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.


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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.


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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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.


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.


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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.)


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.


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Book Club: My Life in France

Book Club with Lori

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually finished this book yet. But it’s a great book so far, and I highly recommend it. I’m going to do my best to answer the discussion questions based on what I’ve read so far, what I know of the rest of the book (Will read it a while ago and told me several of the main parts before I’d decided to read it myself), and what I know of Julia Child and her other book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Questions for this month’s Book Club come from LitLovers.

1. Julia Child was an exuberant personality. How does that exuberance reveal itself when she first moves to France with husband Paul, a country many Americans have found unwelcoming? Why was Julia’s experience so different?

Her exuberance shows right from the very first page. Mrs. Child has such joy in all of her surroundings and experiences; she’s a person we can really look up to in this area. She embraces the changes thrust upon her rather than shying away from them. That attitude is what makes her experience as a world traveler so different.

2. Talk about Julia’s ability to overcome self-doubt and rejection as she pursues her career…both as chef and later as writer.

Julia Child was rejected many times on her way to her chosen career, starting clear back when she wanted to attend cooking school (she went to the real Le Cordon Bleu in Paris). The leader of the school didn’t want her there, but she persevered and became, arguably, the most famous chef ever to come out of that school.

Later in her life, when she was developing recipes and compiling them for her book (which she wrote with two friends), Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and more specifically when she and her co-authors were ready to shop the book to publishers, she was rejected several times before finding a willing publisher. This is the case with any author, of course, but Julia Child was able to move through the rejections with a thick skin because she believed in her product.

3. What role does Paul play in Julia’s development? How would you describe the quality of their marriage?

Paul and Julia’s relationship was something wonderful. Their marriage is something we should all work toward in our own because they supported each other so much in everything, and I don’t think Julia would have become The French Chef without the love and support of her husband.

4. Trace the process of how Julia comes to fall in love with French food—the fact that it was not just to be eaten but to be experienced. Talk about that first meal in France where she had her epiphany? Anything similar in your own life?

Her first meal in France was (if I remember correctly) an amazing fish dish – I forget the details. The server, who was also the owner/proprietor of the restaurant, really went all out to impress the American couple, and he did just that. She and Paul dined in many other restaurants during their time in France, all of which were amazing (or she just didn’t write about the non-amazing ones!), but it was that first experience that really spoke to her.

5. Discuss some of the interesting side stories: Julia’s relationship with her father, McCarthyism and Paul’s subsequent disillusionment with the U.S. government.

Because Paul and Julia had been stationed in China during WWII, they were automatically considered to be (at best) “risks” or (at worst) sympathizers with the Communist Party. Paul was hauled back to DC for some serious questioning/accusations while they were living in France, even though he’d done absolutely nothing wrong. (The US government assigned him to China, after all. It wasn’t someplace he chose to go.) That experience of being accused for absolutely no (valid) reason was the cause of his disillusionment.

6. Consider, too, some of the ironic or humorous moments: language missteps or Julia’s initial thoughts about TV.

I haven’t gotten to the part about her TV show yet, but one of the language missteps that stood out to me the most was actually something her sister said, not her. I forget what exactly she was trying to say, but in her fragmented, poorly accented French, it came out as “Mr. S**t” or something similar.

7. How important was Julia Child’s role in introducing America to French food and classical cooking? Has her influence lasted, given the culture’s affection for (or addiction to) fast food and convenience cooking, as well as our emphasis on low-fat diets?

I think Julia Child was vital in introducing America to classical cooking and French cuisine. I can’t honestly think of another chef who cared enough to develop French recipes for the American cook. She went to an amazing amount of work to figure out what the differences between French and American groceries were, and scientifically adjusted the recipes so they would turn out the same. It took her 11 years to develop the recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking; that should tell you something about how diligent she was.

Sadly, I don’t think her legacy is lasting because of the reasons stated in the question. It’s awful, but I think most modern families care more about speed and ease than quality in the kitchen these days.

8. If you have visited France (or live there), how do Julia’s reminisces compare to life in France today? What has changed…and what has remained the same?

Unfortunately, I’ve never visited France, so I can’t really answer this question. I want to go someday, but as of yet, it hasn’t happened.

9. If you have cooked with any of Julia Child’s cookbooks, especially her most famous, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, what were your experiences with her recipes? Difficult? Easy? Delicious? Too rich? Which are your favorite recipes of hers? Do you, in fact, enjoy French cuisine?

