sides of the story; the first of which is Inspector Escherich whose job it is to locate and condemn the ‘postcard phantom’ and the other is of Anna and Otto Quangel who attempt to stand up against the people that bind them. Fallada is not only able to incorporate the lives of the Quangel’s and Escherich, but also the lives of the individuals who surround them. Particularly Fallada focuses on the individuals in the Quangel’s building, ranging from a timid Jewish grandmother whose husband was arrested, a Judge, and a Nazi supporting family. While many other characters pass in and out of the dialogue it primarily rotates around these distinct individuals.
Mr. Quangel- originally a factory foreman-has kept to himself; however, when he learns that his only son has died in Hitler’s battle, Quangel transforms from his usual passive self to the progressive and aggressive individual who attempts to fight in every subtle way that he could. As his wife states, “No one could risk more than his life. Each according to his strength and abilities, but the main reason was, you fought back.” This is true as the couple quickly grab the attention of the inspector and their postcards begin to populate the city of Berlin.
“We live not for ourselves, but for others. What we make of ourselves we make not for ourselves, but for others…” Fallada’s novel brings light to many issues of triumph that were circulating at this time. Yet we learn at the completion of the novel that Otto and Anna were real individuals- Otto and Elise Hampel-who conducted this campaign for over two years following the death of Elise’s brother. When they were arrested in 1942 the Hampels were executed for their ‘transgressions’. The novel was originally written in German and has been translated into to English for many other individuals, that at times it is obvious that there is some confusion with language. While the original dialogue is translated Fallada’s prose evokes a change in each of us. This is not a triumphant tale of survival it is an act of transgression or resistance it is a small campaign that made a difference and stopped the brutality at least for a little bit. Fallada’s novel was truly amazing and heartbreaking. Every Man Dies Alone enraptures the reader in stories of love and rebellion. It in encompasses everything that we love from a summer beach read but includes historical information and so much more. I leave you with this thought, what would you do in this situation? You would like to think you would speak out but when you consider those who surrounded each citizen you question yourself. So I ask you again, What would you do?
Discussion Questions (adapted from Book Browse)
1. In what way does the apartment house at 55 Jablonski Strasse represent Berlin society as a whole?
2. When we first meet Otto and Anna Quangel we have the sense that their relationship is very static. Does their relationship change over the course of the novel?
3. Hans Fallada creates an atmosphere of fear, where all the characters are afraid of something anything. What is the fear that affects each character? What role does fear play in controlling and motivating Borkhausen? Persicke? Enno Kluge? The judge? Otto? Inspector Zott? Trudel?
4. Although Inspector Escherich is a Nazi, are we supposed to be sympethetic towards him? Does his character change? If so what brings about that change? Why do you think Escherich kills himself?
5. Much of the novel is about disjuncted families – The Quangels, Eva Kluge and her husband and sons, the Borkhausen’s and the Persickes. How does Fallada use the condition of the family to express the condition of the society?
It took me some time to think about how to start this review not for the lack of content or enjoyment but because the topics discussed in this novel are extremely heavy and thought provoking. Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann is strong and endearing. Yet these are only the first words that come to my mind. Do not be put off by the size or the amount of pages, as this novel spans a few years of Eveline Auerbach’s life. Dictated through Eveline’s expressive voice we are led believe that she is battling some form of anorexia amongst a myriad of other things that plague the lives of young adults. We follow Eveline through the ups and downs that adulthood brings, especially in Eveline’s case. From a tumultuous and volatile relationship with men. It becomes evident that Eveline is quite attached to the men in her life going from one man to another.
As we begin the novel she is attached to Jack who is truly infatuated and in love with Eveline, while showing disenchantment with authority depicted during this time. Describing their relationship she said: “For purposes unknown I had been entrusted with the care of his soul, and so it was the vile type of treason for me to have enriched his self-loathing”. Quickly she evolves and falls for Harrison Rourke, their relationship is more than tumultuous – it is destructive and self- abusive- at times even obsessive. Ending the manipulative relationship between Mark and her, not only is the relationship physically abusive but depressive. Eveline is quickly and inexplicably in love with almost every man in her life. Yet as women we might be able to identify with each of Eveline’s relationships. From the extremely volatile to obsessive to abusive we are quickly confronted with the possibility.
At times the literature can be reminiscent of the Twilight novels that dominate teenage literary culture. Evocative of the purely self-destructive manner in which Eveline speaks she says, “When people say time heals, they are wrong. Time simply extinguishes hope.” Eveline Auerbach and Bella Swan certainly have a lot in common ranging from their obsessive nature in men to their self-destructive attitudes. Yet Eveline is so much more than Bella she is prophetic, bratty, dismissive, wise, intelligent, self-deprecating, intelligent, and poetic. Her worldview is suggestive of many disgruntled and disenfranchised youth that was very vociferous during this time period. When considering the opportunity the novel presents it becomes evident that we are educated about so much more then the monotonous life of a young adult.
When considering this new book it was initially not hard for me to connect with yet the language is somewhat verbose and at times evasive. The reader does not fully see the whole picture until the end of the novel. Do not be put off by the evasive language and if you can power through because this novel is certainly worth your time and is profoundly different from anything else of this specific genre. As a reader it becomes possible for us to connect with the piece but also each character you yearn for them simply because you want to belong in their unique group and somehow be the support for Eveline. If I were to suggest that you read one grandiose novel this year I certainly and wholeheartedly support this novel. Specifically for the way it makes you grieve, grow, love, and flourish.
They say a name is everything especially in a country surrounded by rank and position. The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro details the live of Cate who recently returned to London from New York in attempts to escape her past. While her mother is on hiatus in Spain, Cate begins working for her Aunt Rachel at an auction house. In an attempt to revive her niece, Rachel sends Cate to Devon to value the contents of the Endsleigh House. This grand home was a romantic gesture to Irene Blythe from her husband; yet now it is a decrepit and crumbling property which will become a resort. As Cate enters this Victorian world she is thrust back in time to the World Wars and dominates women. Yet there is something particularly intriguing about the Blythe women and everything surrounding them.
As Cate and Jack –Rachel’s assistant- begin to catalogue the items Rachel stumbles a shoebox with secrets from their past and she confiscates them quickly. As she uncovers their secrets she becomes intrigued with every detail of their lives and the disappearance of Baby Blythe. This hidden shoebox includes- ‘an exquisite pair of dancing shoes from the 1930’s, a photograph, a dance card, and Tiffany bracelet. Each of these items links to important details and information about the Blythe sisters that Cate immerses herself into researching their stories. Instead of confronting her own problems Cate delves into this research in search of change and meaning which maybe she can submerse into her own life. After carefully piecing together each of the clues about the Blythe sisters Cate is able to learn more about herself. Yet the story of the Blythe sisters is not a happy one, it is rife with disappointment, destruction, addictive love, and elaborate distractions. Each of these brings Cate closer to a realization about her life and the troubles she has left behind in New York.
