Tag Archives: Book Club Discussion

Book Club Reflection: South of Broad by Pat Conroy

7 Feb

My book club met last week to discuss a book I loved, South of Broad by Pat Conroy. I was surprised to find most people who were big Conroy fans hated the book. Apparently, this one is considered one of his worst! Critics say it’s melodramatic and the prose is over the top at times. A favorite criticism our group read was from author Chris Bohjalian:

It’s possible that the sobbing and sniveling occasionally felt inauthentic to me because I am a priggish New Englander who is uncomfortable with what may be a Southern penchant for drama. But as a novelist, I know all too well that there are few easier ways to wrest sniffles from a reader than to have a couple of real men cry like babies in each other’s arms or a good woman stoically sniff back her tears. Been there, done that.

I’m a fan of Bohjalian and despite the negativity, I would say I’m not a fan of Conroy. As always, we started with a little background on the author. Conroy lives in San Francisco and went to Citadel. His father was in the military and he moved a lot as a child. His father was violent and abusive and Conroy wrote about this in his book, The Great Santini. The book was presented as evidence in his parents’ divorce case. Conroy taught English and was fired from one of his jobs for pointing out racial problems in the school. So much of this made it into the story of Leo King and I’m amazed one person could experience so much and turn it into a story, let alone the number of books Conroy has written that draw inspiration from his life.

It was hard to ignore all the terrible things Leo and his friends had to face in the book. All the bad parts of their high-school years and adulthood came up: AIDS, child abuse from the clergy, Hurricane Hugo, racial integration, and racism. Some people thought it was over the top that all of these things happened in the same novel, but I think leaving them out would have been an omission of the times.

The one thing that could have been left out might be Steve’s abuse at the hands of Monsignor Max. Steve was the perfect son to his parents and I think that put a lot of pressure on him to act perfectly. That almost set him up to fail. It’s hard to maintain that level of expectation. If Steve had told his parents, we’re not sure they would have believed him anyway.

Leo was a very kind person and unfortunately, some of the other characters took advantage of him. He was used by Molly, Starla, and Sheba most notably. Maybe it was him not willing to stand up to a woman. He would do things for people that were beyond what was asked of him, like making benne wafers for his new neighbors when it could have been simple chocolate chip cookies. He cleaned and washed Mr. Cannon’s feet in an obvious impersonation of Mary Magdalen and Cannon appreciated it so much he gave him a house.

Starla used Leo more than anyone else. No one wanted them to stay together, even his staunchly Catholic mother. Mrs. King might have preferred seeing him with Sheba! We thought he only stayed with Starla because of his strong Catholic beliefs. This was as much a criticism of marriage as it was of the church.

The group of friends was such a rag-tag bunch that it seemed strange. They had to overcome socioeconomic status (the twins and the Rutledge’s) and race (Ike) but it somehow worked. Fraser and Niles’ relationship was a big bond for the group and Chad was roped in because of football despite his racist father and upbringing.

The twins’ father’s death seemed almost a little convenient. Someone wondered if Niles knew he was in the shed and that’s why he locked him in there. I proposed that Charleston killed him. The city was brought to life so much in the book it was almost a character. Maybe this was the one thing Charleston could do for our human characters.

I’m going to be missing this group until May because of school and I’m very sad about that. I do look forward to reading some books of my choosing, but I’ll miss having someone to discuss them with.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

22 Dec

I’m not alone in my dislike of the characters in this novel but it seems a lot of my fellow readers didn’t dislike the whole book because of it. I was surprised at the mixed reactions of our group when we got together to discuss The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante. We wanted to read this one because Time Magazine lists Ferrante as one of the most influential people. She’s also called the ‘best known least known’ writer in Italy. Despite her popularity, no one knows who she is, only that she lives in Naples. She’s credited with linking the old Italian writing style with a new style. I’m going to have to give her writing another try.

One of the women who attended our group was a guest to us. She’s active in other groups in the area but hadn’t been to one of our meetings before. She decided to come because she lived in Italy for a part of her childhood before moving to the US and had wanted to read one of Ferrante’s books. She read a few more after this one before our group met and loved them all. She said she wanted to know what American-born readers thought. Listening to her talk about her experience with the book made me like it more, to be honest. There was a lot about modern Italian culture that I didn’t pick up on because I’ve never lived there. We couldn’t picture the people and setting very well because it wasn’t something familiar to those of us who didn’t grow up in Italy. We didn’t understand the class and regional differences in the writing. Leda was brutally honest, but the focus of her wrath was not always very apparent to us.

