Tag Archives: Book Club

Book Club Reflection: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

14 Feb

My book club met this week to discuss Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. I’m glad I got my review of the book finished before we talked because there were a long of strong opinions in the group!

We started with a little background about Trigiani. Her family is from Roseto Valfortore and her grandfather was the mayor at one point. They visited the town and had automotive trouble getting there because the road was so bad. This helped explain the random-ness that was the Italian road (more on this later). Strangely enough, her brother is named Carlo and her friends were teasing her about the title of her book.

My questions about the cover were shared. The flowers and the woman on the cover made us believe this was a uniquely ‘feminine’ book. We can’t imagine a man reading it! Apparently, the woman on the cover isn’t a specific character from the novel, but a fashion model from the 50s who’s supposed to give the book a period feel. We felt the title was misleading as well and gave the idea of a romantic plot. One reader pointed out that Trigiani is a well-known author and that she has an established audience. That audience is mostly female and she’s probably not trying too hard to create a male fan base.

Someone brought up how the fight between the Palazzini brothers felt like a Shakespearean feud. It was like Dom and Mike’s dad wanted there to be a fight between his boys and the way it split the family was reminiscent of a Romeo and Juliet style family fight. We felt the story could have paralleled a Shakespeare story better if this was the intention. Or it could have dropped the feud and been a little more focused. There were so many people involved because of it that we needed a family tree to figure out who was the child of who and if they got along with someone else. Ugh.

Hortense felt a bit contrived for some people. She kept to herself at work and had a solitary job, but she was very close to the family. It seemed like a little too much. Maybe if she’d worked in their home it would have been more believable, but with her job in the shop, we didn’t buy it. She also seemed very bicultural and working in that environment didn’t seem like enough to give her that level of fluency in Italian American culture.

Calla was very modern for the time period. She felt more like someone in our modern world than a girl of the 1950s. Cutting her own hair and wearing pants was one thing, there are always those rebelling against fashion. However, going to the bank and being in charge of her own finances and business seemed like a bit too much.

We spent a lot of our meeting time talking about parts of the story that seemed illogical or nonsensical as part of the book. Even though I enjoyed some of these parts, I had to admit they weren’t very logical and some didn’t move the plot well. I’ll bullet to save space.

  • Nicky going to Roseta. Why wouldn’t he just skip town and lay low? Why put himself in such a visible position?
  • Hortense and Minna becoming friends. She’s such a recluse she never leaves the house yet becomes life-long friends with a weekend border?
  • Peachy figuring out where Nicky was. What would make her think that the filer she finds in the trash at his apartment is where he is hiding? That’s a huge leap in logic and a long shot at best.
  • Elsa being Jewish. We wanted so much more out of this unlikely (and slightly unbelievable) marriage. She wanted to go to temple, but we never find out if she does or how the family feels about it.
  • Nicky’s jerk attitude toward Calla before they get together. It was so obvious they were going to wind up together, why was it dragged out in this way? And what was his motivation for being such a jerk? Based on his conversation with Hortense before leaving New York, it seemed clear he went home for Calla!
  • The man dying in Nicky’s cab. We didn’t see how that would be such a ‘wake up’ moment for him. We also didn’t see why it was such a big deal that the man had sullied the cab and they had to get another one. That scene felt like a little too much.

Overall, the book could have been a lot shorter and a lot more streamlined. I’m hesitant to read another book by this author, but I’ll be hearing her speak in April and would normally buy a book as a souvenir. I have some time to decide.

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!

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Book Club v. Polar Vortex

7 Feb

If you weren’t aware the American Midwest (where I live) got blasted with a polar vortex last week that had temperatures below zero with wind chills that took us to about -20 here in Michigan. It was -60 in other places. (This is all in Fahrenheit, by the way. Yeah, we’re shocked, too.) With such extreme weather, some things had to step aside.

One of them was my book club. Monday night, we got about six inches of snow starting at noon and going until midnight. We needed it so the roads would be super icy come the freezing weather. Anyway, with such poor road conditions, the library closed early. Which made it hard for my book club to meet.

We were supposed to discuss The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. I was already nervous about this meeting because I read the book so long ago, wrapping it up in late December. I wasn’t sure how much I would remember in late January.

Our discussion leader and our librarian contact discussed some options for us. The book that we are set to discuss in February, Kiss Carlo, is part of a program at our library and if we push it back, other groups won’t have access to our copies and won’t be able to read it before the author comes to speak. So we must push ahead with Carlo. But what to do with The Gilded Hour?