As I began this novel I found myself quickly enveloped into the Blythe sister’s mystery, I wanted to know what happened to these women and how could the triumph so readily. I particularly found it interesting that Tessaro included letters from Baby Blythe that helped prune the story and combine the information about Cate. In multiple flashbacks we see Cate’s transition from an up and coming painter to a demolished and heartbroken woman. Particularly at the close of the novel I was yearning for more about these women about how they are changing Cate’s life.
Tessaro’s writing is evasive when it should be and indulgent when it should be. I found myself guessing the identity of these women and much more to Cate’s. At the close of the novel I found myself guessing to the identity of the women as well as the woman in the nursing home. One important factor about the novel is the historical context surrounding it: Many women were sent to hospitals for no reason at all besides what they coined as hysteria to many unbelievable diseases. If you are looking for a novel to get lost in this is truly a good pick while it may not have a substantial amount of information it is intriguing and gripping.
First things first- don’t be put off by the cover art on this book. While it may look dark and gloomy the novel is actually a coming of age story about a fantasy universe. In Paul Hoffman’s most recent novel The Left Hand of God we are transported to another time and place, just as any other fantasy novel. This novel may not be for us women but it is applicable to many of the young adults and boys in your life. Similar to his predecessors he has mastered the creativity and experimentation exhibited in many fantasy novels. As an individual I would not have chosen this book off the shelf for myself or for anyone else however disregarding my original ignorance I was quickly enveloped into the novel. As a virgin to the Fantasy genre –besides Harry Potter- Hoffman was descriptive and a good leader not only was I able to connect with his dialogues but also his descriptions.
This is an alternate world where the boys are destined for the Redeemers at a young age. Not only are they taught to fight -quite brutally- but a myriad of other skills which could lead to their dominance. The sanctuary is rife with men from across the country coming to leave their children in the hands of the brutal men. This institution turns the young careless boys into warriors for a war they are hoping to start. The boys are forced to conform and eat gruel at the prison like institution. Cale- the main character- is stronger than most and equally as suspicious of those around them, especially his captors. As he escapes his captors Cale travels to a new city where he is used once again for his unique expertise. In this‘re-imagined’ world Cale is quickly transformed and becomes powerful and wanted by all. This is an amazing tale of pursuit and battle perfect for anyone interested in fantasy with a slight tinge of humor.
The redeemers rule the land with power and strength, sole authority over these boys, and answer to no one. The rule with such fear that all around them are afraid of them, well everyone except Cale who attempts to flee to Memphis. In this new city is a world of pleasure and lust amongst many other distractions. With the loss of their most precious warrior the Redeemers strike and Cale must come to terms with his abilities and the strength that he has.
Now when I first saw this novel I thought ‘no, this will probably not work for MISS.’ But I was wrong while this may not be perfect for you I am sure you know some teenager who is struggling with things and this novel is a perfect escape. The language is energetic and evasive at the same time where we are intrigued by the details of this story. We are left with many questions; why is the Lord of Discipline cutting apart girls? Arbell Swan-Neck’s mute brother. There are many different questions and plot lines intermingling that it is hard to understand the result of this novel. However we must understand that this is the first of a triad. This novel is intended for those teenage sci-fi readers of the world.
In Danita Carter’s novel Murder in the Hamptons we are thrust into a life of music and money along with the dangers that come with it. When Donovan Smart aka TuSMaRT moves to Coco Beach (Hamptons) everything quickly changes for this quaint little town. The hoity-toitty women and men are each involved in some sort of illicit affair from sexual to monetary schemes. The locals gawk as this rapper and his cronies seep into the neighborhood bringing with them sex, drugs, and money. Donovan is trying to clean up his hard core rap image this year this but it’s difficult when his sister is determined to destroy it.
His songs were profound. He wrote of growing up in a crack infested neighborhood. Where the habit forming synthetic drug had grandmothers selling their bodies to get a ten-dollar hit. He wrote of teenage mothers struggling to work and finish school so they could move out of the ‘good to provide a better life for their children. He wrote of witnessing shootouts and seeing the bullet-riddled bodies of his peers; their young lives snuffed out like insignificant flickering flames right before his eyes. By the time Donovan had graduated from high school, he had a vast catalogue of work, and was ready to make some noise in the world of music. In attempts to change his straight out of the projects look he throws a yacht party to design his image. Yet terrible events happen and Donovan’s “sister” Chyna is found dead in the water. Once her death is deemed a murderer by local female detective Theo everything changes for this quaint little town. We follow Theo as she uncovers everyone’s secrets in search of the murder. From Lars and Remi Braxton, a well to do couple who have multiple homes across the area. Lars an upper east side plastic surgeon with many secrets. Want a sneak peak? Two words: drugs and women. Remi a lonely homemaker who uses her husband solely for his wealth has her own affairs. Liza Lord who secretly lusts after Donovan Smart. Reece Smart, Donovan’s sister, who is stuck living the gangster life and does not want to convert to the good girl she should be. We cannot forget Kalvin, Chyna’s own sexual stalker. Each has their secrets and each can be implicated in Chyna’s death, who did it?
Danita Carter’s thriller Murder in the Hamptons is an interesting novel that provides a look into the lives of the wealthy upwardly mobile Hampton’s elite. While reading this novel I found myself enthralled with the story. Yet at times its construction is confusing as it jumps from present to past without any notification to the reader. I found myself wondering about the progression in hopes that it should have been constructed differently. This was the main thing that detracted me from this novel. Be careful when you are swimming.
Plastic surgery, lies, cheating, hair pulling, prostitution, and table flipping… are you getting the idea yet? You are right girls and boys, I am talking about THE Real Housewives. This tell-all reality show began with Orange County Gates community women who transformed reality show life, as we know it. Coto De Caza and the women that surround the town entertain themselves with tennis to horseback riding and so much more. From the originally fabulous Kimberly Bryant, Jo De La Rosa, Lauri Waring, Jeana Keough, and Vicki Gunvalson these women have changed the world of reality. In this tell all book writers and directors give an in-depth look into the lives and troubles of each woman. These women gab about face lifts, their children, love hexagons, boob jobs, and weddings. Yet this isn’t all that there is, so much more is divulged in this book.