Part of what I didn’t like about the book was that Leda was so selfish and unlikable. Yes, she was honest, but to most of us, that could only go so far. She seemed damaged by her own childhood with a mother who continually threatened to leave her. Leda had the nerve to do what her mom always talked about and actually left. We found it odd that she made a point of being meticulous in her pregnancy (page 122) but once her daughters were born, seemed to neglect them. It was hard to read (listen) to her talk about not comforting her children when they cried. She wanted people to like her and understand why she did what she did, which was hard to do. She wanted Gino to like her and think she was right and she grew so mad when he didn’t agree. It was like when she flirted with her daughter’s boyfriends and was mad when they didn’t return her affection. She was so selfish.

The doll said a lot about Leda. She wanted to be the hero to the Neapolitans on the beach, the lower class people who Leda thought should look up to someone educated like herself. She seemed jealous of Elena and Nina. They were close like her family never was and was likely to never be again. She wanted to make them suffer, to be as unhappy as she was. Once she had the doll, she kept trying to fix it, to make it pretty, but what was inside it was so dark and dirty, coming out over and over unendingly. We felt she inserted herself into their story so she could be a part of it just to feel important.

There was something I caught that some didn’t so I wanted to see if anyone else caught it. Nina’s family was part of the Camorra, the Italian mafia based in Naples. It’s implied when Gino talks about them being bad people. Did anyone else catch that? Only some of our group did.

A few people pointed out that if you reread the first few pages after finishing the book, you can see that the whole thing is told in flashback after Leda gets into a car accident. She has a pain in her side and wakes up in a hospital seeing her family around her. The pain is a reference to her stab wound but we couldn’t decide if we thought her family had come from Canada to see her or if she was hallucinating. My vote was for hallucinating. Thoughts?

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

28 Jul

It’s been a long time since my book club almost universally agreed on a book. We don’t often all like one and we’re usually an even split. I’ll have to remember this book as the one that we all agreed on. We all loved Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings.

We heard they’re making this into a movie (this is listed as ‘In Development’ on IMdB). One of our members was in Charleston a few weeks ago and said they’re going to film it at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston. She said another interesting thing she saw in Charleston was The Citadel, a public military college. She said the Citadel was established to hush the slave rebellion, a fact I could not find on the academy’s website.

The title had a few different meanings to our group. Sarah and Nina are described as the wings at one point but to us, there was a lot more reference to flying on Handful’s side. Her mother talked about the slaves flying away to their freedom which made it to the story quilt. Handful and Charlotte’s favorite pattern was supposed to resemble blackbirds and they would put bird’s feathers inside of the quilts. Wings let someone fly away to freedom

Many liked Handful more than the Grimke sisters. Kidd made up her character and was able to do a lot more with her outside the restrictions of historical accuracy. She was admirable and we liked her direct voice. Kidd used different styles for her characters well. Handful was also very brave. If we’d been stuck in her situation, it was hard for many of us to say we’d do the same thing and rebel the way Handful did.

It seems I was one of few who was surprised Charlotte would return to the Grimke’s. She escaped slavery only to return to it and that shocked me. Others pointed out that she wanted to be back with her daughter and she wanted Handful and Sky to have each other so they could escape. We figured they escaped about 90 miles from the plantation they’d been on to reach Charleston which is incredible with no food or directions.

Someone in our group asked if the church Vesey founded and where Handful was arrested was the same one that was the site of a deadly hate crime last summer. Unfortunately, it was: Emanuel A.M.E. Church.

Sarah remarks that the Graveyard of Failed Hope is an all-female establishment. It’s easy to point out times when the things she wanted were denied to her because of her sex. It must have been hard to want to be a lawyer and see her brother become a lawyer when he didn’t want it. Ironically, he wanted to be a minister and she studied for years to be one. That was not lost on us!

Sarah had her own rebellion, starting with her multiple religious conversions. We found it interesting that one of the most attractive things about Quakerism for her was their anti-slavery beliefs but that they still had a separate bench for blacks. Before Sarah was a Quaker, when she was still Anglican, we loved that she taught Handful and the slave children to read. Kidd explains in her author’s note that this really happened which makes it all the better.

Many of us were surprised with how close abolition and women’s suffrage were tied together. Maybe it did split the issue, but it also seems very necessary when explained through the Grimke’s story. Lucretia Mott is better known as a suffragette than an abolitionist so it was interesting to see her in this first role.

