Book Club: Women Heroes of WWII

Lori suggested this book after I requested something “light and easy” following my delayed completion of Filling Station last month. This was a great choice! It was simple, but still interesting and inspiring. 

Book Club with Lori

The book is split into parts, each of which focuses on one country involved in the war. Each part talks of a few women from that country who made huge impacts for their country, usually as part of the resistance movement. Some of the women I’d heard of, but most I hadn’t. I think that’s what makes the book even more inspiring – it’s largely filled with untold stories.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Sophie Scholl – She is one of the few I’d heard of before, and her story is especially tragic. As a writer, editor, and distributor of The White Rose pamphlets in Germany, she was eventually arrested. Within just a few hours of her arrest, she’d already been tried, found guilty, and executed.

Josephine Baker – An African American who emigrated to France, Josephine was a performer. She used her position as a celebrity to garner information from the enemy and turn it over to her allied superiors. 

Magda Trocme – She was the wife of a pastor who taught that it was important to help those in need, even if it meant legal trouble for you. She took this very seriously and ended up bringing over 5,000 refugees (3,500 Jews) to safety with the help of others in her village. Despite her husband’s arrest, she continued the work in his absence. They both survived the war.

Irene Gut – She was a 17-year-old Polish nurse who was forced to work not only in the hospital but also as a waitress in the military dining hall. She used this position to learn the plans for the Jews and to save them, even using the home of her employer (a German officer) in her quest.

This is a very small sampling of the stories in this book, and all of them are definitely worth reading.

In addition to the stories of the women, each part opens with a brief history of the war in the country being highlighted. Even though the book is an easy one to read (it’s technically a children’s book), it was both informative and enjoyable. Please make sure to read Lori’s post for her thoughts on the book.

Next month, we’ll be reading Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. This book caught my eye in the grocery store checkout line a while back, so I bought it. I’ve already read it, so my post will definitely be on time next month 😉

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Blessings,

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Book Club: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (part 2)

Book Club with Lori

I cannot believe how long it took me to finish this book! Sheesh. Please believe me when I say it’s not because I didn’t like the book; it was pretty good. I just have a hard time making time for recreational reading these days.

Lori posted about it way back at the beginning of the month; I hope you’ll take a moment to read her thoughts.

Questions are from LitLovers. Spoiler alert is in effect.

A lot of Southern identity is wrapped up in one’s family history. “Now, just who are your people?” is an oft-quoted phrase around the region. Sookie’s biggest crisis comes when she realizes that her “people” aren’t actually who she thought they were. How does Sookie’s discovery of her true family affect her identity?

I think Sookie took the information of her own adoption to a crazy place. It’s one thing to be stunned and to then try to find out more about your “true” heritage, but the way she abandoned her adopted mother for a time and kept going on and on about how she “wasn’t a real Simmons” was over the top. It affected her too deeply, in my opinion. It completely changed her outlook on life and yes, her identity, in ways it shouldn’t have.

Though Sookie tells us that Lenore’s nickname, “Winged Victory,” came from the way she entered a room—as if she were the statuesque piece on the hood of a car rushing in—how might “Winged Victory” reflect Lenore’s personality in other ways? How might the image of a winged woman tie Lenore in with the ladies of the WASPs?

I can definitely understand the nickname Winged Victory for Lenore. She was a very bold person, just the type that would be all about winning things (Victory). Her boldness could also be like that of a bird of prey – and she did seem to prey on the people around her to a certain extent. The image of a winged woman relating to the WASP women is obvious – they flew airplanes, and a “winged woman” would be one who can fly.

Sookie’s best friend, Marvaleen, is constantly trying different suggestions from her life coach, Edna Yorba Zorbra. From journaling to yoga to the Goddess Within group, which meets in a yurt, Marvaleen tries every method possible to get over her divorce. How does Sookie’s approach to dealing with her problems differ from Marvaleen’s?

Marvaleen is all about trying gimmicky things to deal with her issues. Sookie is very pragmatic – she sees a therapist (albeit in secret, kind of). I think that shows that Sookie is more willing to face her problems head on than Marvaleen. While Marvaleen is busy doing yoga or going to fruity self-help groups, Sookie is getting professional help and actually talking over her problems with someone who can actually guide her in helping herself.

In The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, we learn about a mostly unknown part of American history—the WASPs of World War II. These women went for thirty-five years without recognition because their records of service were sealed and classified. Were you surprised to learn about this?

The idea that the records were sealed is unfortunate, but for some reason didn’t surprise me. I’d never heard about the troupe, but it was a really neat aspect of the novel. What I did find surprising about the whole thing was the man at the end of the book who was running a WWII airplane museum, and when Sookie told him about the WASPs, he wasn’t the least bit interested – in fact, he seemed rather snooty about it when Sookie and her daughter suggested he include WASP history in his presentation. That didn’t feel real to me.