As we progress to The Real Housewives of New York, these women fight with their claws out. Shall I make the introductions? Meet Jill Zarin, the New York native that has it all and knows everyone that needs to be known. She is a connection for EVERYONE. Ramona Singer anyone? She is the queen of opinions and always the instigator – many times she is referred to as Ra-mean-a- with no filter. My personal favorite is Bethenny Frankel who has many different careers in life from being the Hiltons’ nanny, to a pashmina importer (to the right and famous), to representing Skinnygirl books/ margarita mix, and so much more. Kelly Killoren Bensimon a non- New York native- a model and ex wife to Giles Bensimon and the token glamazon. Countess Luann de Lesseps is the queen of etiquette and conduct and yet is she classy? Last but not least Alex McCord Brooklyn bound and the queen of fashion. We learn about their lives and the intricate details that connect them to each other. Yet if that isn’t enough! Can you believe it? As if the book could hold anymore gossip the Housewives of Atlanta are included. Want to learn more? Meet Nene Leakes with a multitude of Nene-ism’s the world grabbed hold of her, even Anderson Cooper. Kim Zolciak anyone? She is unlike anyone else in Atlanta a true Southern Diva with flair. She has a secret too; Big Poppa who buys her everything. Lisa Wu Hartwell is a multi-tasker extraordinaire. Involved in everything from realty to jewelry design. Kandi Burruss a former member of the group Xscape. Finally Sheree Whitfield is a personality of her own. What you learn about these women is quite amazing and intriguing.
Well that’s it! Oh wait I forgot one, didn’t I? That would be lucky New Jersey. These women are ferocious and I love it! In true Jersey Girl style these women are out for it all. Not only are they family and closely linked, they are out for blood. At least Danielle’s blood. From Teresa Guidice- a big haired fast talking Italian-, to Jaqueline Laurita- a good girl who gets involved with the wrong people-, to Caroline Manzo- the dedicated Matriarch-, to Dina Manzo- the baby of eleven siblings (but don’t underestimate her power)-, and last but not least Danielle Staub- the queen b*tch who is all drama. Throwing tables, spending frivolously, and family is what New Jersey is all about. I may have a little prejudice as well as a New Jersey native myself.
As we complete this book it is an extraordinary tell all! This brings us into the lives of each of these crazy women. The jaw dropping outrageous fun is unstoppable. These women are more popular than anything and I cannot help but be intrigued. When reading this book you surely aren’t searching for a good read just good gossip. This is a great tell-all for everyone who loves Real Housewives. The information you hear and read is amazing and intriguing. If you want to learn more you should check out this book!
Alicia Bessette’s writing is compassionate and sweet. As she writes this new novel Simply from Scratch we are overthrown with the illumination of death and the devotion that friends and family have for their loved ones. As we watch Rose Ellen “Zell” Roy deal with the death of her husband, Nick, we see her pain and sorrow, yet so much more. In an homage to her husband she dons his camouflage apron and attempts the impossible –baking. A year after her husband’s tragic death in New Orleans Zell preheats the oven and it starts to smoke and burn alerting the fire department and many of her neighbors. The fire was short lived and left the remains of a charred present from her husband- who knew she would never look in the stove-which alters Zell’s existence. Cooking was Nick’s chore and she hasn’t even turned on the oven since he died.
Continuing her homage Zell decides to enter the Warm the Soul baking contest in order to donate to New Orleans and the Survivors in honor of Nick. As she sits outside in the snow with her Greyhound ‘Captain Ahab’ she contemplates her life and the many things she has lost. As her life long friends attempt to console her she cannot cope with what they represent- the happiness she had when her husband was alive. These individuals serve as a constant reminder of her past. In attempt to escape Zell consults with her nine-year-old neighbor, Ingrid, about cooking and baking. Yet Zell connects with Ingrid in more than one way, the two are both coming to terms with their loneliness and contempt. Ingrid’s imagination is wild and alluring- similar to Zell I get caught up in her innocence. After the initial baking mishap the two unite for the Baking Contest- they both have ulterior motives for wanting to win. Yet despite Ingrid’s obsession with Polly Pinch, whom she thinks is her mother, she has little to no knowledge of baking. The two embark on a wonderful adventure rife with ups and downs which complicate their baking needs, lives, and so much more.
As I began this novel I was excited about the new interesting topic since none of the books I have read thus far revolve around baking or cooking- which is one of my favorite things. The novel quickly grasped my attention as I followed Zell through her ordeal in search of love and so much more. The small town friendship is something I can sorta remember, while my hometown is by no mean small it is tight knit especially with loss. While many of us can be lost in despair it was nice to see a community gather around Zell as she dealt with her anger and sorrow. As Zell begins to heal she is confronted with much confusion and fear.
Throughout the novel Besstte leaves us pondering many different questions about how we would react in a similar situation. Not many authors are willing to explore the grieving process as thoroughly as Bessette did, she was able to examine the issue from many different angles involving many points of view and periods of grieving. To many different people cooking and food are a sense of comfort during a difficult time and that is how Zell attempts to mount her problems. Whether she is cooking what to me seems like a grotesque combination of foods or she is talking in her pirate voice to her Greyhound, Zell is an intriguing and inspirational character. Bessette not only confronts the loss of a loved one but the major issue of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I generally appreciate the diversity of her dialogue from monologues to emails corresponding with her dead husband. We are able to take a glimpse at the inner dynamics of each character.
At the close of the novel –following many different baking catastrophes- Ingrid and Zell create something amazing which they coin Scrumpy Delight. Okay so I tried the recipe. First let me preface with the fact that I am allergic to pineapple so I substituted apples instead. It was pretty good! I really loved the combination of cheeses and apple flavor. While you may initially look at this recipe and think gross, give it a try and let me know how it works for you! My favorite recipe for desert is Amy Oh’s Very Best Cookies. I truly loved the humor and relationships throughout the book. I would recommend Simply from Scratch to anyone looking for a heart-warming story of love and triumph over all odds.
He did it, he confessed; yet did it really make him feel better or horribly worse because he profited from it. In this new novel by Leah Stewart Husband and Wife Sarah Price does it all, she has abandoned her dreams to pursue a lackluster career which will benefit her family and support them throughout the ups and downs. Her husband is a stay at home daddy who happens to double as a writer. With the release of his new novel Infidelity one has to wonder where he got his inspiration, is he writing fact or fiction? Well it happens to be based on some truth as the novel opens Nathan confesses to cheating on Sarah at a writers conference. Yet he has the audacity to tell her before they attend their friends wedding where they are to give a toast to marriage. Sarah begins to realize that throughout her marriage they –her and Nathan- have changed altering their life from a happy balanced relationship to mayhem. As she fears for the dissolution of her marriage she wonders what she should do as she relies heavily on her husband to support her children while she is at work. She struggles with the idea of should she kick him out? Or forgive him?