Yes, we actually own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Will bought it after having read this memoir himself a few months ago, and we’ve cooked 3 recipes from the book. The first one we tackled was Bouef Bourguignon – a burgundy beef stew, and the recipe that won over the publisher at Alfred Knopf, the eventual publisher of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This recipe was quite complex and took about 4 hours to cook. The result was delicious, though I’m not fully convinced it was entirely worth the time investment.

The next one we tried was her potato-leek soup, and that’s become a favorite of our family. It’s so simple (just potatoes, leeks, water, salt, and pepper), but so amazingly delicious.

The last one we tried was a kind of lasagna, but using (homemade, from-scratch) crepes instead of pasta. The sauce was essentially the same one you’d use for macaroni and cheese, but with Swiss cheese instead of cheddar. It had two “hearty” fillings – one that was spinach based and one that was mushroom based. This took a long time, too (about an hour and a half), but it was really delicious. My children didn’t think so, but my husband and I did. It was a show-stopper in appearance, too.

After only three recipes, I’m not sure whether I can honestly make a judgment call on whether I like French cuisine or not. It will take some more experiences first.


Next month, Lori and I will be reading a follow-up book to this one, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. It chronicles the author’s experience of cooking every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (524 of them) in a matter of just one year. It’s also the basis for (half of) the movie of the same name that stars Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child.


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Book Club: Courage and Defiance

Book Club with Lori

In June, I read Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson. This was a fascinating book about the Danish resistance during WWII. It was an easy read (found in the teen section of the library, if that’s any indication), and very understandable. I even read part of it to the boys; at ages 9 and 12, they didn’t have any issues with comprehension.

Lori, my book club partner, chose this book. I want to thank her for finding it. I enjoyed the stories of these heroes. Additionally, because we were unable to find “official” book club questions for this book, Lori wrote these. I think she did a phenomenal job with them. I’m not sure I would have been able to write questions this good; I tend to get bogged down in comprehension questions when I do things like this.

Please make sure to visit Lori’s blog, and especially her Book Club post today.


1. When you think of the Holocaust, what do you think about? Does this book fit with those thoughts? In what ways does it fit or diverge?
When I think of the Holocaust, I think primarily of the Jewish extermination, not the whole of WWII. This book was more the “generic” part of WWII than the Holocaust, I think, so it didn’t really fit with my thoughts very much at all. I’m not going to go into super specifics of where it diverges from my idea of the Holocaust because it’s more that it doesn’t line up at all, rather than simply diverging sometimes.

2. Much of what drove these people was emotion and response to what was going on around them. How does emotion drive action?