Sarah and Nina had a great relationship. It was very motherly since Sarah took a large part in Nina’s upbringing. Mrs. Grimke was very cruel and Mary took after her mother. We’re glad Sarah taught Nina to be kind. Mary was uneducated and didn’t read and question things so it seems she learned from her mother and all she learned was cruelty.

I picked the book for next month and I have a bad history of picking books everyone likes. Maybe I’ll hit a home run with this one, but not everyone likes John Irving as much as I do.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

16 Jun

Silly me was in a hurry the morning of my book club meeting on Monday and forgot the iPad to take notes! Never fear, I had a legal pad in my car (some real caveman technology here) and I took some notes by hand. Here we go.

I mentioned that I was frustrated by the structure of the book and how the timeline was disjointed and hard for me to follow. Some agreed, but some thought it added to the book. She structured the book the way she thought. The timeline wasn’t important but she focused her thoughts around certain topics that were important to her and proceeded to make those points. It wasn’t disorganized, per say, just non-linear.

Amanda made a point about the difference between asking and begging and told us not to be afraid to ask. She did seem afraid to ask at times. She could ask her faceless crowd for Kickstarter funds, but she struggled to ask her husband for a loan. She was scared to ask those closest to her until it was needed.

She wasn’t afraid to try radical things. She showed that the traditional structure of the music industry was breakable. She made money from art but cutting out the middle-man usually ‘legitimizes’ someone and was still successful. Self-published authors are enjoying this same success. She could fall back on her fan base when she wanted to try something a bit off the wall which was reassuring for her. Sometimes, we didn’t know what her motivation was for acting the way she did. Was she trying to save $200 or was she really trying to connect with her fans? Sometimes, it seemed a bit like both. She was putting herself out there to be sure. We met mere days after singer Christina Grimmie was shot by a fan in the signing line after her concert in Orlando, Florida. Though it was tragic and out of the ordinary, this is something that could happen to Amanda because of how exposed she is to her fans.

The group talked a lot about how different Amanda is from us. She’s bold and creative and not afraid while many of us have reservations about doing the crazy things she describes. Many of the women in my group have children and they talked at length about how hard it can be to accept a child choosing a path different from the one you are used to but how you have to accept that and try to be supportive. The scene where Amanda and her mother spoke about feminism was really moving to me. Amanda had never seen her mother as an artist and it took her a long time to see that her mother was a feminist just as strongly as she was in a time when it wasn’t as accepted to be a feminist. Some of us thought that this showed a side of Amanda that we could be critical of. She’s very focused in her art world and she didn’t always show the most compassion to those outside of it.

Her most important message to us wasn’t about asking but about art and the value of art. As a society, we’re not willing to pay for art. I could say this blog is art but you’re reading it for the price of your monthly internet connection, of which I receive nothing. I’ve published short stories for no payment except for free copies. Many others could tell the same story. Amanda showed how art can be a job. Art makes the functional things of our world beautiful and without it, we’d be so bored and boring. We need art and we should be willing to pay those that create it.

We’re taking the summer off and we’ll meet again in September with a TBD book. I’m looking forward to a few more books of my choice in the next few months but I’ll miss this group.

Until next time, writes on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier

31 May

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my rights to pick books for my book club. For this group, the last two books I’ve suggested, One Hundred Years of Solitude and now The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, have been flops in the group. The difference, this time, is that I really liked Chevalier’s book while the rest of the group hated it. I recognized a lot of the plot holes they pointed out, but I loved the writing and style enough to look past them. It seems not everyone could do that. I agreed that it was hard to remember the beginning by the time you got to the end. I missed that Isabelle’s maiden name, Moulin, was the name of the woman who owned the Bible. I also recognized it was too convenient that the archivist gave the Bible to Ella. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This book had a lot of information about religious tensions in Europe that many of us were not aware of. In the last paragraph, we thought Jacob was deciding to return to France, to go back to the Catholics because he disagreed with what he saw of the Calvins, which was not very accurate. His father, Etienne, practiced the old religion where human sacrifice could save a house. We suspected that one of Etienne’s brothers was under the hearth of the hold house and that his presence protected the Bible during the house ransacking. One of the few things that bothered us universally about the book was the inclusion of French passages with no translation. It seemed arrogant to assume every reader speaks French but since this book was first published in England, it’s less assuming but still annoying for an American reader.