It was decided that we’ll push The Gilded Hour to March and bump all out future books back a month to compensate. I’m even more nervous about remembering the details of Donati’s book now, with three months between finishing it and discussing it. I bet I’m not the only one who forgets a lot.

I’d like to think there’s not a lot that can come between me and reading. But I guess sub-zero freezing temperatures can.

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: Old School by Tobias Wolff

4 Dec

I was so excited to discuss Old School by Tobias Wolff with my book club. I was delighted to find many loved the book as much as I did!

Wolff would be just about the same age as the narrator in the time period given so we wondered how autobiographical this book might have been. One of our members commented that Tobias Wolff is a Jewish name so the main character might have been a reflection of Wolff. However, our biographical note included that Wolff has a sister named Mary Elizabeth. That’s not a very Jewish name at all. Wolff also moved to Washington state with his mother. The cover image of the copy we had was supplied by the author and consisted of boys in matching uniforms sitting at rows of tables with their heads bowed in prayer. Reading the legal notices also told us that many of the short stories in the novel were previously published in the New Yorker. We’re assuming this is Wolff’s work. It all points to a fairly autobiographical work.

It was strange that the protagonist didn’t have a name. One of our readers picked the name Arthur for him while reading and we used this for him while we discussed him. Arthur seemed to have some strange ideas about how someone became a great writer. He talked about wanting to be anointed by Frost when he visited as if a touch could transfer his greatness. He later copied Hemingway’s stories, word for word, as if he could learn how to write his own by copying these. He needed to live to have his own ideas on how to write. Later in life, we hear he is a great writer but we’re not sure how he learned to write. The process of becoming a great writer seems to also involve becoming yourself and being unique. There was a danger that Arthur walked in copying those he admired without trying to be original.

A few commented that the kids seemed very well read and mature for high school students. We understood that this book was written in hindsight, but he made his high school self very mature. Arthur talks about the strong literary community at his school but we only see a few people who are involved in it or who Arthur agrees are ‘good.’ It seemed a stretch that high school students would produce writing that was good enough that the likes of Frost, Rand, and Hemingway would want to read it. We find out later they only send a few, but it still seemed a bit odd.

Ayn Rand did not get a good representation in the book. We were surprised she agreed to come at all. She was quite radical, and the school seemed very conservative and traditional. I wouldn’t think she would agree to do something like speak at a private high school, but it did help make a strong point.

A lot of us felt the ending was out of place and that it could have been cut or shortened. It circled back to questions the boys asked Makepeace at the beginning about Hemingway but most of us forgot that had even happened. Focusing on such a different character made it seem like a separate story instead of the ending of a novel.

However, it shared similar themes to the rest of the book. We identified honesty, identity, and insecurities as major themes. Arthur and Makepeace must deal with not being honest about something and pretending it’s true. Arthur is searching for his identity as many teenagers do. He has a lot of insecurities about being Jewish and about being less well off than his peers. This book does an amazing job of telling his story and we all just loved it.

We’re taking December off and have our next meeting at the end of January. We’ve got a 900 pager to keep us busy until then.

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: Not Me by Michael Lavigne

26 Nov

I’m always glad to go to a book club meeting and enjoy what my fellow readers have to say about a book I disliked. It’s usually eye-opening and sometimes changes my opinion of the book. I can’t say my mind has been swayed this time, but I have a bit more of an appreciation for the book now.

We started off with a question that I hadn’t thought to ask. When does this book take place? With each year, we have fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors around. We thought this book may be set a few years back, possibly 2000 or 2001. There was a Starbucks and Michael had a flip phone, so it seemed somewhat modern, but still a little dated.

It takes Michael the entirety of the book to start coming to terms with his father’s history and process the story in the journal. He’s a very self-absorbed character. At first, he doesn’t want to learn about his father. The distanced relationship the two have is comfortable for Michael, and he doesn’t want to leave it. He has a similar distance with his son, Josh. The relationship seemed to emphasize how self-centered Michael was. Maybe Heshel’s focus on his philanthropic endeavors kept his focus away from his son. Michael may have assumed such a relationship was normal and formed a similar one with his son. The first time we really see Michael do something for someone else is when he kills Karen and puts her out of her pain.