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So there you go… I really did enjoy this book, and if you’re a fan of the film Fried Green Tomatoes, I recommend reading this book – it’s by the same author.

Blessings,

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Book Club: The All Girls’ Filling Station’s Last Reunion (part 1)

Book Club with Lori

Just a quick update on this month’s book club… I’m still reading the book (I haven’t had much time to read since we moved; our family dynamic is a bit wonky from what we’re used to, and things are still meshing into the “new normal”), so I don’t have a full book club report today. But Lori has already finished the book, so she’ll have a post up sometime very soon. I do plan to keep reading the book; I am enjoying it, I just haven’t had time to finish it. When I do, I’ll do a post with my answers to these questions from LitLovers.

Blessings,

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Book Club: The Whistler

Book Club with Lori

I mentioned last month that this month’s Book Club would be on The Whistler by John Grisham, and that Mr. Grisham is my favorite author. This is definitely still the case after reading his newest novel; I think it’s even better than some of other recent works!

Synopsis:

A high-stakes thrill ride through the darkest corners of the Sunshine State.
 
We expect our judges to be honest and wise. Their integrity is the bedrock of the entire judicial system. We trust them to ensure fair trials, to protect the rights of all litigants, to punish those who do wrong, and to oversee the flow of justice.

But what happens when a judge bends the law or takes a bribe?

Lacy Stoltz is an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. It is her job to respond to complaints dealing with judicial misconduct. After nine years with the Board, she knows that most problems are caused by incompetence, not corruption.

But a corruption case eventually crosses her desk. A previously disbarred lawyer is back in business, and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined.

And not just crooked judges in Florida. All judges, from all states, and throughout United States history. And now he wants to put a stop to it.

His only client is a person who knows the truth and wants to blow the whistle and collect millions under Florida law. When the case is assigned to Lacy, she immediately suspects that this one could be dangerous.

Dangerous is one thing. Deadly is something else. (From the publisher.)

It took me a long time – in terms of days, not pages – to get going in this book (I even ran out of time on my library loan and had to return it, place a fresh hold, and check it out again several days later), but once I did, it was nonstop reading for me. There was one event a little less than halfway through that was enough to propel me through and make me want to just keep reading. I haven’t had that experience in a long time, so it was a welcome one with this book.

Discussion questions for this post are from Lit Lovers. Spoiler alert is in effect.

1. Talk about Lacy Stoltz. Grisham has been accused of ignoring strong females for his lead characters. Does Stoltz satisfy that lack? What do you think of her?

I’m unfamiliar with the accusation of Grisham not using strong female characters, but I suppose it makes sense; one of his other recent novels (Gray Mountain, published in October 2014) had a female lead. Perhaps if he was already “under fire” at that point, that might be the reason he chose a woman main character for that book.

Back to the question at hand, though. Lacy was okay. I neither loved her nor hated her; I was just ambivalent toward her. She wasn’t anything special. I think she reacted in reasonable ways based on the things that were happening to her and the people around her. I’m not sure that makes her “strong,” but it makes her a decent character.

2. Do you find anything enviable about Lacy’s life in the following passage? If so what? If you’re a woman, do you ever envision a life like Stoltz’s?

The truth was that, at the age of 36, Lacy was content to live alone, to sleep in the center of the bed, to clean up only after herself, to make and spend her own money, to come and go as she pleased, to pursue her career without worrying about his, to plan her evenings with input from no one else, to cook or not to cook, and to have sole possession of the remote control.

Generally speaking, I did not envy Lacy’s life in the least. She works too many hours for me, and it despite the relationship she has with her boss, colleagues, and colleagues’ families, it seems like it would be a lonely existence.

However… taking a look at the passage, I could see how it might be nice not to have other people to clean up after. That’s not enough to make me “want to be” her, though.

3. Had you figured out the whistle blower’s motive before the reveal?

No, but I didn’t really try to. That’s not my style of book reading. I tend to allow the author to take me on the ride they want rather than “spoiling” it, even just for myself. So I was perfectly fine to not try to guess who The Whistler was or why he/she was doing the whistleblowing.

4. How does Grisham ratchet up the suspense in The Whistler? What about that mysterious late night meeting near the Tappacola reservation? Realistically, why would Lacy and Hugo have gone?

The scene mentioned in this question is undoubtedly the point that made me want to keep turning pages. What happened “that night” when Lacy and Hugo went to the reservation was the moment I needed to keep reading. (I would have finished the book regardless, but this moment was the one that really was the turning point for me as a reader.) It was definitely the most suspenseful moment in the book (although there was another one involving the “whistler” and one of the antagonist’s hit men near the end was pretty good too). As for why Lacy and Hugo would go there that night, I think they honestly thought the man who called them would be a credible source in their investigation. I don’t think they suspected for even one second that it would be anything other than a reasonable “meeting of the minds” so to speak. Looking at it subjectively, after having finished the book now, I can see that it was probably a bad idea, though. I mean, who asks for a meeting at midnight? In an unfriendly “neighborhood”? No one. So Lacy and Hugo, being the intelligent people they were, should have known better. That said, without this meeting, and the unfortunate fallout that happened from it, the case never would have been solved. So despite the tragedy that occurred as a result of this meeting was absolutely essential to the story.