As I travel through this novel I am left pondering the same questions, what would I do? Yet, Leah Stewart gives you more than that as the novel is filled with so much prose that it tickles your tongue as you savor each world. I was particularly delighted with the way that Leah Stewart was able to intertwine many different forms of dialogue and prose therefore exhibiting her talents. When I began this novel I thought of how I might connect with the plight of the main character as I am neither married or divorced yet I was able to connect purely with her as a woman. It is a not solely a story of marriage it transcends time to every relationship connecting with mothers, parents, and the disillusionment you might have with yourself or each other. Many times throughout this novel I found myself noticing connections with other women in my life as she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s deceit and her own. While he is truly at fault for his infidelity she has lost touch with herself purely passing through the day-to-day without yearning for more. Many women loose themselves in their relationships and push aside their own ambitions in favor of their partners or the sancitity of their relationship. As explained by Nathan he notices his wife’s change and yearns for something more from her or ‘the way she used to be’.
As I have previously read her other novel The Myth of You and Me I can whole heartedly say that you should not miss her novels, as she is able to tackle many issues which are difficult for many people. I recommend either of her books whether you are having trouble dealing with your life or just need to understand another point of view. This novel and her prior tell beautiful stories of growth and acceptance. Whether you have a fall out with your husband or your best friend these novels attempt to change your point of view and help you to grow and accept other for their good and bad ...more
Jenna Blum’s novel The Stormchasers : A Novel is a heartbreaking story of family and love. As we follow Karena on a search for love and her brother, Charles, Charles is plagued with bi-polar disorder and a chronic need to follow danger. Charles and Karena are twins who haven’t seen each other in 20 years due to his illness. Karena constantly checks stormchaser websites to look for updates her brother has submitted. She has hired countless investigators to search for her brother, yet the she have come up empty. Following a call from a hospital Karena rushes to her brother’s side; yet when she arrives he is gone. In a last ditch effort Karen decides to follow stormchasers in hopes of finding her brother.
Blum focuses on the human relationship and the boding between siblings especially twins. Karena and Charles are linked more than ever in what they call their twindar and they haven’t seen each other in 20 years. Following a horrible accident Karena chooses to follow her own path and separate from her bi-polar brother. Yet this accident plagues them both forcing themselves to not only confront the situation but each other. Along the trial of redemption each sibling is confronted with their own obstacles. As Karena follows the stormchasers she is forced to confront her past in order to learn to love and trust again. Charles must confront the evils of his disease and its effects on his life.
But I’m going to prove there’s a link between storms that rapid-cycle and ones that produce tornadoes, because I’m a rapid cycler myself . In fact I am the closet thing a human can be to a storm… As we follow Karena and Charles it becomes evident that Human emotion is controlled throughout this novel. Jenna Blum has an innate ability to link the human condition with the intensity of a disorder. Not only that but it is evident that these emotions can be linked with the upheaval that is brought on by tornadoes and storms.
This novel is infused with beauty, love, devotion, agony, and so much more. Blum’s ability to examine the human condition is exemplary. In conjunction with this heart-breaking story the portrayal of bi-polar disorder and the effects it has not only on the individual but their whole family. The Stormchasers: A Novel is a moving and heart breaking story that every person should read and learn about the human condition. As we follow Karena into tornado alley emotions fly as quickly as a storm, enticing the reader to get involved, while we witness the fearless and heart-breaking actions of Karena.
In Lori Tharps’ new novel Substitute Me, Zora Anderson, an African American and college dropout, is having trouble; she is caught in between her overly ambitious parents and her relaxed lifestyle. She fears that her life choices do not comply with her parents’ dream for her. With no life plan, Zora runs as fast as she can away from her ambitious and driven family towards a more relaxed lifestyle. She answers an ad and becomes a nanny for a wealthy Park Slope family.
Quickly Zora transforms her lifestyle to conform to this families every whim and desire. This WASP-y Carter family has a small child, Ollie, who quickly bonds with Zora. Zora has dreams of becoming a personal chef yet her restrictive parents don’t want her to become a common day slave when they have worked hard to provide her with many more opportunities.
Brad and Kate Carter are very driven people; both are trying to search for something new and different in order to transform their lives from the mundane to a new unique lifestyle. Kate follows a different path as a working mother she falls full force back into her work and take on every new opportunity while relinquishing more and more control to her nanny. Zora becomes a dominant figure in the Carter household in many ways replacing the overbearing mother.
Each character –besides Ollie- is trying to reinvent themselves and hopes to pursue many other things in place of their mundane lives. We follow each character down a track of innovation and experience searching for their true identity. Zora is searching for more in life besides working as a nanny, something that inspires her and she emerges as a powerful character. Brad is looking for more in life then to follow down his predestined life as a WASP. Kate aspires to business perfection as well as family perfection. While the story focuses on Zora’s on life it truly give the reader insights to a world much different from their own.
Lori Tharps brings the reader on a rollercoaster ride through this family’s life and the changes and turmoil that surrounds them. Tharps’ writing is creative and thought provoking, begging the reader to engage with the literature that surrounds them. Her voice is powerful and beyond comparison to others as she approaches this topic with a new unique voice that not only intrigues the reader but a group as a whole. The character Tharps describes is realistic and unforgettable. She is able to attack tensions that have plagued society; she leaves the author questioning everything and their own decisions. Is everything attainable? Find out in Lori Tharps’ new novel Substitute Me.
As we embark on this journey with Rachel Shukert we are immediately intertwined into her whirlwind adventures. In Everything Is Going to Be Great by Rachel Shukert we are thrust into a world of snide and sarcastic comments, and I love it! Rachel a recent NYU graduate with a wonderful and extremely useful degree in Acting. Jewish girls everywhere listen up! Remember those calls from your mother post-grad asking what you are going to do with the brand new degree she paid for? I do! Her mother is hilarity herself as she continuously berates and batters Rachel. “You were always boy-crazy. Even when you were a baby… you were the sluttiest toddler I ever saw.”
In attempts to avoid her mother and returning to Nebraska Rachel flees to Amsterdam- a city full of lust, drugs, and illicit affairs. Rachel has a fatal flaw; she is a little bit of an alcoholic. We follow her as she breaks her nose or wakes up in the bed of unknown man. Rachel continues to deteriorate bouncing from one relationship to another searching for herself. We watch her as she grows up and matures. Initially Rachel is an immature and conceded individual yet she quickly is confronted with conflict. Rachel falls in love with Peter, a sociopath, who already has a girlfriend and controls Rachel. As she makes her way through Amsterdam she is confronted with love, changing friendships, and an unknown future.
In an amazingly hilarious situation Rachel was eating bread when she lost her tooth. Yet, don’t worry she has met some creepy Italians, one who happens to be studying dentistry. She visits these crazy Italians- who are wearing Zebra thongs- and immediately she is thrust into an illicit situation. She immediately leaves regretting her choice –she went to them to avoid payment- and heads to a licensed dentist. The dentist regrets she will have to pay 82 Euros to fix her tooth.
