Memoir, Non-Fiction, Reviews

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives — a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys — she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

I like getting book recommendations from other people because sometimes it leads to a book I really enjoy that I never would have picked up on my own.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is that book. The premise of “a therapist, her therapist, and our lives” revealed didn’t necessarily hook me. But a strong recommendation led to me opening up the book and getting hooked on the first few pages.
In her book, Gottlieb not only chronicles her work as a therapist, she tells the story of the evolution of a few different patients and her own time spent in therapy. I think anyone who’s done any type of therapy themselves will appreciate this book, as the actual act of therapy in the book is comfortingly familiar, even if the individual narratives that unfold are not.
I do wonder how Gottlieb went about selecting the patients to include in her book. She did a good job picking a group that had both wildly different issues, but no less engaging personality quirks. In particular the lonely old woman who’s planning to kill herself before her next birthday, the young woman dying of cancer, and the television writer with the asshole personality really stood out to me.
Lori Gottlieb has a really accessible writing style that lends itself well to this type of storytelling. The kind of writing style that manages to be both dense, detailed, and highly engaging. I could have easily read this book in a sitting or two. But since I designated it for my morning reading (I try to read either a chapter or about fifteen minutes of a non-fiction book every morning), I read it in small pieces. Which meant each time I returned to it with a hunger to pick up the threads where I left off. Since the story jumps around in a way that wasn’t always linear, it meant I often had to read through chapters to get back to where I “left off” with a person to see what happens next for them. This didn’t bother me, but it might bother some people.
I would definitely recommend this book to someone looking for a new memoir-type read that is addictive and engaging. It’s definitely not a beach read as this book did make me cry in a few spots, but it’s a great book to get lost in and help you emerge with a more nuanced, considerate view of those people in your life you have written off as damaged or difficult.
As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Reviews, Young Adult

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I am a big fan of the Russian classics. I’ve read a good amount of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chesnokov. I even took a Russian literature class in college focused exclusively on Chesnokov. So in my opinion, The Bear and the Nightingale is everything you love (or maybe love to hate?) about the Russian classics, reimagined for the modern reader.

The Bear and the Nightingale is an incredibly atmospheric novel. It puts you deep into the snows of rural Russia, into a world where Christianity is warring with the old gods and old traditions. Where patriarchy is alive and well and women have little choices beyond marriage or taking the veil. In the midst of this is Vasilisa – Vasya. A strong-willed teenage girl with witchy magic who’ll do whatever it takes to save the ones she loves.

As I mentioned, this novel is incredibly atmospheric and feels like an old Russian novel reincarnated. That means the story at times is languid and utterly unhurried. The names are very Russian and difficult to follow if you’re not familiar with patronymics and the many, many nicknames each person accrues over a lifetime. But the writing is stunningly beautiful, the plot concept inventive, the setting immersive, and Vasya absolutely the kind of heroine you can root for. Also, can we talk about the gorgeous cover art?!

The first of three books, I have the sense that The Bear and the Nightingale may serve as a lengthy prologue for the story Arden is weaving. At the end of this first book, most plot points are not so much resolved as they are cracked open. A door to the real story Arden wishes to tell. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the Winternighttrilogy and seeing if my prediction is correct!

Have you read the Russian classics? Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? Let me know what you think below!

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews

The Girl With Ghost Eyes

The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M.H. Borosan

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on the hunt for possible comp titles for Shadow of the Magician in historical fiction. That means I’ve been deep diving on Amazon and Goodreads to find atypical novels of historical fiction to read and consider.

Of course, saying The Girl With Ghost Eyes is an atypical novel is the understatement of the decade. The Girl With Ghost Eyes is a wonderfully weird, intoxicating blend of Chinese myths and legends, ghosts, kung fu, and female empowerment set in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century.

This book was a fun ride from start to finish. I had to put it down when I went to Colorado for Christmas since I chose to bring (and finish!) Kingdom of Ash instead, but once I was back home, I could scarcely stop reading it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and is absolutely delightful. I really hope someone makes it into a movie or tv show in the near future.