I think emotion absolutely drives action in almost every way. Think about yourself. How much of what you do is because of the way you feel at a given moment, especially the big things? I mean, obviously not everything is driven by emotions (otherwise almost no one would ever scrub toilets, for example), but the things that “matter” most definitely are. If we don’t care about what we’re doing (discounting the mundane things of everyday life), then we wouldn’t be doing them. On the other hand, if we care very much, we do them wholeheartedly. I’m not sure people can easily separate the way they feel from the way the react to the things going on around them.
3. Considering the smallness of the acts by individuals in the grand scheme of things, why do you think they continued?
This is directly tied to the previous question, and the answer is simple: they cared. The continued because they were driven by their emotions to do so. They continued because even though what they were doing was small in the grand scheme of the world, it was big to them. It was all they could do, and it was important to them that they do it. I think it’s incredibly honorable that they cared enough to keep going when a lot of people may have gotten overwhelmed or frustrated and quit long before they did.
4. The bravery these men and women displayed is hard to understand. In what ways do we display bravery or courage?
This one’s hard for me because I don’t personally feel like a brave person most of the time. I see myself as quiet and meek. There are decisions that have to be made requiring bravery, though. The example I can think of in my own life is the birth experience of my children, particularly Dragonfly. There were a lot of decisions and thought processes I had to go through building up to that moment, and I had to explore my inner bravery in order to make the right decision for me. (Slightly unrelated, but if you’re interested in reading about the decision I made and why I made it, it’s here on the blog. And then there’s his birth story, which took an interesting turn at the last minute.)
As a more generic answer to this question, I think this can once again go back to the previous question about emotions. People show their courage by following their passions, especially in stressful situations like war. The easy answer is to simply quit; the brave solution is to keep going, no matter the cost.
5. Were you in the shoes of these young folks, would you prefer to act alone, as Niels Skov did, or would you rather be a part of a larger, organized group, as Jorgen Kieler was? Why?
Knowing my personality, I’d probably act alone. (For those who haven’t read this book, Niels Skov showed his bravery and resistance to the Nazi occupation of his homeland by setting fire to German military vehicles.) In a situation like this, it’s difficult to trust other people; you never know when one of them will be a double agent – or worse, flip on you. When you work alone, you have more control over what you’re doing. You may not be making as big a splash, but you’re still doing something that you feel is making a difference, and that’s just as important.
6. Have you read other books set in World War II? Which ones and would you recommend them?
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. This book is about a young Japanese girl who develops leukemia after the atom bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. She remembers a story from her childhood about how if a sick person can fold 1000 origami cranes, their wish of healing will be granted. This book is an easy read and one I definitely recommend for children.
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This book covers the same area as Courage and Defiance: the Danish resistance, but it’s a fictionalized account from the point of view of a young girl. It’s a must-read for elementary students.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This is a novel for adults, and in the vain of full exposure, I haven’t read it. I have seen the movie, though. The story tells about young Liesel Meminger, a foster child in 1939 Germany. She finds the one thing she can’t resist taking whenever she sees one: a book. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read and shares her books with the people around her, including a Jewish refugee hidden in their basement.
  • Night by Elie Wiesel. This is tough book to get through, just a fair warning. It’s short at just about 80 pages, but every single word is incredibly potent. It’s the true story of the author’s time in a death camp when he was a teenager. Right now is an especially appropriate time to read it, too – the author just passed away earlier this week.
7. Which of these Danish resistance fighters do you most admire?
Hands down, Tommy Sneum. The others in the book went through a lot of stuff, and I’m not discounting their works or sacrifice, but Tommy’s story seemed much “worse.” Because he traveled internationally, he seemed to be doing a lot more for his country. I know that sounds insane – how could he be doing more if he wasn’t even there for a lot of the time? But he did. He was working with the other allies (primarily Britain) to develop a plan of action to fight the Nazis. And he did so at great personal risk, including taking a plane that he’d practically built himself on the harrowing flight from Denmark to England. I loved reading the chapters that focused on his story.
8. p. 120 “Only a drop in the ocean, that what they say. Well now, the ocean consists of drops.” – Morgan Fog on the use/effectiveness of Danish resistance. 
    What was his purpose in this statement? Do you agree? Why or why not?
It’s only upon further reflection of this quote that I understand it. When I was reading it in the context of the book, I found it a little confusing. Now, looking at it on its own, I can see that what he’s saying is each person is “just a drop.” Put all those people together, though, and you get a whole ocean. And which is better at doing its job of getting things wet: a single drop or an ocean? An ocean, of course. So by having a huge swath of people all working together (though separately, too), they were able to create an “ocean” in Denmark and soak the Nazis.
I absolutely agree with this statement. Though I stated earlier that I’d be more like Niels Skov and work alone (as a single drop), I can understand why groups of people working together (as an ocean) can accomplish more, faster.
Thanks again to Lori for finding this book and encouraging me to read it, and also for writing such compelling book club questions.
If you read Courage and Defiance with us, please let us know in the comments of one or both of our blogs. We’d love to hear your thoughts on it! If you’ve blogged about Courage and Defiance in our virtual Book Club, please share our button on your post.
Ladybug Daydreams Book Club

This month, we’re reading My Life in France by Julia Child. This is a memoir of her time in late-1940s France, when she went from being “just a housewife” to “The French Chef.” Will read this book recently, and it inspired him to purchase for our home Julia’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We’ve tried a couple of the recipes from that book, and they’re delicious. I look forward to cooking more of them. Questions are on LitLovers. Our posts will go live on August 4th.


As a followup to My Life in France, we’ll be reading Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell in August for a book club post on September 1. This book started out as a blog in 2002, when Julie Powell decided to take on the monumental task of cooking every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (524 of them!) in a span of just one year. Her blog developed quite a following back then, and it was eventually turned into this book. In 2009, a movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell was made that took parts of both memoirs and combined them into a pleasant film. Questions for Julie and Julia are also on LitLovers.

