Tag Archives: Book Club

Book Club Reflection: The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

15 Apr The Gilded Hour Cover

After much delay, my book club was finally able to meet and discuss The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. I finished reading this book back in December and we were supposed to meet in January to discuss it. However, Mother Nature had other plans and we pushed the book back to March to accommodate. So here we are, finally.

We found out the sequel to this book comes out in September. We’ll finally figure out who the murderer was! (The ambulance driver? One of the doctors in the inquest?) There was so much content in this first novel that we must imagine the second and third books will be bloated with content as well.

We asked ourselves if a situation like the one presented in this book, of dangerous abortions, could happen in the US if Roe v Wade was repealed and abortion was criminalized again. Anthony Comstock was a real person and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was real. Could we see these again? Many felt it was likely. With the availability of oral contraceptives, it might not be as prevalent, but it could still happen. With the way US law works, the decision to criminalize would go to the states and its likely some more liberal states would decriminalize it while more conservative ones would outlaw. It would be like recreational marijuana is now.

The majority of our discussion revolved around Ana. She was a very modern woman for her time, something that bothered me a bit while reading. Though every time period must have some progressives, some modern women. Ana was a women’s lib fighter before there was women’s lib! She was not the common woman of her time because she was rich and educated but that doesn’t mean she’s unbelievable. Even still, we were surprised she continued to work after she got married. She was a bit of an odd duck, but she was protected by her aunt’s wealth and status, it was OK for her to be a bit different.

Ana and Jack’s relationship was a little surprising because of how outspoken Ana was. Jack was also very progressive and accepted her easily. He was hard to surprise because of his profession, seeing things that were unusual. He made her vulnerable, which was hard for her to deal with at first, but he wore her down and then she couldn’t resist him.

Her dedication to the Russo children was a bit hard for all of us to wrap our minds around. One reader explained it as Ana seeing herself in Rosa and being reminded of losing her brother. She never felt she got him back, but she wanted to help Rosa get her brothers back as best she could.

I may be the only one in my group who goes on to read the second book. I adored the writing and how intricate the world was, even if it did seem a bit long-winded. Maybe I can talk them into it.

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 Reflection: Hunger by Roxane Gay

21 Mar

My book club met to discuss Roxane Gay’s Hunger last week. It was a very emotional book and it made very a very emotional discussion!

I wasn’t the only person who listened to the audiobook. There were a range of opinions about the narration. Gay spoke slowly and some readers listened at a faster speed. She read it in a very monotone voice and some felt it didn’t give the subject matter the right amount of gravitas that a professional reader may have given it.

Many felt the book itself was a bit long and repetitive. By the end, some described it as whiny. Interestingly, there were not many professional reviews that had anything negative to say about the book. I guess it’s hard to criticize someone’s raw pain. No matter how many times she repeated it, though, someone who’s never been her size will never understand what it’s like for her. I can’t get it, even after reading this book. The subject matter was very personal and it felt like the reader was almost too involved in her life to the point of being obtrusive.

Roxane has the conflicting desires to be larger and unattractive to men but to receive the rewards that she sees as coming with weight loss and being small. She’s scared to be small because she thinks that if she is, she could be raped again. This contradiction carries through the book.

One thing that stood out to us was her not being able to tell her family about the rape until years later. We think they would have been more than understanding and helped her get the justice and guidance she needed. For a family that was so accepting of her bisexuality, surely they could accept something that she suffered so terribly.

Reading this book opened many of our eyes to how someone who is overweight feels about being looked at. Our society is very critical of someone who overindulges in food rather than something less visible such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. It’s because it’s something we can so readily see. Saying someone is obese is an accusation of something that is wrong with a person. It’s something medical personnel want to treat and which they get paid to correct. Gay’s problem was compounded by her gender. We all felt it was easier for a man to be overweight than a woman. They’re less likely to be stared at in the same manner.

We wondered if writing this book helped her cope with anything. We felt she firmly cemented that she is always going to be big and that she’s OK with it. We speculated that if Gay did lose the weight, people would comment on it and those comments would likely upset her because she wouldn’t lose weight to gain anyone’s approval. If she ever did it, it would be for herself.

I’ve only just started our next book, Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m hoping that one won’t be so emotional, we need a break!

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: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (Part 2)

12 Mar

Since Trigiani is visiting our area, both of my book clubs read her book, Kiss Carlo, over the past few months. My second book club met to talk about it and we didn’t have too much to say about it. We spent the majority of the meeting picking books for our next season of reading. So this will be short.

I aired the complaints my other group shared about extraneous plot lines and many agreed. We did have a member who just adored this book and I can see how someone would. This reader is from an Italian family and she adored Trigiani’s depiction of an Italian-American family. I married into one and I could appreciate it as well (and commiserate with the sisters-in-law!). It’s clear Trigiani knows what she’s writing about in that respect. Some of our readers come from a Jewish background and they identified with the strong family ties as well. It was well written and relatable. We talked about how her writing, the words on the page, were enjoyable. However, a lot of people agreed that there were some things that were hard to believe and that the book could have been edited nearly in half.

One reader described the book by saying “It was like eating Cool Whip expecting a turkey dinner.” It was nice, light, and enjoyable, but it didn’t have the meat to it that we’d hoped for and it didn’t leave us satisfied.

Most of us have already read our book for next month, The Gilded Hour by Sarah Donati. We’re making up for a snow day in January where we missed a meeting.

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: 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!

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!