But aside from being a lot of fun, the history feels real, visceral, and well-researched. Reading through the author’s note at the back, I get the sense the author knows his stuff and so bends the facts of history/story/culture with a careful, precise hand to tell this compelling story.

I’ve already picked up the second book in the series to read, The Girl With No Face, which just came out in October. I’m looking forward to tucking into that as well, though after that’s done I’ll be stuck waiting for the next one to come out!

Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews

Kingdom of Ash

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas

Aelin Galathynius has vowed to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. The knowledge that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, but her resolve is unraveling with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how long it took me to finish this book.
A LOT embarrassed actually.

I started the book after I got it in October 2018 and finished it….on the last day of 2019.

Yes, it took me over a year to finish this book.

No, it wasn’t because I didn’t like it. I think it was partly not wanting to finish the series, partly the fact the book was almost a thousand pages long, and partly because Sarah J. Maas’ writing often makes me stay up reading way past my bedtime. Since sleep was at a premium this year, I didn’t often pick up Kingdom of Ash to read before bed.

But I DID finish it.

And I loved it. It was a great end to the series and I was utterly satisfied with the way all the major storylines and arcs wrapped up. It’s a big job, concluding a series this large and sprawling. But Sarah J. Maas delivered!

If you’re on the fence about starting this series, I recommend giving it a try if you can commit to reading the first three books before stopping. The third book is where the story really took off for me personally and from that point forward, I knew I’d be finishing the series. It is a lot of books and a lot of pages, but it’s worth it. There’s a reason so many people are obsessed with this series!

Reviews, Year in Review

2019 in Review

This year I read a grand total of fourteen books. Fourteen! So while I am sticking with the same year-end format I’ve used every year since I started this blog way back in 2011(!), for some categories I chose not to give an answer because I had so few options I felt like my answers would become default answers.

I had a tough year on a lot of levels and since I usually read before bed, a lot of that time got ditched for actual sleep. Which is very important! But little reading happened this year as a result.

Maybe unsurprising though. Whenever I have a major life change to deal with, I pretty much stop reading while I try to figure my life out. So I’m hoping that 2020 is the year things will get a bit back to normal! I’m setting my goal for 2020 at 24 books…a modest two books a month!

Here’s to a New Year and a new decade!!

HOW MANY BOOKS READ IN 2018?

–14 books

FICTION/NON-FICTION?

–  10  Fiction /    4 Non-Fiction

MALE/FEMALE AUTHORS?

–    6  Male /   10 Female

OLDEST BOOK READ?

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

NEWEST BOOK READ?

Kado: Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho by E. Russell Braziel (November 2019)

LONGEST BOOK READ?

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas (984 pages)

SHORTEST BOOK READ?

Saved as Draft by N.D. Chan (123 pages)

ANY IN TRANSLATION?

Not this year!

BEST BOOK READ IN 2019?

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

MOST BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN BOOK IN 2019?

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

MOST SURPRISING (IN A GOOD WAY!) BOOK OF 2019?

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I didn’t know at all what to expect, but I really enjoyed it and got captivated by the writing style.

MOST THRILLING, UNPUTDOWNABLE BOOK IN 2019?

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

BOOK THAT HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON ME IN 2019?

BOOK THAT HAD A SCENE IN IT THAT HAD ME REELING?

Several in Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson and Kingdom of Ash

BOOK I MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2019?

MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTER IN 2019?

Lee Westfall in Walk on Earth a Stranger and all the main characters in Kingdom of Ash.

HOW MANY RE-READS IN 2019?

None

BOOK I READ IN 2019 I’D BE MOST LIKELY TO REREAD IN 2020?

BOOK I RECOMMENDED TO PEOPLE MOST IN 2019?

The Rules of Civility to everyone who liked A Gentleman in Moscow

FAVORITE NEW AUTHORS I DISCOVERED IN 2019?

Rae Carson!

MOST BOOKS READ BY ONE AUTHOR THIS YEAR?