I wasn’t the only reader who questioned I the journals were factual. Because they’re written in a third-person, novel-like format, it seemed plausible that we’d get to the end of the book and Michael would discover they were from his father’s imagination. He finally believed it was all real when he read his mother’s letter. Writing in a third-person voice may have helped Heshel distance himself from the terrors he witnessed and committed.

We talked a lot about why Heshel made the change he did. He seemed to have a ‘come to God’ moment when he was in the hospital, realizing what he’d done to Moskovitz and feeling responsible for all the other crimes he’d committed. We questioned if he was a con artist his whole life, deceiving others to think he was a great, big-hearted man when his motivation was to make amends for his terrible actions. He felt that his daughter’s death was some form of retribution for his actions earlier. He was given accolades for his actions, but his motivation was far from honorable.

One of the loose ends that bugged us the most was Israel Rosenheim. We assumed he was the one who left the journals for Michael to read, assuming he’s real. We also guessed that Israel was the one visiting Heshel in the nursing home. This would have meant that Israel was in Florida so we wondered why Michael wouldn’t look for him.

This book had a lot of other loose ends. We guessed that Israel and Heshel had a long relationship because of references to money that had been paid to some unknown source. We guessed this was school payments of some sort. The relationship with April was a big question mark at the end. The relationship with Michael seemed superfluous. She seemed to be there just for Michael to find out his father brought orphans over from Europe. April being one of them was a bit too ‘clean,’ especially the way we found out. We all wished that April had been the one to leave the journals. That would have given us a lot more closure.

I didn’t leave this meeting liking the book anymore. I understood why some others may have liked it a lot, but it still wasn’t a book for me. We’re not meeting in December so it will be January when we have another one of these great talks.

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!

When You Don’t Finish the Book

8 Nov

If you’re a book club person, I’m sure you’ve done this. Or know someone who has. Sometimes, life gets in the way or the book just doesn’t grab you and you don’t finish it. Is it the end of the world? No, not at all. I’ve gone to meetings when I haven’t finished the book and I know many people in my groups have as well. Normally, it’s not a problem.

However, I think it can be an issue sometimes. It depends on what you expect out of the meeting when you haven’t finished the book. You should assume the ending will be spoiled for you. If you plan to finish it eventually, this may be a big deterrent but for many, it’s just part of going to the meeting.

Second, you can’t expect the rest of the group to explain the ending of the book to you. It might come out over the course of discussion and you can clarify bits so you understand and can follow the discussion, but sitting down and asking “How did the love story wrap up?” or “What happened to her father?” is going to annoy your fellow readers more than anything. If you want to know, you can still finish the book. The others are there to discuss what happened, not rehash the plot for you.

Personally, I find it best to sit and listen to meetings where I didn’t finish the book. I’m able to remember things earlier in the plot better sometimes because my memory isn’t clouded by the ending like others. I can still add to the discussion but I don’t take up too much time that others want to spend discussing and it helps me to not ask questions that will spoil the ending even more.

How have you handled it when you don’t finish the book? Any further tips? Anything else to avoid? Let’s see if we can come up with a ‘Best Practice’ for when this happens.

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: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

6 Nov

I’ve been looking forward to our group discussion of Dark Matter since I read it. Apparently, not everyone was as thrilled with this title as I was. Some really disliked it and there were others who loved it as much as I did. Some said it read more like a screenplay than a book as if Crouch knew it would be adapted for television. A few complained that the middle dragged while he was going through door after door.

The premise required a solid suspension of belief. It reminded me of The Flash a bit because of the other ‘Earths’ that Jason visited. There was a lot jammed into this book and it left some of us wondering more about dark matter. A few people recommended two books, We Have No Idea by Jorge Cham and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. The different worlds showed infinite possibilities and how profound the Butterfly Effect can be.

We started to wonder about our own lives and the different versions we might find. Something beyond our control, like a decision a parent made, could produce a drastically different world. It might not be any relation to you, but that decision could mean you were never born. While there are big decisions in a person’s life that make you wonder, it’s probably the small ones that make large differences. Jason went looking for happiness because he missed it. But the happiest Jason pined after the success he could have had. Everyone lives with regret. For Jason, family was the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.

We had a lot of questions about the box. Jason sees himself at some point. Does that mean there are infinite numbers of every person who’s entered the box somewhere in the box? Is there a doppelganger of Jason 2 wandering around in there? What about the other people who went into the box and never came out? Are they in there, too? In a way, all of the Jasons that return are deserving of Daniela and Charlie. Jason2 is the only one who’s not.