There were some strong similarities between Isabelle and Ella though there were superficial. Both had problems with skin reactions, both were in bad marriages and had to give up their midwife careers and strangely, both lay naked in rivers. Both had men named Paul that they were attracted to. We felt that Isabelle might have run off with Paul at the end. For a while, we thought he was a figment of her imagination, but she traded messages with him through the Italian courier so he had to be real. The France they lived in was similar as well. Both found hostilities and were able to escape to Switzerland where things were calmer. However, for Isabelle, things were still rough though it was easier on her family.

As I said in my review, Ella’s relationship with Rick bothered me most. She treated him unfairly as she fell out of love. Some of our members didn’t like Rick as much as I did. They felt he was shallow, being afraid to touch her psoriasis and being concerned with his flowing hair. I thought he was confident enough that he didn’t care what others thought about his appearance.

Our impressions of Jean Paul changed through the book. He was a good listener when Rick wasn’t and he really cared about Ella’s project. He got sucked in even when he was trying to withdraw. We understood why he wanted to withdraw after hearing about his past relationship and it made him sympathetic.

Ella’s hair change was one of the strangest parts of the book to me. It was very unbelievable and for me, planted this book in the magical realism realm. We believed it more with Marie, whose hair seemed to be slowly changing.

Ella is very convinced that the baby she conceived is Rick’s. We thought she felt less guilt in carrying Rick’s baby than Jean Paul’s. Who know who the real father is, but she wanted it to be Rick. We wondered if he would stay involved in the child’s life. He’s moving to Germany and doesn’t seem to be around for the pregnancy. Does he want to be? I explained the situation to my husband and he said if I was pregnant and was going to leave him for a lover, he’d want me to be carrying the other man’s baby. He would not want to be involved. That was a fun thought exercise.

I’ve already read our next selection, Brooklyn, and I think it will be a fun discussion.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection Pt 2: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

19 May

The problem with my book clubs both being based out of my hometown library is that we tend to read the same books from time to time. One book club read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls back in September of 2015 and my other one read it for our May selection. I didn’t reread the book so I did a lot of listening this time around.

A few people in our group had read the title when it first came out a few years ago, but most were reading it for the first time. It’s been a few years since Walls wrote the end of the book to tell us where her family was so our moderator looked it up for us. Walls and her husband live in Virginia and last was heard, her mother was living with them. No idea how long that lasted, but that was the update. Brian is a police officer in NYC with a wife and children. The oldest sister was illustrating children’s books. Not much is known about what’s going on with Maureen. She didn’t support writing the book and it seems Jeannette avoided talking about her problems as a sort of compromise. Brian read the book and had no problems with it, remembering a lot of the same events Jeannette did. Both her mother and older sister read the book eventually and it seems they had no problem with it. Jeannette feared that she would be rejected by her peers for writing the book. She felt that if they knew where she came from, no matter what they thought of her when reading it, they would no longer want to have anything to do with her.

Even though the Walls children suffered from neglect at the hands of their parents, there’s been evidence to suggest that children who are overindulged are more damaged than those who are deprived growing up. I can see how this would happen. Children in poverty learn resilience and confidence like the Walls children did. When faced with an obstacle, they learned how to fight it. Children who have everything handed to them don’t know how to solve their problems. I think the Walls children would have had a harder time keeping on par with their peers in the modern day. Technology is so integrated into the classroom and socialization that not having access to a computer can be detrimental. If they couldn’t get to a library to do homework, they would fall behind.

It felt like Rex and Rose Mary were the focus of our conversation. They seemed very cohesive and like they were on one team until they moved to West Virginia. It felt like Rex couldn’t live well in that town and it tore him away from the family. His alcoholism caused a lot of the financial problems in that family and he, like his wife, was a narcissist. Interestingly enough, what Jeannette says about her father being smart is true. There’s a physicist in our book club and he said that he was shocked when Rex started talking about thermodynamics because everything he was saying was scientifically accurate. Most of the parts about Rex were surprisingly positive seeing as he stole from his family. We wondered if, in light of his death, Jeannette didn’t want to say anything negative about her father.

We felt Rose Mary was more to blame for the family’s status. With Rex, it’s easy to say ‘Oh, he’s an alcoholic. We can’t expect him to act in his children’s best interest because he’s sick.’ It was harder with Rose Mary. We think she suffered from some kind of mental illness but her refusal to see a professional made it impossible to understand why she acted the way she did. While Rex let the kids down with his actions, they had no expectations of their mother for her to live up to so she was less of a disappointment. We think she might have been affected by the baby that didn’t survive, even though she says Rex was the one affected. The only smart thing she did was holding on to the $1,000,000 property in Texas. If she’d sold it or cashed in somehow, that money would have gone straight to Rex and the local bar.