FAVORITE COVER OF A BOOK I READ IN 2019?

FAVORITE PASSAGE/QUOTE FROM A BOOK I READ IN 2019?

“If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us…then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.” – Amor Towles, The Rules of Civility

“People value shiny stones and lucky charms, but they forget that the most powerful talismans of all are the stories that we tell to ourselves and to others.” – Kate Morton, The Clockmaker’s Daughter

DID I COMPLETE ANY READING CHALLENGES OR GOALS IN 2019?

Not even close!

BOOK I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAITED UNTIL 2019 TO FINALLY READ?

Kingdom of Ash because I actually started it when it came out in 2018…yes that is crazy, I KNOW. Full review for the book and why it took me so long to actually finish it coming soon!

Fiction, Historical, Reviews, Young Adult

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

I’ve been interested in reading this series ever since I first heard the premise. But I moved it up many spaces on the TBR list after I decided it might possibly be a comp title for my book.

As a nineties kid who remembers playing Oregon Trail on the school computer, I really enjoyed this book. While not about the Oregon Trail, the plot follows Lee as she navigates a dangerous cross-country migration from her home in Georgia to California, the land of gold and plenty. The story is immersive, full of rich details, and peril around every corner. The fact that this historical fiction story has a touch of magic to it is just icing on the cake.

Lee is a great heroine: tough, smart, and willing to do whatever it takes to save herself and those she loves. It’s no surprise to me that this book was nominated for and won several awards. Lee is exactly the type of female character we still need more of in young adult literature. Not a spoiler per se, but for a section of the book, Lee travels alone with only her horse and a gun to protect her. If that’s not the type of kick-ass woman our kids and teens need to be reading, I don’t know what is!

If you’re looking to pick up a young adult book that doesn’t make use of the “chosen one” trope – this one is for you. Yes, there’s magic, but only a touch. It’s not history-inspired fantasy or alternate history. It’s just a great work of historical fiction that happens to have a bit of magic to it.

Fiction, Historical, Reviews

Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire, and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

Having loved the other book I read by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, I was excited when my book club selected Rules of Civility. Though I didn’t actually end up finishing the book in time for our meeting, I was enjoying it so much I continued reading and finished the book.

Definitely if you liked A Gentleman in Moscow, you will like this book. But if you liked lighter fare like Gossip Girl and Summer at Tiffany, you will probably like this story too, which explores three years in the life of young Katey Kontent as she comes of age in the New York of yesteryear and rubs elbows which the upper crust of society.

Filled with the dense, lovely prose I’ve come to expect from Amor Towles, the story unfolds as a tapestry of characters every bit as rich and complex as the city itself. Katey herself is a strong woman who possesses a steely will and a self-assuredness we can all hope to aspire to. Though at times I wasn’t sure I was confident in the reasons why Katey made certain decisions, I was always confident that she was confident in what she was doing. Which is refreshing to see in any character, let alone a character walking around seventy years ago.

The same care and attention to detail was paid to all of the other principal characters: Tinker, Eve, Dicky, Wallace, Bitsy. Though none of the others got as much screen time as Katey, coming and going with the turning seasons of her life, each was unique and fully fleshed.

Overall, this was lovely read from Amor Towles and even more impression for the fact that it was his debut novel. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future!

Reviews

Kado: Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho

Kado: Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho by E. Russell Braziel

Eighteen-year-old Tom Murrell could never understand his father’s dreams of carving a new life out of the wilderness. He wanted to do something else with his life besides spend it behind a plow, but with the family moving to the Red River in Arkansaw Territory, he was stuck.

Everything changes for Tom when he witnesses the death of Tiatesun, spiritual leader of the Kadohadacho tribe, and is drawn into a raging conflict between the Kado and their arch enemies, a renegade band of Osage.

His new friends Mattie and James say there is no alternative. They must use a cryptic map, drawn in a bible by Tiatesun in his own blood before he died, to find this place called Na-Da-cah-ah. Only then can Tom be sure that his family and friends will be safe.