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Book Club: Founding Mothers

Book Club with Lori

I can’t believe it’s June already!! But alas, alack, it is, and the beginning of the month means another Book Club post. This time, the book is Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts. This book tells the stories of the women behind the men during the American Revolution.

As with all book club posts, a spoiler alert is in affect (although with a book like this, historical non-fiction, there’s not much to spoil unless you aren’t familiar with American history).

There are more questions in the discussion guide than I’m answering today. If you read Founding Mothers, I encourage you to look over them all and work through the questions on your own.

1. What inspired you to read Founding Mothers? Why do you suppose the contributions of women in the Revolutionary era have been largely overlooked by historians? Would the founding of the nation have occurred without these women?

I would never have chosen to read this book on my own (I’m typically a fiction type of girl). Thanks to my friend and co-host, Lori, I was challenged to read this book for our virtual book club.

I think there are a few reasons that the contributions of women in the Revolutionary War era have been overlooked. First (and while this may end up sounding sexist, that’s not my intention; it’s just true), the very fact that they were women during an era when men were running the show caused them to be “forgotten.” Second, as Ms. Roberts points out several times in the book, a lot of these women didn’t leave behind any information about themselves. There’s very little to go on in writing about their history.

Would the founding of America happened without them? Of course. While marriages are important, they’re not vital. (And I don’t mean that in the context of casual relationships; I mean it as marriage vs. no marriage.) The founding fathers would have been just as able to get done what they needed done even if they’d all been single. Would the nation be the same one it is today without the women? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t exist at all.

2. Which woman would you say had the single greatest impact during the Revolution? How about during the first years of the new government?

This is a tricky one, but I’m tempted to say Martha Washington for both. She was the wife of our first official president, so that makes her a vital part of everything that happened during the time period.

3. Despite a lack of legal and social rights, including the right to own property and receive a formal education, how did the women presented in Founding Mothers assert their authority and exercise their intelligence?

This was probably one of the most fascinating things to read in this book… I don’t think it’s really any secret that women were essentially considered second-class citizens at the time of the American Revolution. The women in the book, however, were well respected by their husbands (or fathers in some cases), and therefore they (the men) treated these women well. They trusted their wives to “hold down the fort” while they were off dealing with war and/or government issues, and the wives proved themselves more than capable.

4. How did life differ for women depending on where they lived—the North versus the South, the city versus rural areas? How else did geographical circumstances impact their lives?

Geography impacted their lives a great deal, just as it impacts us today. Farmers live a very different life than suburban dwellers. The same was true in the early days of our nation. The women who lived on farms and plantations had considerably more work to get done each day. The women who lived in cities were instrumental in helping their husbands in the early days of the revolution (i.e. helping with the boycott on British goods). Each played an important, though different, role.

5. Cokie Roberts intersperses her thoughts and commentary throughout the book. Does this enhance the narrative? In what ways?

On one hand, I think it’s important that Ms. Roberts included her own thoughts in the narrative of the histories. Without it, she’d be more an “information transferrer” (that’s not really a word, but it gets my point across better than any real word I can think of) than an author writing about the time period.

On the other hand, I frequently found her commentary distracting and found it to be more problematic than helpful. But that could just be me, so I’m not prepared to say that her inclusion of it was a bad thing.


Next month, Lori and I will be discussing Courage and Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson. I haven’t picked it up from the library yet, but I’m very fascinated by the WWII era, and the subtitle definitely piques my interest. I’m really looking forward to diving into this book.

Please be sure to visit Lori’s blog today to read her thoughts on Founding Mothers.

If you’re participating in the Book Club with us, we’d love it if you included the Book Club button on your post.

Ladybug Daydreams Book Club


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Book Club: The Martian

Book Club with Lori

The past month I’ve enjoyed reading The Martian by Andy Weir. I liked the movie a lot when I watched it back in February, and really wanted to read the book soon after I saw the film. I think the book and movie work really well together; there are some things in the movie that didn’t make sense without the book and vice versa. My only complaint with the book was the excessive cursing. I’m of the mindset that bad language doesn’t belong in art of any kind – music, literature, etc.

Question for this study come from the back of the paperback novel and are copyright 2014 Random House, LLC. There were 20 questions for this book, which is a lot, so I’m going to cherry pick the ones I like the best.

As with all Book Club posts, a spoiler alert is in effect.