The frustrating part of reading the book is that it’s so void of self-reflection and pity when the reader is feeling so much pity for Jeannette. The three oldest took care of each other, creating their own world where they could survive. Maureen was too young to join them. The oldest three recognized the bad situation they were in and got out. Once she moved away, it seemed Jeannette was very defensive about her upbringing. She would put her walls up when she was asked about it (like in her college course). Writing this book might have been very therapeutic and very difficult for her.

Our next book is another memoir, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I’m already almost finished with it (#overachiever) and it will be a good talk.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Discussion (Round 2): Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

11 Apr

Because Lisa See is coming to my area to speak this week, both of my book clubs decided to read her title Shanghai Girls. You can read my review and previous book club discussion for some of my other opinions on the book.

Most of the group liked this title. See made us care about the characters, especially the sisters, and they were well-developed. I don’t have sisters, but those who did said the fighting between the characters reminded them of growing up with their siblings. It felt like See knew Pearl and May well and we wondered if they might be based on members of See’s family.

The first thing we had to talk about was May turning Sam in. None of us could believe she’d do something so stupid. It was hard to believe that she honestly thought she was helping. If she did, then she would have told Pearl and Sam. By keeping it a secret, it’s very evident that she’s trying to hide what she did. May is too modern and open in the American style to keep her mouth shut. If Pearl had done something similar, she never would have told. She would have died with the secret. The fight the two had at the end was a very central part of the plot and adds to my frustration of the book seeming unfinished. We were really shocked that it took 19 years for May to throw in her sister’s face who Joy’s real mother was. It seemed like something May would have resorted to it much sooner. A lot of us hadn’t realized how much Pearl was martyring herself until May brought it up. It wasn’t something that Pearl ever complained about. She almost seemed to enjoy her life and felt safe being a martyr. It was unlike Pearl to erupt at May the way she did and we wondered if some of her anger were misplaced and was really anger at Sam more than it was at her sister. We asked ourselves if May and Pearl could have repaired their relationship if Joy hadn’t run off. Would they have cut each other out of their lives if they didn’t have Joy to pull them back together? Pearl is always upset that their father preferred May though we felt that their mother preferred Pearl. The way their mother acts toward Pearl before she dies felt that way.

A lot of us hated May for what she did to Pearl in having an affair with ZG. I was alone in being blindsided by this twist. Everyone else saw it coming! I guess I’m blind to it all.

Several times, it was pointed out that May wasn’t as smart as Pearl. We didn’t really agree with that. On Angle Island, May shows us how smart she is and how she kept them there long enough for the baby to be an American. She didn’t let on when she was doing something smart. Only when it benefited her did she let on. May was good with money and found ways to keep the family going. She hid money away for an emergency the same way their mother had. She was resourceful, even if she wasn’t as book smart as Pearl.

One of the things that seemed inconsistent to us when it came to the girls was being Beautiful Girls at the beginning. We couldn’t believe that their parents would allow them to do that in Shanghai. The money must have been good for their parents to allow it. It seemed to be very against the cultural expectations they had for the girls.

In my last book club discussion, we focused on the Zodiac signs of Pearl and May. This time, we focused on Sam. He was the Ox, one who would plod along and be reliable, working for the family and doing what was needed of him. His suicide fits into this role, in a way, because it was a selfless thing for him to do in order to protect his family. We questioned if the Zodiac sign of a person morphed him or her into what they were instead of being a prediction of their personality type.

A lot of us learned a lot of history from the book. We weren’t aware of the Paper Son phenomenon and were a little blown away with how meticulous and thought-out the process was. We were equally shocked at the number of people claiming citizenship after the San Francisco Fire. I’d never heard of that! Most of us were familiar with Ellis Island immigration stories but Angel Island was something new. The holding and treatment of the women described sound terrible and we were shocked it hadn’t come to our attention prior.

Lisa See is 1/8 Chinese. She had writers in her family but never wanted to be a writer. She was told that you had to have sadness in your life to be a writer and didn’t want to be sad. I think it worked out for her anyway.