But it is a race against time—a race against Wey Chutta’s Osage. Dangers are everywhere. The only chance to save his family is for Tom, Mattie, and James to join with six Kado warriors, make sense from the many clues they uncover on their quest, and discover the real Na-Da-cah-ah.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review.

I was immediately drawn to this book because I’ve been working on my own novel of historical fiction for the past few years, which also features some elements of Native American history. I was also drawn in by the description of the setting and story, which described a moment and place in time that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a fiction book before. I love historical fiction that opens up a forgotten piece of history and teaches me something new.

Kado delivered in spades. From the first few pages, I was immediately reminded of the adventure stories I read growing up. Of course, I’ve been trying to think of examples for a few days and feel like I’ve forgotten many to the sands of time. But I did think of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and Downriver by Will Hobbs. If anyone was a teacher or librarian for elementary and middle school kids in the late 90’s and early 00’s, you can probably think of a few more examples of books that are comparable to Kado.

Anyway, back to my review! I really liked this historical fiction action-adventure story. It felt true to the time period, while still discussing issues of race, resettlement, education, and male/female relationships and roles from a more modern approach. I also liked that not only were we given a peek into an overlooked period of time, we were also given an opportunity learn about a Native American tribe that isn’t well-represented in literature either. I personally had not heard of the Caddo people before (the Kadohadacho being a group within the Caddo nation) so I learned a lot from reading Kado.

After finishing the book, I checked out the author’s website and enjoy reading all the notes about how Kado came to be. I loved how the author used his own ancestors and family history as the inspiration for this wonderful story! If you’re intrigued by the premise of this book, pop over to the website and check out what I mean.

 

Book Club, Personal, Reviews

How to Host a Successful Book Club: Lessons Learned From Five Years in the Trenches

Anyone can start a book club. The challenge lies in keeping it going.

This month, the book club my friend Kariana Reyes started turned five years old. I’m OG member and I think I’ve been at every meeting and finished every book except for a handful! I’ve made new friendships through the book club and read books I never in a million years would have picked for myself. Despite all the change I’ve personally been through in the last five years, the book club has been a constant.

So to celebrate this milestone, I thought I’d interview Kariana about what motivated her to start the book club, how she tries to keep it fun, and why she thinks this book club has endured for so long.

Note: We recorded our conversation in September, prior to our anniversary book club meeting.

Shannon Fox (SF): Our book club turns five years old on October 3rd. And  So a lot of people obviously do the book club thing and it’s fun and all that. But having a book club with longevity is something special. That’s why I want to talk to you about it because I think it’d be super interesting. So I guess the first question I want to ask you is, what motivated you to want to start this book club and how did you go about organizing it?

Kariana Reyes (KR): I studied writing at UCSD and once I graduated I wanted to make sure that I was continuing to read and so I started the book club. I tend to be a little more of an old fashioned girl. So I sent out invitations in the mail to anyone I thought would be interested and I had fun with that. I chose an envelope I thought it was cute so it would be a fun surprise in the mailbox. And I also sent emails for those who are more prone to checking their email.

SF: I always appreciate that you send me stuff in the mail. You’re like the only person who does it just because and it’s fun, you know, because it’s special that way.

KR: It just feels to me a more intentional way of inviting someone rather than so many invitations that are just open to anyone. You don’t even put much thought into who you’re sending it to when you send an email or an evite. So I really wanted the people to know that I was very intentional with selecting and inviting them.

SF: I know some people have stayed on from the original group, which I guess is just me and your mom actually haha. But you invited some other people and it didn’t stick for one reason or another. Was there a particular thought process about who you were selecting to invite to the initial bookclub? Was there anything behind that?

KR: Just people who I know that love to read. I think that’s getting rare these days to find people who have the time to sit and enjoy a good book. I invited people (and still invite people) who love to read, but also who would fit in with the culture of our book club. Our culture is very laid back. We’re very supportive. We choose each time which book we’re going to read as a group. So it is a democracy, definitely. I’m not the book tyrant.