When the plot first switched to Daniela and we see her welcome ‘Jason’ home, it’s not obvious that it’s Jason2. Some of us thought life was continuing like there was a reality split somewhere else and in one version, Jason had come home with no run-in. We wondered if the Daniela in Jason2’s world was happier. Maybe her career and being an artist was her best path. It seemed odd that she completely stopped being an artist to be a mother of one son. We thought she could have kept it up a bit at least.

We wondered about the world Charlie would create for them to live in. Would it be unpopulated? Similar to their own? They were leaving with nothing and taking only memories with them. It reminded us of immigrant stories around the turn of the century. It must have been terrifying.

We’ll be meeting again just after Thanksgiving so I better get reading quickly! 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: Artemis by Andy Weir

30 Oct

Yes, I’m already in two book clubs. Also, yes, I tacked on another one. But just this one time. Probably.

One of my librarian friends told me her SciFi/Fantasy group was reading Andy Weir’s Artemis and I groaned because I knew she would talk me into reading it and coming to the meeting. I loved Weir’s first novel, The Martian, and I had to see how his Sophomore attempt measured up. It seems a few other readers were in the same boat as me.

We had a lot of questions about life on Artemis. At the same time, we didn’t want too many details because it would have weighed down the story. We did wonder about the education system and how you’d put together a school system for so few children. Was there enough demand for teachers?

The book felt a lot like a Western. There was one sheriff, a lot of vigilante justice, and death from the elements was just a hair’s breath away. Only instead of angry Native American tribes, cholera, or snakes, it was temperature, pressure, and lack of oxygen. None of us would want to live on Artemis. First of all, no paper books! That would be hard for bibliophiles like us. But also, the lack of justice wasn’t attractive. We’re not the ones to live in the Old West it seems.

Artemis is the Greek goddess of the moon. We wondered why Artemis was chosen and not the Latin equivalent, Diana. It would have made even more sense for a Kenyan god to be selected. Maybe the name recognition or pronunciation would have been more difficult.

We enjoyed hearing about the small differences in life on Artemis. Coffee didn’t taste as good, stairs were half a meter high, how fun! We felt that these changes and new technology were introduced well into the story.

Of course, we had to talk about Jazz. I’ve already said my share in my review, so I’ll leave that out. One reader was surprised by how rough Jazz’s language was. She was very much the rebellious daughter. She was as opposite her father, a devout Muslim, as one could be.

Despite this, the relationship between Jazz and her dad played a central role in the plot. Her father was very proud of his honesty and trustworthiness. It made sense that he found his criminal daughter hard to get along with.

Jazz’s father was many of our favorite characters. Another liked Rudy and his own brand of space justice.

This group alternates SciFi and fantasy so fantasy is up next. I’m likely passing due to time but I’ll keep an eye out for the next book this group picks. I’ll likely drop in as I’m interested.

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!

The Book Club Dilemma

20 Sep

I seem to have this problem fairly often and I’m wondering if I’m the only one. Reading book club selections on a deadline can be a killer!

It happens every time. I think I have a week free to squeeze in a book I want to read. I’ll get started, I’ll get into the book, and then it happens. This time, it was an audiobook hold coming in that I’ve been waiting two months for. That threw my idea of listening to the audiobook of our selection. Another time, it was losing the hold on the ebook I was reading for fun, starting the book club selection, only to have the ebook become available again a few days later. Almost every time, something comes up.

I try to make it work. I balance ebooks, audiobooks, eaudiobooks, and print books as best I can to enjoy some of my own picks while getting through a book club pick as well. But sometimes it’s a real struggle. I don’t want to put a book on hold or I’m SO CLOSE to finishing it and could be done in four days but I need to get to that book club selection because I only have a week to read it and I’m supposed to be leading the discussion. Something always comes up.

I can’t be the only person who has problems with reading on a deadline. I know many of you read for book clubs and for blog tours. How do you deal with the time pressures and squeezing books in that have no deadline but make you happy? I need some tips.

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 Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

17 Sep

It was a long summer without my book club but we had an amazing book to gather around last week as we discussed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We all liked the book and felt it was important, even when some people found fault in the characters and plot. For a YA novel, it was sophisticated and a bit dark. We pondered that if it had been any darker and if the ending hadn’t had its happy elements, it might have been too much for a YA audience. As it is, the book teaches good lessons to readers of any age. One member compared it to Sherman Alexie’s Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or the movie Lady Bird (which I’m still dying to see!).