5. Read other Grisham novels? If so, how does this one compare?

I’ve read (almost) all of Grisham’s novels! (I think the only one I skipped was The Pelican Brief. That, and the smaller, non-law-related ones and the children’s novels.) I think this one is reminiscent of the Grisham I came to know and love many years ago. A lot of his current novels have been “preachy” or just generally not as good as his novels from the 90s. This one was absolutely fantastic. Definitely my favorite one in a long time.

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Lori let me know just yesterday that she was unable to get this book from her library in time to read it (the hold list was too long), so unfortunately, she won’t be answering questions on it this month. I hope you’ll head over to her blog and read about some of the things she and her daughters have been doing lately anyway 🙂

We’re still deciding which book to read for next month’s installment of the Book Club, so I’ll make a new post when I know for sure.

Blessings,

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Book Club: The Girl on the Train

Book Club with Lori

For Book Club this month, Lori and I decided to do “Freestyle.” This means that we’ve read different books; I chose The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This was one that Lori didn’t want to read, so I decided to do it on my own.

Questions come from LitLovers. Spoiler alert is in affect.

1. We all do it—actively watch life around us. In this way, with her own voyeuristic curiosity, Rachel Watson is not so unusual. What do you think accounts for this nosy, all-too-human impulse? Is it more extreme in Rachel than in the average person? What is so different about her?

I think a lot of us, even though we might be happy with our own lives, like to imagine what it would be like to lead a different one sometimes. It is definitely more extreme in Rachel than in the average person, though – others might imagine things, but she actually acts on them. As far as what’s different about her, I think it’s something as simple as her alcoholism taking its toll. She might not be this “crazy” if she wasn’t a drunk.

2. How would you have reacted if you’d seen what Rachel did from her train window—a pile of clothes—just before the rumored disappearance of Megan Hipwell? What might you or she have done differently?

I’m not sure I would’ve thought much about a pile of clothes on the ground. While it could be sinister, it isn’t automatically so. Therefore, I don’t think I would have done anything.

3. A crucial question in The Girl on the Train is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or “true” can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it?

It turns out that a lot of her memories aren’t so “false” after all. It seemed to me that her bigger problem was the inability to remember anything at all, not the fact that her memories were incorrect, especially near the end of the book.

I think memories can lie, yes. A lot of the things we “remember” from our own childhoods are actually the memories of our parents, and though they often mean well, parents will often smudge the truth to make themselves out in the best light. Therefore, our memories are lies woven by others in some instances.

4. One of Rachel’s deepest disappointments, it turns out, is that she can’t have children. Her ex-husband Tom’s second wife Anna is the mother to a young child, Evie. How does Rachel’s inability to conceive precipitate her breakdown? How does the topic of motherhood drive the plot of the story?

Rachel’s inability to have children is the entire reason for her breakdown. In a book full of lies, that much is made very clear. If she’d been able to have a child, I don’t think she would have lost her mind, become an alcoholic, and potentially been left by Tom (although, based on how he turned out, that last bit is up for debate). Outside of that one example, I’m not sure the “topic of motherhood” is necessarily a driving point in the story.

5. Other characters in the novel make different assumptions about Rachel Watson depending on how or even where they see her. To a certain extent, she understands this and often tries to manipulate their assumptions—by appearing to be a commuter, for instance, going to work every day. Is she successful? To what degree did you make assumptions about Rachel early on based on the facts and appearances you were presented? How did those change over time and why? How did your assumptions about her affect your reading of the central mystery in the book? Did your assumptions about her change over its course? What other characters did you make assumptions about? How did your assumptions affect your interpretation of the plot? Having now finished The Girl on the Train, what surprised you the most?

In a very basic sense, Rachel is successful in manipulating people’s assumptions about her. At least at the beginning. Her roommate, Cathy, has no idea that Rachel had lost her job a long time before the novel begins, for example. Her riding the train and pretending to be a commuter was a successful ruse. As far as the rest of the questions, I’m not really a good person to answer those; I don’t make assumptions about characters. I tend to read a book with nothing in mind, and I let the author take me on the journey they wish to tell.

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Lori read what looks like a really interesting book: Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz. I hope you’ll read her post to learn more about it.

This month, Lori and I are back to reading the same book. We’ll be working through The Whistler by John Grisham. He’s my very favorite author, so I’m excited about this one.

Blessings,

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Book Club: Beric the Briton

Book Club with Lori

Regrettably, I didn’t read this book. I gave it a try, but I just couldn’t get into it; it wasn’t my style at all. I encourage you to head over to Lori’s blog and read her thoughts, though.