And as you mentioned, my mother’s in the book club and she actually is where I got my love of reading from. And because of having her, we have a book club that’s multigenerational. There are ladies in their twenties and thirties all the way up through probably seventies or eighties. We don’t exactly ask how old everyone is haha.

It’s nice getting perspectives from different generations. I feel like we’ve learned a lot. A lot of our reading has been historical fiction, which has been kind of the genre that all of us fell in love with in book club. I don’t think most of us knew we loved reading it until we started reading all these historical fictions. But the greatest thing has been hearing perspectives from different generations. I feel like you and I, as some of the younger gals in the group, we’ve learned a lot from the other women and I do think that they learn a lot from us as well when we kind of have a more millennial, modern perspective on things.

SF: Yeah, I think that’s true. Obviously our book club has really stayed around a long time. A lot of people try to start book clubs and they kind of fall flat or people lose interest. Like the fact that we’ve been doing it for five years, consistently every other month, what do you think have been the contributing factors behind that?

KR: Honestly, I think one of the main contributing factors is that we meet every other month. We don’t meet every month. A few of us are working professionals and even those who are retired, they’re spending a lot of time with their grandchildren and a lot of them have other jobs too. Like they do work a little bit or spend time volunteering.

And even though most of the time we love the book that we’re reading, what I like about having it every other month is that I always plan during the other month to choose a book I don’t think the group would read. Like for example, Christian fiction. It’s not a Bible study or Christian group, so I’ll read those kind of books in the months in between. I think that there’s just like not as much pressure. If you’re meeting frequently, even when you know that, months fly by so quickly, it can be hard to squeeze in the reading. And I think when people don’t finish the reading, that’s when they get discouraged. They don’t want to attend book club if they’ve only read a quarter of the book. Even when they know they’re still welcome to.

Another thing I think that’s made it successful is that we just do our best to have fun too. So we eat together. We make sure we have time that we’re socializing and just kind of connecting as a group. I mean, what book club do you find now that doesn’t drink wine haha? But I also have done my best if there’s a theme in the book to try to incorporate that into our meals, into our desserts, which is super cool.

SF: And I think we all really love that and appreciate it, especially cause you’ve kind of taken that on. So it’s like a fun surprise each time. Even though you’re not the book tyrant, you’re still very much the hostess with the mostess and it’s always fun to see what you’re serving up or how you’ve incorporated the theme.

KR: So I have a couple of examples, I guess one of them being actually just last month when we read your book Shannon, which was so much fun. It was really exciting for the group to have an in-house author and you know I asked you before I had read the book, are there any meals in your novel?

And you had said, well at that time period, meals were very plain, so it’d be kind of a chicken breast and pie sort of meal. So that night I served a meal that was actually in the book and along with the meal I had a quote from your book listing the exact food items.

Our book club read a copy of my book for our August meeting

SF: And that was super cool. I mean it was fun to see my meal on the table. I think the other thing was we talked about how I said, oh I think they eat kind of plain food. And when I said plain and simple, I mostly meant foods that are really like pure because obviously they’re not packaged. They are pretty much like, you know, you’re eating chicken and it’s just got herbs on it. You’re eating potatoes and they’re just there and like the bread, you know, doesn’t have preservatives in it.

KR: We all forgot about the fact that I got that chicken from Costco.

SF: Yes. The rotisserie chicken. But we used our imagination haha. Everyone commented on how good it was. I think that was really fun. And I think that also speaks to when we do this, it’s a fun way to connect with the book and to experience them through food. Like, obviously we’ve done books that had French influences a couple times, which is fun cause we both went through French class and then you lived there for a year. But we read Jade Dragon Mountain and had Chinese food. And this isn’t food related, but when we read The Language of Flowers, you incorporated flowers into the evening.

KR: I like to do things that are creative so that’s why I’ve taken on this role and I really enjoy it. But in The Language of Flowers, the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, she goes over the flowers, the names, and the meanings behind the flowers. You know, if a flower stood for purity or if it stood for laughter or sympathy. In the back of book it had a list of flowers and their meanings. So I went to the florist and picked out a flower for each of the ladies that reminded me of them.