It was a really good discussion for us and we had a big turnout. Our next book is Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. We’ll see how the discussion goes, soon.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

27 Oct

Reading a local author is fun. Especially when he sets his book in your local area (though you’re unable to identify the river in the book) and one of his friends from high school is in your book club! If only my tweets had gotten him to join us.

There were a lot of comparisons to ‘The Walking Dead’ in our discussion. A fellow member and I were reminded of Terminus when Malorie reached the school. We were both afraid she’d be eaten! The man at the end is even named Rick, the main character from ‘The Walking Dead.’ In fact, this book was ready to publish in 2007 but publishers delayed publication date because they felt the market was too saturated with the genre. Fortunately, it has been optioned for film. I’d be curious to see how this could be made into a film when so much of it is about not being able to see.

We talked a lot about the title. The bird box didn’t seem to be a very big part of the plot, but the author thought it was important enough to merit the title. We thought it was an allegory for being on your own in a small, dark little world, but Malerman has come out and said that’s not true. The box is very similar to how the housemates lived in the house, shut off from everything outside and afraid when something came near.

People in the book either died violently and quietly. The contrast between Tom’s daughter and George are startling. We think some died quietly because they knew what they were going to see, they knew they were risking something when they opened their eyes or peeked. We suspect some of them killed themselves before completely losing their minds so they couldn’t kill others. Or maybe, as Gary suggests, people are affected differently and some of them wouldn’t get violent. I don’t like the idea of Gary being right about anything.

The scene where Malorie almost blinds her children was disturbing. In reality, why wouldn’t she? The children would be much safer and live better lives if they didn’t have to worry about seeing something that could kill them. We thought it was a sign of hope that she didn’t take their eyesight. She had to believe that things would get better to keep their eyes. Not giving them names could be construed as a sign of hope as well; that they would someday live in a world where names to distinguish one Boy from another were needed. Though we also would have been able to guess the climax from their names and would have known they weren’t twins. Malerman commented on this as well and said Malorie didn’t name the children because names were a luxury to her. They didn’t help her survive so she didn’t need them.

We had a lot of discussion about the creatures. Were they real? Was Gary the monster? Or was Gary right and it was the idea of something that was scaring people? We thought the ending scene where Malorie’s blindfold is lifted off her face implied that they are real creatures with real mass. That begged the question: Do these creatures know what they’re doing? Are the purposefully destroying humans on earth? We suspected this was the case only because of a scene toward the end. The birds that die in the skies have survived for more than four years. With how quickly a human died when looking out a window, we suspected that the creatures could choose to affect someone or something and chose to affect the birds to cause Malorie and the children distress. If the effect was mental like Gary thought, the animals wouldn’t be affected but the blind would.

Gary came off as very odd and less developed than the rest of the characters. We thought this was purposeful because our conclusion is that he was crazy. He was crazy enough not to be affected, like the man on the river. Some of us wondered if the man on the river was Gary, but we thought he would have said something creepy to scare Malorie and she likely would have recognized his voice.

A few members were dissatisfied with the ending of the book. They felt it was lacking and to an extent, I agree. The whole book, the reader is trying to figure out what these creatures are and we never find out. It felt like the school was a very contrived way to end everything neatly. Though how the ending could have been satisfying is hard to say. For a while, we thought Tom was going to be alive because Malorie heard his name on the speaker and we didn’t know about his death yet. That might have been satisfying, but not fitting.

In the end, how much better off was Malorie? It still could have been a Terminus kind of situation, she had no reason to trust the people there. How much longer could Malorie have survived alone? It seemed like her food supply should have run out long before the children were four. She’d have to have a lot of trust in these people she’s just met. What if there’s a breach again and they want to blind her and the children? She might have been better off alone.

We enjoyed the pacing of the book. It was enough to keep us on our toes and a lot of people (like me) raced through the book. There were a few characters we didn’t think were necessary to the plot, specifically Felix and Cheryl. The only thing this book lacked was sexual tension and that seems like something they could have added. You could argue there might have been something between Malorie and Tom, but I never felt like that was going to happen.

Our next book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I’m listening to the audio now and didn’t realize how much I’d forgotten since I read it in high school. It’s sure to be a fun discussion.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

21 Sep

A lot of you commented on my book review of Jeannette Wall’s memoir, The Glass Castle and had wonderful things to say about it. I loved it, too! What a great book. My book club agreed and we had a wonderful discussion about the memoir.