For the March edition, we will be doing “freestyle,” meaning that Lori and I won’t be reading the same book. I’m going to be reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which Lori decided was too intense for her. I’m not sure what she’ll be reading. In April, we’ll be posting about John Grisham’s new book, The Whistler.

Happy Weekend!

Blessings,

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Book Club: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Book Club with Lori

For Book Club this month, Lori and I have been reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I suggested it after having seen the movie with my mom (on a “girl date”). The movie was enjoyable enough, so I was interested in the book. Because we borrowed the book from my mom instead of the library, Munchkin and Will also read it this month (we didn’t have to worry about late fees).

In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

A mysterious island…. An abandoned orphanage…. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Before I dive into the questions, I want to give a short review of my thoughts on the book. Going in, I wanted to like it. I really did. My mom, husband, and son all read it before me and raved about it, so I thought it would be great. But I found it to be touch on the boring side. It took a really long time to get to the action, and by the time it was there, I wasn’t really sure I cared anymore. I understand that the author wanted to really build up the idea behind the island and the peculiar children (are they real or was Jacob’s grandfather making up stories?), but it was too much in my opinion. It would have been better served making things happen a bit quicker. That isn’t to say the book is bad, it was just slower moving than I’d expected based on the film adaptation.

Questions are from LitLovers. Spoiler alert is in effect.

What effect did the photographs have on how you experienced this novel? In fact, what was your reading experience of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? How did it make you feel? Were you disturbed…or fascinated…or something else?  Did the book hold your interest?

I enjoyed looking at the photographs, but I don’t think they really effected my experience of the novel. I thought they were rather interesting to see, but the novel wouldn’t have been worse without them. I did think it was a very interesting way of “illustrating” a book. However… I also thought they seemed forced sometimes. What I mean by that is that it seems that perhaps Mr. Riggs found a bunch of random pictures in an attic or estate sale or something and decided to use them as the basis for a story rather than the other way around. I also hated that some pages went unfilled in order to fit a photograph in. It would have been better to run some of the photographs smaller (rather than letting each one take up a full page on a background) and put them at the bottom of the text. It seemed lazy on the part of the book designer to just leave off in the middle of a page, even if it wasn’t at the end of a chapter. There had to have been a better way to lay out the book to include the pictures without compromising the beauty of the book. (Now I sound like the wife of a book designer… which I am.)

As far as whether the book held my interest… yes and no. As I mentioned earlier, it took a really long time to get going. Once it did, and Jacob made it into Miss Peregrine’s house, it was fine.

What about Abe Portman, what kind of character is he? What kind of a world does he create in his stories for young Jacob? Why do the stories intrigue Jacob so much?

Abe Portman (Jacob’s grandfather, who dies at the beginning of the book) was a pretty deep character, despite the fact that he didn’t even make it out of the first chapter. He was talked about by the other characters, and obviously loved by the other peculiar children (children with special “powers” and abilities) in the home, and they were devastated when he left to join the war effort in 1940. The stories he tells young Jacob are fascinating – who wouldn’t be interested in tales of a girl who floats or a boy living with bees inside of him?

The stories are intriguing to Jacob for a couple of reasons. First, they’re being told by his grandfather. He has a wonderful relationship with him, and he wants to trust him – he does trust  him. Secondly, there’s just so much going on in each one that they seem like fantastic adventures, and that’s enough to intrigue any little boy.

As he moves into adolescence, why does Jacob begin to doubt the veracity of his grandfather’s stories? In what way does he think they may be connected to Abe’s struggle under the Nazis?

Jacob’s not a very nice teenager (he’s 16 when the book takes place – the parts about him being a child listening to his grandfather’s stories are told in retrospect only). He’s very worldly and generally rotten. It’s not surprising that a child with that personality would suddenly doubt the truth in the stories his grandfather told. Simply put, he outgrows the stories.

As for the stories being connected to Abe’s struggle under the Nazis, that idea comes about as a way to justify Jacob’s own disbelief.

Talk about the house in Wales. When Jacob first lays eyes on it, he observes that it “was no refuge from monsters, but a monster itself.” Would you say the house serves as a setting to the story…or is its role something else—a character, perhaps?

It’s one of my pet peeves when people suggest that a place is a character in a story. Words have meanings, and “setting” and “character” are not interchangeable. So no, I don’t think the house was a character. It was a setting. Jacob considers it a “monster” because it was such a different kind of place from what he was used to. When he first sees it, he sees the bombed out version, not the lovely place that his grandfather and the other peculiar children know and love. Seeing the destroyed house, which no one in 70+ years bothered to restore or tear down, was a kind of confirmation to Jacob that his grandfather’s stories were nothing but tall tales.

Talk, of course, about the peculiar children. Which of their oddities and personalities do you find most intriguing?