SF: Personally, I really liked that touch. Another book club, someone brought like a gift that related to the book. It was also very personalized like that. So I think also maybe that’s just like why when we go to book club, it’s not just about talking about the books, it’s very experiential. You’re spending time with other women. And then also having this experience of the food and whatever Kariana’s creativity has cooked up.

KR: A couple movie nights too. We’ve read a lot of books not knowing that they were or would soon become movies.

Another memorable one I think was A Gentleman in Moscow. That was the one we did for Christmas. We had tea at Marlene’s Tea and Cakes, talked about the book, and exchanged Christmas gifts. And when we read Roses, we went to the Aubrey Rose tea room. It was a more romantic novel which went well with that tea room’s decor. It was sweet how at the the tea room, they put up a sign that said Roses Book Club. And  we all got to wear our hats and it was fun.

Oh earlier, I also wanted to mention another reason I think people have stayed, which is just a joke, but our book club is made up entirely of Js. Like if you follow Myers Briggs, they are all J. So I think that that has a little something to do with it, not that I want to offend anyone, but Js are reliable. So if you want a book club to keep going, make sure you include some Js in there!

SF: Yes. You can have the Ps, but got to have a core of Js to keep it going.

KR: Js are more of the planners and yeah, we never need to reschedule haha. And like now that we’ve got our core group, almost everyone shows up every month regardless if they read the book or not. And it’s just very regular, like clockwork.

SF: So I think it’d be fun to talk about the books. Like your favorites, my favorites, some of the books you’ve read that you didn’t think you’d like or genres that you discovered. I think there are a few genres we haven’t done, but we’ve pretty much done them all. Even nonfiction.

KR: Yeah, we did a memoir. At least one, right?

SF: Yeah, Educated. Oh, we did two. We did I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

KR: I guess one of the challenges I thought we would face initially is that we do have such different taste in books. We have a couple of the ladies who typically are drawn to more romantic novels.

SF: And a couple who will want to steer away from them, like me. A couple that are really into science fiction or fantasy or crime/ thrillers.

KR: Exactly. I really like all of those and classics. I always throw out Anne of Green Gables every meeting haha – something old school. So it’s been really good that we are a democracy. We do listen to people’s suggestions and all kind of decide what we are going to read. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s been really fun. I mean it’s a safe place that people can say if they don’t like a novel, there’s no offense. So that’s one thing I’ve loved. Especially you and Joan, I like your honesty. If you hated it or didn’t like the characters. But it’s like, you’ve read it and you’ve learned something from it.

So I like to think that we all come from a place of having very honest opinions. And we have good support for why we don’t like things. We’ll say, I wish the author had not done this or I found this was inconsistent. Which I would think is good for you as a writer.

SF: Yeah you can hear it. Things that other people don’t like and what they do like. But I think we do look at the books from a critical perspective. So it’s maybe a step above what sometimes happens in book clubs where we’re talking about the book and defending our reasoning, which is fun because sometimes then the other people will be like, yeah, I kind of agree with that. You make them consider something they didn’t necessarily think about and you can kind of take them in a new direction.

KR: So we’ll go back to your question, but here’s a little secret. Because we’ve discussed that we’re all really busy, me included, even if I do a creative touch, it usually doesn’t take a lot of planning. As you have mentioned. It’s usually like, okay, there’s a meal in the book and I’ll just run with it and that’s going to be the meal for the night. And we’re not making it from scratch, we’re picking it up or getting the Trader Joe’s frozen versions which are always great.

SF: Yeah. And everyone loves it. A couple of times we didn’t have a clear theme for the book, so we’ve done potlucks. Like we’ve done kind of a summer thing or like a taco thing.

KR: One thing that I love about the group is that none of us are really picky. We kind of like all different things, but aside from food, one of the great things about the internet is that for almost every book out there, there are discussion questions already online. So I will Google, “Educated memoir discussion questions” and they’ll come up. Sometimes they’re even in the back of the book which is great. So that has not taken me a lot of work. And we ask standard questions like, did you like the book? What’d you think of the title?