Scattered throughout the novel Shukert includes a multitude of how to’s and travel advice to young travelers similar to herself. Some of these include: Foreskin FAQ’s, Snappy Comebacks to Loaded Questions, Excuse me please, How much?, When someone mistakes you for a prostitute, Are you about to sex trafficked? A checklist. Shukert’s stories are reminiscent of my own when I traveled abroad, although not as much of a disaster. She is magnetically drawn to trouble which might cause others to abandon hope and run straight home to their mothers, ‘I told you so’ arms, yet she doesn’t at least not for awhile. Rachel’s mother confronts her about her life in an act to convert and bring her child home:
“I am on your side… you are the most important thing in the world to me. You always will be. I will always. Be. On your side… You are mine. Do you hear me? I love you and you are MINE.” Yet Shukert persists and attempts to achieve all her goals before departing the wondrous life of American Ex-Pat. Rachel Shukert’s Everything Is Going to Be Great is reminiscent of every terrible travel abroad story combined. Her self- loathing is consistent with every Jewish child, including myself. Her language is infused with wit and character longing just as every other college graduate, yet instead of complaining about her misfortunes she makes light of them and searches for more. This twenty- something is Nebraska born, NYC reared, and Amsterdam destroyed. From one twenty- something Jewish girl to another, this book surely should not be missed. You don’t even need to be a disaffected twenty something Jewish girl anyone will find joy and hilarity in the wit and language that seeps out of Rachel Shukert’s monologues. “Like I’ve always said: Love is wondering, but bad sex is a story.”
Imagine being able to speak five languages… Well Leo Hoffman can, as a young Hungarian he has an innate ability to pickup languages. After fighting in World War I Leo returns to Budapest with his and other countries destroyed. In M.L. Malcolm’s Heart of Lies we follow the life of Leo Hoffman as he rebuilds his life following the war and his new endeavors in life.
As his ticket out Leo attempts to assist Hungarian nationals in what he believes is an attempt to rebuild. However, all is not what meets the eye; these men are involved in an international counterfeiting scheme in Paris. In an act of salvation in order to escape conviction Leo runs away with a million dollar diamond necklace to Shanghai. Yet prior to this Leo met Martha Levy and fell in love at first site. Yet he must abandon his love in favor of salvation in Shanghai. As we watch Martha deteriorate- Leo is Shanghai accumulating wealth until a more appropriate time when he can send for Martha. The stolen treasure becomes his salvation throughout the novel- yet also his demise. As Leo learns he is a wanted man across multiple countries he becomes indebted to a gang lord. Amidst this blustering new Shanghai City Martha disembarks and the two loners are quickly reunited and married. Yet this all occurs during the 1930”s and happiness in Shanghai cannot be so secure as WWII begins and the Japanese invade and destroy this wondrous city.
As we follow the Hoffman family along an arduous journey to safety in an attempts to avoid gangsters, bombs, and the invasion of the Japanese.
“Leo closed his eyes and held her close. He would get through the next two years alive. He would get back his daughter. And then love would give them a second chance.” Leo lives a suspenseful life escaping Hungary, communism, murder, Shanghai, gangsters, Black Tuesday, and so much loss. Heart of Lies is truly a harrowing tale of bravery and survival when nothing was secure. The novel is truly historical as well; as Malcolm is able to infuse a great amount of facts and background to educate the reader. This novel is compelling and thought provoking novel entices the reader to engage with each character-including suspense, love, loss, and experience that many readers engage with. This novel leads readers on a harrowing journey across continents.
M.L. Malcolm truly has taken the time to research the history behind this era. Her unique ability to infuse history with enjoyment is amazing- as the reader barely notices the historical facts infused within the novel. This saga is truly inspirational begging readers to wonder what you would sacrifice for the good of yourself, your family, or your country.
Wow! If you are to read one book this summer this should be it! Long Division: A Novel by Jane Berentson was truly one of the funniest books I have ever read. One of those laugh out loud books! As we follow the life of Annie Harper we are not only amused but also enthused. This charismatic intoxicating individual has bequeathed herself with the task of tracking and documenting her life sans major hottie and boyfriend Lieutenant David Peterson- as he is in Afghanistan for a year.
Alone in Tacoma, WA, Annie’s thoughts race and quickly change. Slightly obsessively she reads the New York Times Names of the Dead fretting about her boyfriend constantly. She is neurotic and slightly delusional at times. Yet I love her! In order to distract herself from the monotony of life sans her Army hunk she begins a book to describe her life and experiences. In her charge to herself Annie attempts to push herself to describe everything even her most deranged thoughts.
“Dear Annie, You must write to provoke, elicit, and understand your deepest emotions. To coax them out and paint them plain and ugly. Sweet and/or bitter. In documenting how you pass into this year, you will hopefully come to understand something more profound about yourself, David Peterson, Lonesome George, George W. Bush, and maybe (if you’re lucky) the entire universe. Fondest Regards, Annie Harper” As we continue her memoir we follow Annie through the many trials and tribulations that direct her life. Annie begins to want more than obsessively writing and long for David. But what? Anne has greater endeavors; we follow her as she volunteers at a nursing home, raises a chicken, reminisces about a lost brother-she never knew, and falls out and in love. Struggling to come to terms with her emotions and feelings our hearts beat and fluxuates with Annie’s. Her truest companion is Loretta- a 93 year old woman- from the nursing home. Loretta is her confidant and sounding board.
This novel is way more than every other wartime love story. It is a story of the heart and hope, a truest test of love and faith. With space in Annie and David’s relationship they change and grow without each other. This novel is immersed with love and growth; weighing the issues about “loyalty vs. real gut wrenching love”. Annie is a quirky, eccentric young woman determined to not succumb to the Army life. We feel and read every thought with her. Annie copes with so many things over the year that we can only hope for her, for changes, continued growth, and laughter.
Jane Berentson has truly written a loving, funny, and inspiring novel. The character of Annie is relatable and loveable. Her dialogue is intriguing and engaging. Not only is the plot charming, the characters may have different names but we all have been involved in a situation like this. A unique fact about this novel is the appendices which describe each character in detail, as well as many footnotes which describe her thoughts. Berentson’s prose is appealing to the reader; you are roped in with every word. Not only is she able to present dialogue but she diversifies her prose to include emails, phone calls, chicken talk, and so much more. Overall this novel should not be missed at all. I wholeheartedly recommend Long Division: A Novel by Jane Berentson.