I struggled a bit to keep the names straight among all the different peculiar children because so many of them are mentioned so briefly to be almost just in passing. Obviously Emma is an easy choice because she’s the main character after Jacob himself. I think my favorite is the girl who floats, though (in the movie, this was Emma, but it’s a different character in the book, and I can’t remember her name offhand). I thought it was really great how Mr. Riggs thought of seemingly everything in regards to this character – she wore lead shoes to walk around, she had to be seatbelted to her chair at mealtimes. Perhaps I found her the most intriguing because I’m so short. Being able to rise above things isn’t something I’ve ever experienced (excluding airplane trips, but even that’s been nearly 20 years for me). On a subconscious level, I think I liked the idea of getting to see things from a different, higher up, perspective.

In what way can this book be seen as a classic quest story—a young hero who undertakes a difficult journey and is transformed in the process? Do you see parallels with other fantasy works involving young people?

Definitely a “classic quest” story. Jacob has no idea what to expect – doesn’t even know if he should be expecting anything – and comes across something absolutely beyond what he could have seen in his wildest dreams. He moves from being pretty much a punk of a teenager in the beginning to being one who sees value in his grandfather’s life and stories.

From the very beginning, the book reminded me of the Percy Jackson series, so yes, I saw parallels with another fantasy series.

~*~*~

Thanks for reading along with my thoughts on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Make sure to visit Lori’s blog as well to read her insights. I’m always fascinated how the two of us can read the same book and come up with such different answers to the same questions – that’s what makes this book club so fun!

Our next book is Beric the Briton by GA Henty, which is available for free on Amazon Kindle if you’d like to read along with us.

Did you read Miss Peregrine with us this month? Write about it on your blog? Have you read it before, and want to share your thoughts? Link up with us! Questions are from LitLovers, or you can write your post as more of a “review” style if you prefer.

Blessings,

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Book Club: The Book of Negroes (Someone Knows My Name)

Book Club with Lori

For Book Club this month, Lori asked if we could read The Book of Negroes (previously published as Someone Knows My Name) by Lawrence Hill. She warned me when she suggested it that this would be a difficult book to get through based simply on its subject matter, and she was right. The novel tells the story of Aminata Diallo, a woman who was kidnapped from her African village in the mid-1700s and brought to America as a slave. She was only 11 years old when she was taken, and lived with and worked for multiple families before escaping during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. She moves to Manhattan and then London on her quest to return to her homeland in Africa.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book (the subject matter is quite intense), but I’m glad I read it. Aminata is a wonderful character that I won’t soon forget.

Questions for this month’s Book Club come from LitLovers. As always, a spoiler alert is in effect.

What is the significance of the title Someone Knows My Name?

Several times throughout the book, Aminata laments that she’s become a nameless black woman. The “buckra” (white people) struggle to pronounce her name, and that’s not taking into account those who don’t bother trying. The ones who care (even just a smidge) give her the nickname Meena, because it’s easier on their American/British tongues and ears. So, for someone to learn, say, and know Aminata’s name is a big deal for her.

What is your opinion about Hill’s suggestion that Aminata’s very youthfulness at the time of her abduction enables her emotional survival, even as some of the adults in her world show signs of crumbling?

I absolutely agree with this assessment, 100%. All of the adults around her (specifically on the slave ship in the beginning of the novel) simply fall apart. Many don’t survive the journey, and it’s implied that the cause for that is emotional as much as physical hardships. One woman who gives birth on the ship even slits her newborn son’s throat and tosses him to sea to avoid bringing him to “wherever they’re going.” Even in the worst of circumstances, sane people don’t do that.

Aminata, though unhappy and horrified by the situation in which she finds herself, simply puts her head down and gets through it. If she’d been older and more mature, she may not have been able to separate herself from what she was going through, and she’d likely have suffered the same fate as many of those she knew in her previous life.

The section of the book set in the sea islands of South Carolina depicts eighteenth-century indigo plantations where African American slaves and overseers are left largely to their own devices during the “sick season”—a good half of the year. To what degree does this cultural and social isolation allow for an interesting development and interaction of African American characters in the novel?

I don’t think there would have much opportunity for character development at all without that time away from the “buckra.” The story is that of a slave, not that of her masters, so it was important to show what her life was like as she lived and interacted with other slaves.

Aminata suffers some horrifying cruelties at the hands of her captors, but her relationships with her masters aren’t always what you’d expect. How does Aminata’s story reveal the complex ways that people react to unnatural, unequal relationships?

It’s definitely true that “her relationships with her masters aren’t always what you’d expect.” Some of them, while not necessarily surprising, were positively despicable. Others weren’t so bad. It was interesting to read how different people react in different ways to the same situations. One master might be a miserable man who rapes his slaves, while another might treat them as members of his own family. There’s not really any way to tell in advance what kind of master one might be until you get into the part of that story where his/her story with Aminata begins.