SF: Yeah. Or like if someone particularly suggested we should read this book, then it’ll be that person who leads the discussion.

KR: We try and have everyone come to meetings with suggestions about books they’ve seen or read that we can do next. Like we always do a Christmas book or at least a winter theme book.

SF: Cause I kind of felt like we went through all the decent Christmas books, of which there are not many in my opinion. So I’m always kind of on the lookout for Christmas books that we could read because that’s one thing we always do.

KR: Yeah, exactly. And then even after Christmas, I know we’ve done a couple heavy books for winter and lighter in the summer. Beach reads when you know people tend to be traveling more. So, okay favorite. What’s been one of your favorites?

SF: I mean there are some that I really liked. Some I’ve also recommended that we read that I knew I would like. But my absolute favorite, which I didn’t know that I would necessarily like because as I’ve kind of documented on my blog, I have sort of a hang up about World War II books. Like if someone says, let’s read a World War II book, inside I go, Let’s read something else. Nothing against World War II, I just feel like there’s so many of those books out there that I get a little burned out. But I think actually all of our World War II books, except for one I’ve really liked. And even that one wasn’t so bad. But I loved All the Light We Cannot See which is one of my favorite books right now and I wouldn’t have read that except for my book club picking it. Even though it won the Pulitzer and other things, I probably wouldn’t have picked it because it was a World War II book.

Obviously A Gentleman is Moscow is another favorite. That one I knew going in that I probably would like it because there are few people in my life that had recommended it to me and I know generally when I get a book recommendation from them, I will like it. So that one I knew that I probably would. That is probably my favorite next to All the Light We Cannot See.

KR: I’m going to be honest, I actually was surprised how much I liked it. I thought it was going to be a much heavier read, a lot more focused on communism and just kind of thought it would bring you down a little bit. But it was a very sweet novel. It was very pleasant to read.

SF: Yeah it had a good tone to it. There’s another book I really liked a lot that I actually did suggest just cause I thought it sounded interesting and that was Jade Dragon Mountain. I have another book from the author and I know she’s written some more, so I’m really excited to keep going with that series. She was a new author I found from book club. Actually, all of the authors I just named were new to me at  book club. I liked The Book Thief and I was really surprised that I like that at first.

KR: That was our first book.

SF: Yeah. And Where’d You Go Bernadette? was a fun read and another fun surprise. Another one was A Man Called Ove. That was one that a couple people had recommended to me and I knew I was gonna like that.

KR: So that was good. Really funny. I was also going to say it was really fun when we read Jane Eyre together. We watched the movie and we had also read Wuthering Heights and I actually reconnected with a previous instructor who actually had written a book on the Brontes. So that was really fun just connecting with her and asking, Hey, would you mind coming to our book club and talking to us about the Brontes a little bit?

That was a very kind of enriching experience that helped us connect more to the books as well.

Also I thought it was interesting that you had seen that woman Marjorie Hart who wrote Summer at Tiffany. You had seen her speak at a conference and I thought that was a really cool book that you had found. Especially since it’s a memoir of life in the forties in New York right at the end of World War II. So decades before we were born, but very close to when some of the ladies in book club were born. So I think it was very sweet for them to read something that’s kind of from their peer.

SF: And it was fun cause I could tell what I had heard her talk about when I saw her at the conference. So just another sort of enriching experience.

Educated was a great one and I would say the discussion was very rich for that.

KR: And then, you know, another thing we did too is we look up stuff about the book. That one being a memoir the author had conducted a lot of interviews. So even when we met that time at Panera Bread, we just pulled up some of her interviews and watched it. And we looked up photos of her family. So that was kind of fun and just continuing to enrich our reading experience.

I will say that I personally, do have a few kinds of books that I won’t read. We do stay away from horrors because that’s something that not everyone likes. We don’t read crime really. We’ll read books that have crime in them or violence, but we don’t actually go out and look for a crime novel. We’ve also never read a western.