As I began Sylvan Street by Deborah Schupack I was quickly immersed into the mundane suburban life. Imagine living at the end of a cul de sac, rife with secrets and knowledge. Now amplify that when at a pool party the inhabitants find a briefcase worth a million dollars. Feeling like you are in a thriller or action movie yet? Just wait. The families gather every summer for the opening of a neighbor’s pool and stuck between the hedges and the pool shed is a million dollars. Who would have thought that right? As the neighbors discuss what to do with the money Keith Margolise- a cop- is the first to exclaim that they should submit the money to the police. In the little section of suburbia each family is thrust to answer their own intriguing questions about not only their morals but also justice. Following the direction of the street’s math teacher, an equation is drawn out in order to determine how much money each family will receive. Money is doled out at a base level, plus family members (children are worth half). This is good for the Margolises’ who have a big family and not so good for Ash who foolishly purchased his home on a whim to surprise his now ex-girlfriend.
As each family carries their portion of the money home- in trash bags- they begin calculating how to spend the money. Yet there is a caveat to their plan, no one is allowed to spend frivolously which could not only attract attention but others knowledge. As if, right?! Against his prior thoughts the immature and inexperienced Margolises are the first to transgress and purchase a Porsche and a new pool. However, we all know that money complicates everything and no individual is secure when there is money being tossed around so frivolously. As the money takes ‘permanent residence’ in each family’s house so does trouble. Amongst the problems are revealed and hidden secrets, adultery, illicit relationships, friendships pushed to the edge, and lives changed forever. Winding itself through the story is the description of the ‘money’ and how it is mismanaged and lost by the original owners. As I read each families story I cannot help but feel sorry for each of the families. Here is a look at a few of the complicated situations: a town cop who is burdened with five children and barely enough to cover their costs, an elderly couple who yearn for their children to be closer and eventually succumb to hardships of their own, a barren couple who has tried for over six years to have a child to no avail, and of course the token new couple on the block.
When I began this new novel I was hesitant, I normally do not enjoy thrillers, yet I’ll admit I was intrigued. As I was reading I thought that there was a definite opportunity for improvement as many times I found myself lost in thoughts and questions for the author- maybe this is stereotypical for a thriller. Primarily with the large cast of characters -who were not appropriately introduced at the start of the novel- it was hard to keep track of who was described. At times I felt the language was evasive and overwhelming. This to me was the only flaw, with a more appropriate introduction to the scene and characters I would have thoroughly enjoyed this novel. However, overall when considering the plot and construction of the novel, it was not only interesting but also thrilling. As a reader I began to hope for the characters and that they were able achieve their goals rather than succumb to the terrors that money brings. When you begin this novel take into account that this novel is modeled after the thrillers that came before it.
As The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman begins we are immersed into the ongoings of an English newspaper in Rome. The newspaper was started by a wealthy Atlanta-based billionaire, Cyrus Ott, who has hopes of changing the lives of many, primarily his old lover. The novel alternates between heart breaking tales of defeat to laughter. Continuing its thread of individuality each character has an opportunity to tell their stories and express their feelings, from a freelance writer, Lloyd Burko –who cannot admit he has lost his touch-to Oliver Ott- who is lost in the journalism world.
While each story is presented as its own entity we see that the individuals are more closely linked then we presume. One common thread throughout this novel is the realization that each of these characters is escaping something, running away from their fears and ambitions. In between each story we are presented with a continuous threaded description about the start of the newspaper and the lives of its founders. This is not to say that the novel is confusing to understand or even comprehend… actually it is the exact opposite. Rachman appropriately presents each character and how they affect the paper yet at the same time he intertwines information about others around them.
One of the most interesting stories is of an up and coming journalist, Winston Cheung, well at least he thinks that he is until he’s confronted with the world around him. Winston is incapable of realizing the ferocity and ambition of the other reporters until he meets the fast talking reporter, Rich Snyder, with hopes of entering Iraq. Suddenly Winston realizes his mistakes and retreats back to his primates where he not only finds solace but protection.
Remember your annoying English teacher, who was obsessed with grammar and improper usage of words and would berate you for every spelling mistake? Well he pales in comparison to Herman Cohen the corrections editor. With every mistake in the newspaper he berates the journalists and compiles his ever growing log of complaints in “The Bible.” What about the mindless idiots he is forced to work with other copy editors who constantly ignore errors? None is worse than Ruby Zaga.
* GWOT: No one knows what this means, above all those who use the term. Nominally, it stands for Global War on Terror. But since conflict against an abstraction is, to be polite, tough to execute, the term should be understood as marketing gibberish. Our reporters adore this sort of humbug; it is the copy editor’s job to exclude it. See also: OBL; Acronyms; and Nitwits.
He hits save. It is entry No. 18,238. “The Bible” — his name for the paper’s style guide — was once printed and bound, with a copy planted on every desk across the newsroom. In an effort to ignore her mundane Queens life Ruby migrates to the great city of Rome to intern for the newspaper, yet she lacks the ambition of those around her. Starting her internship at the same time as ambitious and calculating Kathleen Solson,-present day editor in chief- the two attempt to break into the world of journalism. While Ruby is dedicated to this newspaper and stays on as copy editor, Kathleen soars. Kathleen not only gains a position as a news reporter, but quickly falls in love with an Italian man, Dario, who bows to her every desire. Yet Ruby wanted him as well although she wouldn’t admit it; she secretly coats her hands in his cologne each night to breathe him in. As Kathleen gets a Washington job, Ruby stays in Italy as a lonely American. To enhance her fantasies even more she rents a room at a posh hotel every New Year’s Eve and stuffs her face with mini bar food. When Kathleen returns to the newspaper six years later as editor and has become everything Ruby wants. Yet she has a secret she kissed Dario and now calls him constantly just to listen to the sounds of his voice.
As a reader we root for of each of these characters, each a little nerdy, and each losers in their own right. The novel is rife with amazing characters to say the least, each growing and progressing together. When describing a newsroom Rachman was able to infuse devotion and trust between the characters, maybe a little resentment too. Rachman has an amazing ability to get his audience involved in each characters life, we yearn for Italian men and hope against the demise of the newspaper.
The novel ends in great defeat not only have the characters been swallowed up into this newspaper but they dedicated themselves to a menial newspaper as a way of ignoring their ambitious. In the final scenes we see Oliver Ott – who was charged with publishing the newspaper- and his dog Schopenhauer wandering an old house searching for something. Oliver is the epitome of his employees, each searching for more yet afraid to reach for it or express their dreams. With every new vignette we learn about the newspaper and the world around them.
Tom Rachman paints a wonderful and endearing portrait of a newspaper and its journalists. Rachman’s language is not only descriptive but appropriate, his dialogue is superfluous and helpful, and his dramatization of the newspaper is amazing. His writing reflects that of his characters in short yet meaningful sentences. This novel is more than intriguing, its thought provoking and expansive. With this amazingly driven novel The Imperfectionists should appear on Page One of every newspaper.