During the course of the story, Aminata marries and has a family. Although she is separated from them, she is reunited from time to time with her husband and one of her children. What does the work tell us about the nature of love and loyalty?

Simply put, that it (love and loyalty) trumps everything else. Even when her child is brutally stolen from her as a nursing babe, Aminata never stops loving him. Her husband leaves her one day and doesn’t come back, but she never searches for another one. She is a remarkable woman.

Aminata struggles to learn and master all sorts of systems of communicating in the new world: black English, white English, and Gullah, as well as understanding the uses of European money and maps. How do her various coping mechanisms shed light on her character?

I never really considered that her thirst for knowledge was a coping mechanism, but it makes sense that it would be. Her need to cope with her situation is understandable; we all have ways of dealing with the things around us, and learning to be the best she can be in her new life is Aminata’s. They tell us that she’s determined, and that she’s unwilling to let things happen to her. She’s a fiercely independent woman who wants to be in control of her own life, and the best way she can make that happen as a slave is to learn everything she can about living in Carolina.

Aminata is a woman of extraordinary abilities—she is skillful with languages, literate, a speedy learner, a born negotiator. Why did Hill choose this story to be told by such a remarkable woman? What effect do her abilities have on the shaping of the story?

I’m not sure the story would have been as potent with a less extraordinary character. Aminata is a rare breed that can do anything she puts her mind to, and she uses that ability/determination to her advantage. If she’d been a passive character, the novel would have been very different. More subdued, a lot darker, and not nearly as hopeful. Aminata having the personality she did was vital to the story that Mr. Hill wanted to tell.

On another level, I think he may have made her that strong because he named her after his own daughter. Whether on purpose or not, I think he wanted to tell his daughter that she could be as strong as her literary namesake.

What do you think would be the challenges involved in writing a realistically painful novel that still offers enough light and hope to maintain the reader’s interest and spirit?

Ha! I think the challenges in writing this kind of novel are too numerous to name. I’ve written novels in the past (not necessarily very good ones, and they’re not published, but they exist), and I’m not sure I could have pulled off a novel of this magnitude. It would be emotionally difficult to live in this world each day as you wrote it, but you’d always have the knowledge as you wrote that you were moving the character toward something better, and having that hope in your own body would help to shine the light through the story you were writing. I think.

What lessons does Aminata’s tale hold for us in today’s world?

Perseverance is vital for survival.

Determination goes a long way.

Be the best you can be, despite your circumstances.

Love and loyalty can keep you sane.

I’m sure there are others, but that’s what I’ve got off the top of my head.

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Thanks for joining me in another month of Book Club! Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog to read her thoughts on the selection. While you’re there, stay awhile and read her other posts. She has a great blog with all sorts of different posts ranging from homeschooling elementary and middle school students (she has 3 daughters around the same ages as my two older boys) to hymn studies to simply sharing about their lives. It’s a delightful place to spend some time.

This month, we’ll be reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If you want to read along and join the discussion, we’ll be posting answers to questions on January 5th. If you have a blog, you can answer questions there and leave a link with Lori or me. If you don’t have a blog and you still want to read along with us, please do! You can comment on either of our blogs your thoughts about the book. I’ll have at least one special guest for that post, as well – Munchkin and Will have already read the book, so I’m going to present them with questions. I know Munchkin is going to answer them, and Will might, too, so I’ll be sharing their answers along with my own next month.

Thanks again to Lori for stretching my mind with this month’s selection.

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Blessings,

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Book Club: The Bronte Plot

Book Club with Lori

For the past month, Lori and I have been reading The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay. From the publisher:

When Lucy’s secret is unearthed, her world begins to crumble. But it may be the best thing that has ever happened to her.

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious liberties to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend, James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother, Helen, hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom as Helen confronts ghosts from her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of impossible circumstances.

Now Lucy must face her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along.

On to the questions (I’m not answering all of them from the website, but you can click the link to find the rest of them).

 

The Lewis quote at the front of the book describes an aspect of Lucy at the beginning of this story. Why do you think she’d lost the power to enjoy books? Is there something in our lives that we can fail to see clearly and lose enjoyment for?

First, let me lead with the quote: Did you ever know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? ~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

As the question states, this quote definitely describes Lucy at the beginning of the novel. She’s so interested in the specific volume of a book, rather than the story enclosed therein, that she doesn’t really “get” the magic behind a good book anymore. I think that nearly anything can become that in our own lives; I can’t think of a specific example, but it makes sense to me that the more you focus on one aspect of a thing, the easier it is to lose sight of the big picture and eventually no longer enjoy, even if it used to be something we adored.

Sid is one of the author’s favorites. What character trait do you think she found so attractive? She doesn’t tell you a lot about his background—any thoughts as to his story?