1. What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author make us care about Mark?

I think simply being the main character is enough to make people root for you in a survival story. Likeability doesn’t hurt, though, and Mark Watney (the astronaut abandoned on Mars and title character in the novel) is definitely likeable (despite his cursing). I’m not convinced I necessarily “identify with” Mark, but I enjoyed his story nonetheless. The author makes us care about Mark through the use of the log book entries. We’re inside his head (using first person narration) for much of the novel; when you know the inner thoughts of a character, it’s nearly impossible not to care about them.

2. Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?

As heartbreaking as such a decision would be to make, yes, I think it was the right call. They could leave their colleague and friend, whom they were sure had perished in the storm, in order to get the rest of the crew home safely, or they could continue searching for him and risk the lives of the other five members. I don’t think there really was any other choice for them. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation, but I think they did the right thing.

3. Do you find the science and technology behind Mark’s problem solving accessible? How did that information add to the realism of the story?

Despite being quite technological, the author did a good job also keeping it understandable (for the most part). I don’t think the story would have been realistic at all without all that stuff. The main character was a scientist, and science played a crucial role in his survival. It wouldn’t have made sense for a scientist to be stuck somewhere – on a scientific mission, no less – and not be thinking all the time about how to best use his skill set and knowledge to help him.

4. To what extent does Mark’s log serve as his companion? Do you think it’s implicit in the narrative that maintaining a log keeps him sane?

Mark’s logbook is to him what Wilson the volleyball was to Chuck (Tom Hanks) in Castaway. When you’re in a situation like this, you have to have someone – or something – to talk to, even if it’s not a real something. Humans were created to commune with God and each other, so being solitary for so long can definitely be detrimental to us. The logbook provides Mark a way of communicating that definitely helps to keep him sane during his solitary confinement on Mars.

That said, I don’t think the narrative said (or even implied) that this was the case. I got the impression that the logbook was something Mark was just accustomed to keeping. Perhaps it was required by NASA, and he just kept the habit up even when the entries didn’t have to do with how he was surviving or what he was doing to move forward in his quest for rescue.

5. There’s no mention of Mark having a romantic relationship on Earth. Do you think that makes it easier or harder to endure his isolation? How would the story be different if he were in love with someone back home?

This is a really great question, and one that I thought a lot about during the reading of the novel. It would make a great fan fiction story!

Based on the scenes we see of his crewmates having Skype conversations with their loved ones while aboard the spaceship, I think not having a romantic relationship waiting for him makes his situation easier. I know myself, and as horrified and frightened as I would be in Mark’s place, I’d be an even bigger mess knowing my husband was at home not knowing what was happening with me. Being single makes the situation bearable.

If Mark wasn’t single, the story would have had one more layer of emotion, and that may have made it even better than it was. There would have been a lot more opportunity for heartwrenching scenes, both during his time on Mars and when he returns to Earth. While the story was very streamlined the way it’s written, it might have been just a little better with a romantic interest.

6. To what extent do you think guilt played a part in the crew’s choice to go back to Mark? To what extent loyalty? How would you explain the difference?

It was 100% guilt.

It was also 100% loyalty.

Of course they felt guilty for having left him there; they’d be monsters if they didn’t. Especially Commander Lewis, the leader of the crew. But they were also fiercely loyal to their comrade. You don’t spend the kind of time together that this crew did (a couple of years of training plus 9+ months in the spaceship) and not develop a sense of loyalty to each other. It’s the kind of bond not many people get to experience.

The difference between guilt and loyalty is easy because they’re not the same thing at all. Guilt is an emotion you feel when you’ve done something wrong – or at least when you think you’ve done something wrong. Loyalty is friendship, but deeper. It’s what happens when you care about the other person as much or more than you care about yourself. To a certain extent, loyalty isn’t so different from love. But it’s very different from guilt.

Despite that, it was still 100% both that caused the crew to go back for Mark. And they did the right thing.


Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog, At Home: where life happens, to read her answers to some (or all, I’m not sure) of the book club questions for The Martian.

Until next month,

Happy reading.


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The Book Club: Pretty Baby

Book Club with Lori

Welcome to another edition of The Book Club! I’m thrilled to be joined by Lori at At Home: where life happens as my co-host for this endeavor. As I mentioned in my introductory post last month, we read Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica this month. If you read it and are blogging about the Book Club questions, please link up with us! We’d be honored to have you join us in our virtual club.