Book Club Questions: 1. Do you believe that each character is stuck with the status quo? When we see a character such as Rich Snyder we see an over ambitious and triving individual. Yet in comparison to his counterparts they are stuck not searching or yearning for more.
2. With the introduction of every new character we are presented with an article they are writing. How does the article connect with the its character or other characters?
3. I personally believe that the author Tom Rachman did an amazing job developing his characters. Who did you connect with most? Sympthesize with? Pity? Dislike?
4. Did you find the story of the Ott family obtrusive or helpful? Why?
5. Why do you think the novel is call The Imperfectionists ?
In the new novel Shanghai Girls by Lisa See we follow the lives and tales of two extremely heroic women. The story opens in 1937 as we embark on a whirlwind adventure of extreme highs and lows with Pearl and her sister May. These women are everyday beauties in China, constantly being painted by artists therefore having their faces litter the streets of Shanghai. These women are in love with all things foreign from their names to the things the artists advertise with their faces. At night after their rendezvous with various artists they parade around the international city of Shanghai in search of love. Compared to prior novels by Lisa See this book takes place in the 20th century where women no longer bind their feet or have arranged marriages. These women are aloof and do not interact with those deemed to be a lower class, unless they are discussing the cost of their rickshaw on their way to French Concession. As if the city is doomed from the start so are the girls. Against their wishes their father arranges marriages for his daughters in order to pay off his gambling debts. Yet being the defiant and strong women they are they attempt to disobey their father- this is short lived- as the city is bombed by the Japanese.
This novel is different than its predecessors as the women are presented differently and attempt to fight against the men that bind them, well at least one sister. They become antagonists for each other: May the headstrong, selfish, and deviant younger sister and Pearl the loving, sacrificial, matriarchal older sister. These women are trapped in Shanghai paying off their father’s debts as their husbands leave them after one night together bound for America; these sisters vow not to follow their husbands to Los Angeles. Yet their father’s loan sharks come around to collect or destroy causing these women to escape with their mother. After a tumultuous path the women make it onto a boat headed to San Francisco; when they arrive they are immediately sent to California’s Ellis Island -Angel Island- and sequestered. Following a long cycle of questions and months in prison May gives birth to a daughter, Joy, who can in no way be her husband’s, –as they didn’t do the ‘husband-wife thing’. The women are finally released from Angel Island into their husbands loving arms-at least Pearl anyway- into Los Angeles and the staged China City.
What follows is an emotion cycle of ups and downs for each woman. Pearl and May are searching for something more something to sustain their wild spirits. For Pearl she has the Louie Family to take care of and for May she has everything else. Throughout the book the women are presented with obstacles, which they must overcome and surpass in order to progress throughout the story. Pearl eventually becomes her mother responsible and demanding of others while May embraces the Hollywood lifestyle and becomes increasingly selfish and self absorbed. After a lifetime of trials the novel ends with a difficult close, which focuses the readers thoughts on the next book.
See’s book is truly powerful and brings the reader on an emotional journey. The author intertwines her fiction with actual historical events that allow the reader to learn and become completely engrossed in these women’s lives. Lisa See uses a similar theme of sisterhood and Americanization which at times is a tad trivial in comparison to her previous novels, which were an anomaly to every other piece of literature that is produced during their respective eras. However, every inquisitive mind should read this novel in order to gain perspective about not only about this unique culture but also their world during this time. See has a unique ability to intertwine historical facts into her literature, which educates the reader. Many other reviewers have criticized her for this writing yet I see it as strength that she is able to entertain and educate her audience. In the end of the novel we are presented with this question: Would you follow May or Pearl? Each has exhibited their unique characteristics and has the ability to thrive. Our only hope is that these characters continue to develop and blossom as they have in front of our eyes. If you were presented with this situation would you triumph as they had? Or would you crumble as so many others before them?
Book Club Questions:
1. While the story is told from Pearl’s perspective the story is truly about May and her transformation through life. Do you think that May has changed or made any sacrifice by the end of the novel?
2. Each sister harbors resentment against each other believing their parents have favoritism for the other. Who is right? Why do they argue about events that have no effect on their lives at present?
3. While the author does not totally examine the issue fully there was a great prejudice against Asian Americans during this time. Discuss examples of this in the book and knowledge you have gained from other outside sources as well.
4. Pearl’s motherly instinct does not come easily, due to the torture she has received. Consider this and her relationship with her daughter, does it destroy or strengthen their relationship.
5. Do you think it was right for Pearl and Sam to keep their history from their daughter? Do you think it adversely affects her? Or is it a benefit in forming her identity?
In the new novel Stay by Allie Larkin we are presented with the same age-old question, do you swoon and lust after a man who doesn’t want you or fall hard for the new man who wants you? Savannah ‘Van’ Leone is presented with this question when her best friend-Jane- steals the man of her dreams, or at least this is how she sees it. Savannah has been in love with Peter Clarke ever since she set her eyes on his boat shoes, yet she plays the role as best friend rather than companion. Only to further her subservient behavior Van agrees to be Jane’s maid of honor in the only wedding she wants to run away from. Van feels hopelessly alone, her mother died of cancer, Peter leaves her for Jane, and all she has is Jane’s mother who pays her to leave Jane and Peter alone.
Confused by her own feelings and the loneliness she feels Savannah chooses to get ferociously drunk and order a puppy from Slovakia after an inspirational viewing of Rin Tin Tin. As if the situation couldn’t get any worse the puppy arrives as a large German Shepherd who has yet to reach his full growth. Unaccustomed to her dog she rush’s him to the vet after he gets sick and is confronted by a beautiful doctor- Dr. Alex Brandt- who wants nothing more than to swoon over Savannah. Quickly she falls head over heels in love with Dr. Brandt, that is until Peter calls her and shows up drunk on her doorstep. Van is forced to make a decision between her new and old life, which not only affects herself but the only people she has ever loved. Together with her new companion Joe (oh yeah did I forget to mention Joe only understands Slovakian commands) they embark on a new life determined to grow and change with each other.
“You cannot stay with the wrong person. I guess the trick is finding the right one to begin with. Right?” Allie Larkin’s new book is ripe with unpredictable behaviors and passion. When the characters go through turmoil the reader goes along with them feeling hope, shame, and love. This novel is truly unforgettable and no one can turn away from the warm friendship that evolves between Van and Joe. With Joe’s help Van’s character transforms into powerful and interesting individual who is forced to make the same decisions that we fear to make everyday.
In the novel Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven, Velva Jean- the main character- is on an exploration of her identity and the world surrounding her. Velva Jean continuously prays to be saved from Hell; she has hopes of changing her destiny drastically. Velva Jean Hart’s sole dream in life is to sing at the Grand Olde Opry in Nashville and in pursuance of this dream she sings her way through life. While each character must overcome a tumultuous cycle of ups and downs that life throws their way, Velva Jean truly perseveres and transforms into a triumphant character.