Sid is Lucy’s boss. He’s a purveyor of antiques, and Lucy works in his store as both a sales clerk for the antiques and running a side business inside the store collecting and selling old books. Sid is very likeable. He’s always upbeat friendly, and I can definitely understand why the author likes him so much. As for his back story, I imagine him being an older gentleman, thin with white hair (I don’t remember offhand if he’s described this way or not), probably widowed. Perhaps he owned the store with his wife, and after her passing he kept it going because he loved it so much.

Was James justified in feeling so hurt when he found the forged inscription? How did he perceive Lucy’s struggle? Was it a betrayal, like he claimed?

Yes, I think James was absolutely justified in feeling betrayed when he discovered that Lucy had faked the inscriptions in the books she’d sold him. If it had been something simple like, “Oh, this one is neat because it has some writing in it,” that would be one thing, but Lucy went so far as to tell James that the writing inside was as much or more a part of the story behind the book as the actual story the author had written. I don’t think he was very sensitive to Lucy’s struggle at all, but honestly, I don’t really blame him.

Lucy talks about “boiling a frog.” What does she mean?

The point behind the saying is that if you place a frog in boiling water, it will simply jump out. If you place a frog in cool water and then heat it to boiling, the frog will perish in the water. When the temperature changes slowly, the frog doesn’t realize it’s dying. In relation to the book, I think Lucy realizes that a lot of the characters, herself included, are like the frog in the water. When things are bad, they immediately remove themselves. But when things start out good and slowly get bad, it’s much harder to remove yourself from the situation.

Do you agree with Lucy that each person has his or her own worldview? How did hers change? How did James’? Helen’s?

Absolutely, everyone has their own worldview. Things would be pretty boring if everyone saw things the same way. I’m still finishing up the last little bit of the book as I answer these questions, so I’m not entirely sure yet how each of the characters changes their points of view, unfortunately.

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Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog to read her thoughts on The Bronte Plot. Our friend Annette has joined us this month as well, so please read her thoughts too.

Next month we’ll be reading Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. It’s a novel about a slave during Revolutionary War era America.

Special thanks to Lori for choosing The Bronte Plot. I’m really enjoying the book. Someone Knows My Name is another of her choices, and I’m looking forward to starting that one next week.

Blessings,

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Book Club: Julie and Julia

Book Club with Lori

For Book Club this month, Lori and I have been reading Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. It tells the story of Julie Powell, a New York City blogger (back when blogging was a new thing in 2002) who decided that it would be a good idea to cook every single recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Oh, and she decided to cook them all (524 recipes) in the span of just one year. During the course of her one-year adventure, she becomes rather well-known for her Project, getting stories in major newspapers and magazines as well as TV spots.

Before I dive into the questions, I want to take a moment to talk about my thoughts on the book itself. First, I wish there was less commentary added to make it “book like.” I would have found it much more interesting if they’d literally just published her blog entries. Because she went back and edited the blog entries to make a more “streamlined” book project rather than a series of short and sweet entries, it kind of dragged a bit. Second, Julie Powell is not a very nice person. She curses, she’s mean to those around her, and she’s so politically one-sided that her book is a nightmare to read, especially as someone with conservative-to-moderate political leanings. And finally, I cannot imagine undertaking the task she put upon herself. I’ve made a few recipes from the cookbook in question, and they’re complicated. Not difficult, but involved. Most of them take several hours to make, and a fair portion of that time is hands-on. So despite the fact that I don’t think I’d like Julie Powell as a person, I still respect her for having cooked all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Here are the questions (from LitLovers):

1. Julie has such a remarkable relationship with Julia Child, despite never having met her. What did you think of the relationship that Julie built in her mind? And why does it not matter, in some sense, when Julie finds out that Julia wasn’t an admirer of hers or the Project?

I think it’s weird when people say they “have a relationship” with someone they’ve never communicated with. (I think it’s completely feasible to have relationships with those you’ve never met, especially in the internet age, but to think you have a relationship with someone you’ve never even emailed is absurd.) In that sense, I think this question is silly. When you continue reading it, though, you get to the part about “the relationship that Julie built in her mind.” That’s a whole different thing, and something that I think can definitely be very real. The relationship Julie created in her mind is one of reverence to the great “JC,” and that’s an okay thing, I think. It didn’t matter when Julie found out that Julia wasn’t a fan of the Project because she’d decided that the “made up” relationship she’d created was better that the real person she was wanting to know. And by that time, I think Julie cared more about the task she’d set out for herself (cooking all of the recipes) than she did the person who wrote those recipes.

2. Throughout the book, various people become involved with the Project: Julie’s husband, her friends, and several of her family members. Discuss the different roles each played in the Project. Which people were most helpful and supportive? Who was occasionally obstructionist?