The woman who volunteered to lead our discussion made up some of her own questions. She has a psychology background so some of this discussion might bet a bit technical, be warned! The first thing we talked about was if Jeannette should have written the book. Her husband encouraged her to write it and a part of me wonders if he thought she needed to deal with her past. A lot of us thought she needed to get this off her chest. Walls talks about hiding how she grew up while in school and maybe she wanted to finally put it out there so everyone would know where she came from. The story seems too crazy to be true, but we doubt she embellished any of it. The psychologist among us told us that our memory is heightened by trauma. It’s why we remember being scared of the circus as six-year-olds but not what we had for dinner last week. Some of the back material said that Walls’ siblings remembered most of her stories the exact same way, but from their eyes. Walls has a lot of traumatic memories and she’s ashamed of them. But the book opens with her being ashamed of being ashamed of her mother. She wants to confront what’s bothering her. This book helped her do that.

The style of this book was amazing. Walls is not asking for our sympathy. She doesn’t need it, she’s doing fine. She’s telling us the love story of her family. They didn’t have much, but they had love. She writes from an unbiased mind, the mind of a child, at the beginning. She’s telling us the facts. As she grew up, she was able to analyze things and knew what was wrong and right.

We asked ourselves if the Walls children should have been taken away from their parents. There is a lot of debate around if child protective services are really doing something for the good of the child by doing that. Our group has a lot of teachers and many of them felt strongly that the teachers failed to do their duty and tell someone about neglect at home. But in the end, was it better for them to have stayed together? The children might have been split up and they might not all have had a good foster care experience. Not everyone does. We did agree that Rex crossed the line twice; taking Ben to a whore house (which is implied but never explicitly stated) and when he took Jeannette to the bar and let the older man talk to her. Those were the only things we thought were explicit abuse. Everything else could be counted as neglect.

The kids are lucky they survived the conditions of the house. The older three raised each other for the most part. Maureen was babied her whole life and never had to fight for herself. Their father ignored her for the most part as well. Maybe that was the love she would have needed. The kids appreciated what they had later in life so much more because of their background.

Growing up poor and being neglected are different things. A poor family can be doing everything possible to put food on the table and fail to do so. A neglectful family, like the Walls, isn’t exhausting all its resources. We said that this was different from poverty during the depression because there were other options ($1,000,000 property, house in Phoenix) that the parents didn’t resort to.

Rex is a character and a half. We genuinely think he was incredibly smart, so much so that he didn’t fit in. ‘Severely gifted’ was a phrase we tossed around. He seemed to give up on a lot of things when he felt everyone around him couldn’t keep up with him. The alcohol and confrontational manner didn’t help, but feeling like he was smart but couldn’t get ahead would have been defeating.

Jeannette was disillusioned with her father in her childhood and got mad in her adolescence when she saw that he wasn’t everything he pretended to be. He was killing cats, pimping her out, and stealing money. Toward the end of his life, he seemed to feel some regret about the way he brought the children up. He realized the Glass Castle was never going to happen and when he asked if she’d been let down, their old back-and-forth banter, he knew he had. In the end, it seems Walls had a good amount of respect for her father and what he endured.

There’s no doubt he loved his kids, but he didn’t have a good model of how to show it. We see that Rex’s parents were not ideal, either. They ignored him and dealt with their own issues before looking to their child. We think he loved them more than Rose Mary. In the end, he was the better parent.

On page 155 in my copy, it’s implied that Rex was sexually abused by his mother. A lot of us think that’s likely. We don’t think it excuses what he did and his alcoholism, but it gives us a reason why things might have started off badly for him and why he was reluctant to return home. I’m glad that it seems that cycle of abuse ended with Rex. As I said, the kids might have been neglected, but they didn’t seem abused.

Rose Mary and Rex were toxic together. She enabled him and it’s possible he drank more because she was around. She didn’t hold him accountable for anything and he had no reason to stop drinking. We suspected that Rose Mary was bipolar. Our psychologist told us that many people with bipolar disorder will avoid commitment because they can’t maintain it between their highs and lows. We think part of the hatred toward Rose Mary’s mother was because she tried to put her daughter in a box, a nice safe teaching box. Rose Mary didn’t want this because when she went through her lows, she couldn’t be a teacher. We further suspect that Maureen might have inherited her mother’s bipolarity. She struggled so much toward the end with mood swings that it seems likely.

Our psychologist said that the Walls were the most dysfunctional family she’d ever encountered. The kids thought they were special because their father had always told them they were and that might have been their only saving grace. Jeannette never felt like a victim of her circumstances. She never gave up and always kept trying. We did find it interesting that she has no children of her own. It might be out of fear of repeating her own childhood or another reason, but it does seem like a deliberate choice.