Taking place in the South this novel is an anomaly in comparison to any other Southern novel; the novel attempts to describe the lives of Southern individuals throughout such a tumultuous era in history. Velva Jean is on her own journey attacking each trial and tribulation, which is presented to her. Niven succeeds in giving voice to the community and Hart family. Velva Jean must overcome the harshness surrounding her ranging from her destitute and decrepit father, to her over bearing and demanding sister, to her husband who truly attempts to destroy her spirit. As she says in her own songs she has to “gotta change something or die.”
Not only does Velva Jean persevere but she leads her life in such a way that she becomes an example to others to persist. Velva Jean’s survival techniques force her to conform to a society where she is destined to become an outlander because she dreams of having more than the mundane life as a housewife. The determination behind Velva Jean can be described in one sentence, she truly is a woman to be reckoned with.
“The strongest trees are the ones that bend with the storms … those are the trees that remain after the storm is gone. At the same time, the tree knows not to give itself up. It stands its ground. It bends, but it doesn’t break. And it’s still there.” Velva Jean Learns to Drive is a moving tale about overcoming the odds and one’s own ability to take risks and overcome the adversity that surrounds them. Jennifer Niven triumphs in describing the lives and tales of the South, where many authors may only touch on the issues that surround their characters. She ignites the readers by presenting issues of invasion, war, and hardships. Niven herself takes a risk in describing a difficult time when many Southern families are starving and searching for more.
This novel is more than a coming of age story it transforms into a story about the South and one woman’s triumph over the condescending family that surrounds her. Jennifer Niven’s novel truly alters our view of this time period and intrigues the reader to learn more about a time period that has been lost between two harrowing wars that destroyed the lives of many individuals. In the end of the novel Niven presents you with these questions: Doesn’t everyone deserve to be saved? Shouldn’t everyone get a second chance to make amends and lead a more righteous life?
Book Club Questions: Questions adapted from Penguin Guides 1. The novel begins “I was ten years old when I was saved for the first time.” Do you think that this beginning is beneficial for the future of the novel or would you prefer to start in a different matter?
2. Velva Jean’s life changes drastially after her mother dies and she is abandoned by her father. Velva Jean is searching for more in life and in people, she attempts to cross boundaries and barriers that surround her. How would you behave if you were presented with the same situation?
3. Velva Jean is constantly looking for a male figure in her life. She need their support and encouragement and in the end she triumphs over every obstacle in her life. During this time and especially with those who surround her, would you be able to triumph like she does?
4. Sweet Fern is everything that Velva Jean doesn’t want to be and that is exactly what she becomes (at least for a short while). Do you feel sorry for Sweet Fern and her destiny? Why?
5. As a child Velva Jean is looking for all things dangerous and this is represented through Harley Bright. Yet, he makes a miraculous change and so does Velva Jean in order to belong. What affect does this have on Velva Jean and her spirit?
6. Velva Jean connects with the Wood Carver and forms a kinship, he plays an important role in her life. Why?
7. Velva Jean receives the Yellow Truck from Johnny Clay and she immeadiately wants to escape but lacks the support in herself. Slowly but surely she learns to drive. What does the Yellow Truck symbolize for Velva Jean?
8. Velva Jean and Johnny Clay attempt to escape their mundane lives; they each attempt to leave their lives in favor of something more. Why do they rely on each other? They each feel so much love and friendship with each other. Describe this relationship and how they support each other?
9. The Scenic is not only a road in but out. The road plays an important role is this novel, how? Why?
10. Do you think Jennifer Niven describes the lives of of the Fair Mountain residents and the South appropriately? Was Velva Jean’s character believable?
“All the girl’s stories started out, the-men-came-and-they. And all of the stories finished, -and-then-they-put-me-in-here” (Cleave). Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave is infused with hardships and love. Cleave paints a brutal tale as we follow the hardships of the women presented to us. After one horrific encounter two women are thrown together and forced to alter their lives entirely. After a massacre in her native village Little Bee- a Nigerian Refugee- is forced to flee her home and everything she knew. She is followed by a tumultuous cycle of misfortune ranging from the oil war (which no country will acknowledge) to escaping a detention center. Sarah a British magazine editor evolves from a dominant hard woman to delicate and doting mother. Living in an English suburb she searches for an escape from her mistakes and seeks refuge from her mundane lifestyle. Quickly the situation turns sour when Sarah is forced to make a decision between her typical life and atypical sacrifice. Each woman is plagued with adversity and it is their own duty to overcome these problems.
With a desire to hide their identity these women alter their personas in order to survive. In a world that is thriving on each horrible situation Sara is presented with the age-old questions do we act or simply ignore? In an attempt to escape their lives both women are forced to make impulsive life changing decisions. Haunted by the violence that surrounds them these women are united in a fight of their lives.
“We were exiles from reality…we were refugees from ourselves” (Cleave). As the narrative alternates between the stories of Sarah and Little Bee it is evident that the women each make sacrifices for survival. Chris Cleave’s attempt to tell the story of immigration is poignant and timely. He illuminates the untold stories of a refugee and the hardships each individual faces. As a passionate writer Cleave chooses to paint a brutal story, which is initially bound in political discourse and transforms beautifully into a deep character discussion. The author is able to paint a comparison between two unlikely candidates who are much closer than they believe. Cleave takes the time to examine the rights of others and the politics which surrounds them. The lives of a women in England and women in Nigeria are profoundly different yet he is able to draw comparison through the daily hardships each individual faces. He highlights ideas that many of us choose to ignore. “But take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived” (Cleave). Cleave brings humanity to politics allowing the reader to learn and explore using their own moral compass. Are you willing to sacrifice your life for a stranger?
Book Group Questions: Discussion Questions Adapted from Simon and Schuster
1. Many of the characters in the story carry their histories with them on their backs. What are the effects of these decisions? How does it affect them mentally and physically? Do any characters ignore their histories and run away from their problems? What are the effects of this?
2. Batman or Charlie is a central character to the book, what is his purpose? As a child he chooses to hide his identity? His innocence allows him to understand each situation and its effects on his life, how does this effect his loved ones?
3. Little Bee learns English in order to survive, what do other characters use as survival mechanisms?
4. Everywhere that Little Bee goes she considers ways to kill herself before the men do; she truly has overcome many different hardships. Does this provide Little Bee with Power? How? Why?
5. If you were Sarah would you make the same sacrifice?
6. In order to disguise her true self Little Bee dresses in baggy mens clothes; yet she makes one transgression, nail polish. This becomes her survival technique, What are some of your survival techniques?