This is an easy one. Her husband was the most helpful and supportive (and Julie rarely gave him proper credit for that). He ate the food she cooked (even those that sounded gross, such as aspic, which in case you don’t know is meat-flavored Jell-O with stuff, usually bits of meat, floating in it), he helped her with things she couldn’t muster up the courage to do (specifically, cooking live lobsters), and at one point he even cooked two of the recipes for her when he knew she’d be working late. Eric was a saint to Julie.

The main obstructionist was definitely Julie’s mom. She was constantly berating her for the Project, and when Julie and Eric went to visit her, she flat-out refused to let Julie cook anything on that trip.

Others that were fairly indifferent to the whole process were Julie’s friends Sally and Gwen and her brother, Heathcliff.

3. Did you find Julie to be a likeable character? Did you relate to her insecurities, anxieties, and initial discontent? Why do you think it is that she was able to finish the Project despite various setbacks?

In case you couldn’t tell by my opening paragraph, I definitely did not find Julie to be likeable. At all. She had a bad attitude about life, and she seemed like the kind of person who is never really happy with whatever’s going on, no matter how good it might look to someone looking in. She’s very discontent.

She was able to finish the Project because it was important to her. Whenever we decide that something is important to us (even if it rates a zero on the importance scale to anyone else), we are willing to do almost anything in our power to make it happen. My not liking Julie doesn’t change the fact that she was a very determined person, and finishing the Project was something she felt she had to do, so she did it.

4. If someone were to ask you about this book, how would you describe it? Is it a memoir of reinvention? An homage to Julia Child? A rags-to-riches story? A reflection on cooking and the centrality of food in our lives? Or is it all (or none) of these?

If I had to describe this book, it would be none of the things the question suggests. I would describe it as a “gimmick.” She wasn’t trying to make her life better; she was just trying to do something difficult for a small period of time. She didn’t do anything life changing; she just cooked some recipes she never thought she would. I think it’s almost an insult to Julia Child to suggest that this book in any way is an homage to her; Julie Powell is definitely no Julia Child, and it’s sad to think that anyone might compare the two in a serious context.

5. Did Julie’s exploits in her tiny kitchen make you want to cook? Or did they make you thankful that you don’t have to debone a duck or sauté a liver? Even if your tastes may not coincide with Julia Child’s recipes, did the book give you a greater appreciation of food and cooking?

Some of the moments in the book made me want to cook, yes. A lot of them made me glad that I didn’t have to cook the things she was cooking. I don’t think I’d have the heart to slice a live lobster in half. Blech! Reading this book, I know that I will never cook all of the recipes in MtAoFC. Too many of them are either too complicated, too expensive, or too “gross” for me. That said, yes, I think I do have a better appreciation for cooking now. It makes me want to go through my own copy of MtAoFC and try some of the things talked about in the book.

6. When Julie began the Project, she knew little to nothing about blogging. What do you think blogging about her experiences offered her? Does writing about events in your life help you understand and appreciate them more? Do you think the project would have gone differently if the blog hadn’t gained so much attention? Who was the blog mainly for, Julie or her readers?

This is an interesting question, especially since I’m participating in a virtual book club on my blog. I think blogging offered Julie a place to air her frustrations over the recipes when she felt like she couldn’t really complain anywhere else. I don’t use my blog for that kind of thing; I write about our lives mostly to have a chronicle of the things my family has accomplished. I like giving my own take on things sometimes, but I don’t think that “writing about events in my life helps me appreciate them more.”

I think Julie would have finished her Project even if her blog had never been read by anyone but her own friends and family. She seems like a very determined person, and I think completing the Project was something that was of vital importance to her, so she would have made it happen regardless of the popularity of the blog. Whether the blog was mainly for herself or her readers, well, I think it morphed over time. It definitely started as something for herself (as all blogs do – there’s not a startup blog in the world that comes with ready-made readers), but the more readers she gained, the more she made it about them. That’s not to say that it ceased being about her at all – it didn’t. I’m specifically thinking about the time she was cooking all the aspics. The blog readers begged her not to do the rest of them because they were gross, but she persevered and made them all anyway. That phase was about her. A lot of it seemed like it was about the readers, though. She even mentions several times (mostly in conversations with her mother) that she “has to post, otherwise her ‘bleaders’ will be disappointed.” (Bleaders, btw, is her smush word for blog readers.)

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There’s one more thing I want to touch on before I leave Julie and Julia behind. I found it so interesting when she wrote about one particular recipe, Gâteau de Crêpes à la Florentine. This part was so interesting to me because that is one of the three recipes I’ve cooked from MtAoFC. And my experience with it was pretty much exactly the same as what Julie described in her book: time consuming to make, weird looking as a whole, but absolutely gorgeous when you cut it open and so delicious.

Lori and I are taking October off from Book Club so we can get back into the swing of things with our kids starting up homeschool again. I’ll have a book review for a Christian novel for you guys later this month, though, and we’ll have a brand new Book Club post in November! In the meantime, make sure to click over to Lori’s post and read her thoughts on Julie and Julia.

Blessings,

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