I’ll be missing the next meeting of this book club, but we’ll return in late October.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

4 Jun

Brad Meltzer’s book The Inner Circle was chosen as the ‘Everyone’s Reading’ selection for 2015. This is a program the libraries in my area work to put together that usually culminates in the author coming to speak in the area. Previously, it was Chris Bohjalian. This year, Meltzer will be speaking in the area on June 22nd. But before he comes to speak, my book clubs usually read one or more of his books. Unfortunately, the meeting for The Inner Circle was moved forward a week and attendance suffered. We’re not sure if it was because of the book or the changed date, but the meeting was only me and one other woman. So here are our musings.

There were questions posted by the local libraries that helped our discussion, but we didn’t find that this genre led to a lot of discussion. It’s entertaining for sure, but not particularly thought-provoking.

The other woman at our discussion did some research on Meltzer. He said that Mr. Rodgers (the television personality) thought him that each person is special and not to let anyone tell him no when he set his mind to something. He also said that the teacher who told him he could write well is his hero. As the wife of an English teacher, this makes me happy.

Meltzer is called to Washington regularly to advise on potential terrorist threats and how the US can prepare itself to fight these. This is where he got his idea to write political thrillers. This book, in particular, was inspired by something George W. Bush whispered in his ear about how hard it is to keep secrets in the White House.

He says that his books have a recurring theme of the fallout from daily choices. We didn’t really see that in this book. Beecher was pressured into covering up the book, it wasn’t a daily choice. He chooses to meet Clementine, but that seemed like a coercion by the end of the book as well. I don’t think this theme was well brought out.

I’ve been to DC before and I never would have thought to go to the Archives to look up anything for myself. I saw the Constitution and called it a day. It sounds fun, but I’m not sure what I would look up!

One of the style choices Meltzer utilized was switching between present and past tense. Chapters narrated by Beecher were written in present tense while those narrated by other characters were in the past tense. I didn’t consciously notice this while reading, but I did feel it was jerky to switch between narrators and I believe this could be the reason. My fellow book-clubber didn’t notice the switches. She listened to the book on audio while following along in a physical copy and wonders if that might have been part of the reason.

We both liked the short chapter style. We think it helped us read the book faster because we got into the ‘One more chapter’ mode. I liked having a lot of places to stop that weren’t in the middle of a chapter.

We both liked Clementine when she was introduced. We believed her story and wanted her to find some closure and happiness. When she turned into a bad character, we were really disappointed. I felt really manipulated by her. At that point in the book, everything was turning out to be ‘not how it first seemed’ and, to be honest, I was getting a bit sick of it. Clementine was the icing on the cake.

We were surprised Tot ended up being a good guy. He seemed a bit suspect at times and I didn’t like that Beecher decided not to trust him when he was told by someone he didn’t necessarily trust to stop talking to him. I don’t see Tot being a major character in the remaining books, but I’m glad he was a part of this one.

It was hard to know what to think of Dallas. He seemed like a slimy character but in the end, we felt sorry for him. It was almost comical that he’d had the wool pulled over his eyes by the President’s inner circle to think he was part of the Culper Ring. I wanted to feel sorry for him because he did seem to have good intentions, but his ignorance made me think he was stupid. I’m still kind of indifferent to him.

Beecher was a hard protagonist to like. He acted very stupidly at times for someone who was also very intelligent. He was sucked in by a beautiful woman quickly. He trusted everyone to a fault. Our questions asked us if he reminded us of Indiana Jones. We didn’t feel that way because Indy was very action-oriented in how he solved historical mysteries while Beecher’s plot was advanced more intellectually. He reminded me more of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon from the Angles and Demons series.

This is the first book in a series so we speculated what would happen in the sequels (I have the second but don’t know how long it will be until I read it). How will Beecher and the Culper Ring find Clementine in Canada and what would they do when they find her? We think that would be the bulk of the story, but I’m not really interested in that story. I’m more interested in Minnie because I disliked her. I don’t know how involved the President will be in future novels because he doesn’t have a secret, only his sister does. But he seems determined to protect it. The other woman who joined me said that this reminds her of the TV series Scandal which I’ve never seen. She says there’s a big secret with his wife and father and the no-good things they get up to.

Hopefully, more people show up to our next meeting. I like discussing with a group more!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!