SF: Yeah. I don’t know if anyone’s still writing westerns, but we’ve never read one of those. And I don’t think we’ve actually read like a true fantasy. We’ve read a true true sci-fiction, but not fantasy like something with dragons and magic.

KR: We still have more genres to explore. Yeah. And we’ve never done la biography. I don’t know if anyone will be into a biography, but we’ve never done that. We haven’t done poetry necessarily. I don’t know if we will. That might be kind of hard.

I also want to mention that libraries are great. A few of the ladies, they just have so many books. As readers we tend to collect books. And so really they’re finding their books at the library. And sometimes we share books. Like, if someone gets a book from the library, we’ll share it with someone else in that group. So then they’re not trying to find a copy, which can be kind of hard or like, you know, we usually go with books that are easy to find, not like obscure.

SF: Right. So you can find one on Amazon that’s not too expensive if you’re just going to go ahead and buy it.

Any thoughts on the future of our book club? Anything you’d like to try? Just want to see how long we can keep it going?

KR: I think just seeing how long we can keep it going would be great. I think that the size we’re at right now is good. Personally I think that if you start to have too many people, you lose a little bit of the intimacy.

SF: Oh yeah. I think that’s good. Cause we have six. We had five for awhile.

KR: And now we have six and that’s a good number. We usually have either five or six every time. We also live not that far from each other. So it’s not like cumbersome for someone to meet. It’s like we’re all in the same general area.

I like that we have different taste and that someone usually will come with a suggestion of a book.

You and I are kind of the researchers. We’ve realized too that a lot of reviews and a lot of stars doesn’t always mean a good, well-written novel.

SF: So we often worry about what people are saying about it and I think we tend to bring books that someone else has recommended to us or several someones. And then we share it with the group and then we’ll talk about what people are saying about the book as well. So not necessarily like just going off star reviews. I think we’ve done that with Christmas books and like in my opinion, that’s where more of the books have fallen flat.

KR: Right. Where they’ve just come from like a general random search versus like, Oh someone I know read this.

SF: Okay so I guess that’s it?

KR: That’s it for now. Still figuring out the cake for next book club. I want to do something really special!

SF: And I’m sure you will! Can’t wait to see it!

 

On October 3rd, we celebrated our book club five years to the day we started. Our first meeting was on October 3rd, 2014. We met to discuss The Book Thief. And on October 3rd, 2019, we discussed The Rules of Civility and enjoyed this wonderful cake that Kariana and her mom made. As evidence of Kariana’s creativity, she made flags for each of the books we’ve read over the last five years (even mine!) and stuck them in the cake.

 

Fiction, History, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller, Young Adult

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about Stalking Jack the Ripper since it came out. But now with the release of the fourth book in the series, I finally decided to pick it up and give it a read.

After being on the fence for a long time if I’d actually like this book, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I was supposed to be reading a different book for book club, but often found myself picking this one up to read a chapter or two before bed instead. It’s told in a breezy, yet period-appropriate style that keeps the pages turning. I probably could have read this in one sitting if I had that much time (which I don’t these days).

I haven’t read many fictional takes on the infamous Jack the Ripper murders (the only one I can think of that I’ve read is The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson), but I really enjoyed Maniscalco’s vision for who the Ripper really was. Yes, in this book we do get an answer about who the killer was!

While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I’m even more excited to see where the series goes from here! I know there are three more books out and with names like Hunting Prince DraculaEscaping from Houdini, and Capturing the Devil, I can only image what exciting adventures await Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell as they presumably cross paths with Dracula, Houdini, and…the devil?! Speaking of Audrey Rose and Thomas – while I was surprised at how forward the romance was (I was expecting more of a enemies-turned-best-friends-turned-lovers slow build), the chemistry between the two crackles off the page from their first conversation and I’m looking forward to watching it progress over the next few books!

Stalking Jack the Ripper is the perfect atmospheric, spooky Halloween read that’s not too scary. Pick it up before the month’s over!