One of the complaints from our group was that there was too much content. There were a lot of characters and some of them were very static and seemed more like a representative of a stereotype or ideology. They could have been cut out to simplify the plot a bit. However, it depends on how you view the book. If the book is about Khalil’s death, most characters are superfluous. However, if it’s a biography of Starr, many of the characters were needed because they affected her views and perspective. Still, some could have been combined or simplified.

Another complaint was that some things were too perfect. Starr’s parents were too perfect, busting King was too perfect, and Williamson was too perfect. The Carters may have had difficult pasts but their current situation as almost ideal. They were also nearly perfect parents and always did and said the right things. (This isn’t one I picked up on while reading.) Busting King and getting everyone to snitch at the same time seemed unreal. We felt that the individuals would have been worried about other King Lords trying to get revenge and it was too good for Starr’s story that her father’s store burning down pushed everyone over the edge. Williamson and the suburbs were idealized and almost too perfect while Garden Heights felt too stereotypical of a ‘ghetto’ neighborhood.

Our amazing group moderator found an NPR interview with Thomas. She talked about the inspiration for this book coming from her experience at a liberal arts college during the Oscar Grant shooting and how she felt like Starr does at Williamson. She spoke about the inspiration for Uncle Carlos as well. While the white officer, 115, is shown in a clearly bad light, Thomas wanted to make sure there was an officer in a positive light. She had a cousin that was a cop and he was the one to give her the talk about how to act around police officers.

She also addressed Chris. Thomas says she’s asked frequently why Starr is dating a white boy. Some of us thought his character was unnecessary in the story but Thomas wanted to show him as an ally. He contrasts well with Hailey. I found him very relatable at the end when he was uncomfortable at the protest even though he wanted to be there and believed in the cause.

This book made for a great discussion and I’m so glad our library supported us reading it! Talking about it helped me appreciate it even more.

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: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

10 Sep

My book club met recently to talk about a book I adored, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Thankfully I’m not completely out on my own and almost everyone in our group really liked the book.

Krueger is primarily a mystery writer and has a series focusing on the Ojibwas. He is a back-to-back Anthony Award winner, an award given to mystery writers. He wakes up at 5:30 AM and writes long-hand in wire-bound notebooks. Krueger did not finish his degree at Stanford after he was forced to leave due to some student protests he participated in. He currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The first thing to talk about was Bobby Cole’s death. We were all hoping Doyle was somehow involved and that there was a dark side to him after all. With all the sneaking around he was doing, we wanted something more to be afoot. We felt the explanation that Cole was just a spacy kid to be a bit vague and didn’t feel that mystery was completely solved.

Karl’s death was a surprise to us all, too. We debated if it was an accident or suicide. From what we know, both are plausible. We hoped Jake didn’t feel responsible for Karl’s death. He was trying to help Karl by explaining he wasn’t a murderer, he was simply a ‘faggot.’ Too bad he didn’t know what he was saying. He wanted to help so badly.

The Drum family took up most of our discussion. Frank was a great narrator. He was very understanding of people’s differences and gave us a rather unbiased view of people in town. He only briefly mentioned his sister’s harelip and his brother’s stuttering never seemed to phase him. Karl’s sexuality never made him think differently. A lot of people weren’t the person others thought they were and Frank helped the reader see through that. He and Jake were under a lot of pressure to be the perfect sons of a minister and they dealt with the pressure rather well.

Ruth dominated the second half of the book. She never wanted to be a pastor’s wife and felt she gave everything up for Nathan and his way of life. She thought of him as God and she was angry with God and took it out on Nathan. Nathan clearly cared more for his wife than she did for him. It was hard to see how much she pined for the life she could have had with Emil. She seemed to keep her smoking and drinking inside the house as much as possible until Ariel’s death but it seems some people still noticed and didn’t think that was appropriate for the minister’s wife. Ruth is the last one who would care.

In a way, we felt Emil was responsible for the whole book. If he’d never left Ruth, if he’d left Ariel well enough alone, all the tragedy could have been avoided.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough. We all gave it two thumbs up. Our next book has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, I’ve already read it and feel it’s a worthy follower. 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!