Pretty Baby synopsis from the book cover flap:

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal – or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet,n but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surfact, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

Pretty Baby is available on Amazon. The questions for this post are from the author’s website.

As with all posts in the Book Club, a spoiler alert is in effect.

After you’ve read my answers, don’t forget to head over to Lori’s blog and see how her take on the novel was different (or the same) as mine.

1. Both Heidi’s and Willow’s actions are fueled by their experiences with deep personal tragedy. Did you find them to be sympathetic characters? Are their offenses justified? Do you think they should be held responsible?

 I found Willow to be sympathetic. Having gone through what she did – the loss of her parents at a young age, the adoption/separation from her sister, the abuse at the hands of her foster father… Yes, she was sympathetic. I ached for her. Does that make her offenses justified? Absolutely not. She kidnapped a child simply to punish the baby’s parents (who happen to be her sister’s adoptive parents) for having had the baby. There’s nothing that justifies that, and she absolutely should have been punished for that, probably more harshly than she was.

Heidi is trickier. Her descent into insanity seemed contrived to me. It wasn’t natural and was very abrupt feeling. I understand how and why she fell the way she did, but it didn’t feel like the author set it up enough in advance to make it flow with the rest of the story. Outside of being crazy (literally), I don’t know that Heidi had any offenses to be held responsible for.

2. Who do you think is most to blame for Willow’s abuse in her foster home: Joseph, the caseworker Amber Adler, or someone else? If you were in Willow’s shoes, would you have tried to do something differently to remedy the situation?

 Definitely Joseph, the foster father. Ms. Amber Adler had no way of knowing that anything untoward was going on in that home, so she is 100% not to blame. Willow should have said something at some point so that someone – anyone – could have stopped the abuse. I’m not suggesting that a victim is ever to blamed for being abused, but she really should have said something during one of the caseworker’s visits. I like to think I’d have said or done something to remedy the situation if I were in Willow’s position, but being a quiet introvert, I can understand how she didn’t.

3. Who is the hero in Pretty Baby, and who is the victim? Does this change throughout the novel?

Oh, the hero and victim definitely change. In the beginning, Heidi is the clear hero: she works in a nonprofit whose main job is to help people, she adopts the cats mentioned on the book jacket (they barely make an appearance in the book), and she brings Willow and Ruby (the baby) into her home. Yes, she’s definitely a hero. By the end of the novel, she’s become a victim – to her own demons. Her past abortion (she was diagnosed with cervical cancer very early on in pregnancy; an abortion was the only chance she had to get the cancer treatment she needed) haunts her to the point of sending her to a mental institution. She kidnaps the baby she thought was Willow’s. She’s just a disaster by the end of the book.

Willow, on the other hand, starts out the victim. She’s a homeless teenager with a baby. As the novel progresses, we learn that she was victimized at the tender age of 8 by life when her parents were killed in a car accident. She was further victimized by her foster father for several years until she was able to escape that home. Heidi rescues her, but then victimizes her all over again by forcing her to leave Heidi’s home without Ruby, whom Heidi thought was Willow’s baby. As the book draws to a close, we learn that Willow’s true hero was Matthew (her foster brother), not Heidi at all. I don’t think Willow ever becomes a hero herself, but she does at least find solace in her situation and gets away from all of her abusers.

4. What do you think of Chris’s character? Is he a good husband? How does he contribute to the events that unfold in the novel? What could he have done to prevent Heidi’s downfall?

Chris is okay. Is he a good husband? Not really. Is he the worst husband ever? Definitely not. He contemplates cheating, but it says a great deal about his character that he doesn’t follow through. His participation in the events that become the novel’s climax are largely passive – he contributes simply by not having helped. I think he could have prevented Heidi’s meltdown by taking to heart what her doctor told her (which he recalled near the end of the book) about her needing psychiatric help, and not just physical care after the abortion. If he’d made sure she was taken care of mentally, she would have been able to process her feelings  and might not have fallen apart the way she did.

5. Are Willow’s feelings for Matthew genuine, or a result of having no one else in her life to trust? Do you foresee a time in their lives when Willow and Matthew will reunite, or would Willow be better off making a fresh start?

 There’s really no way to know whether Willow’s feelings for Matthew are real or not. I think she thinks they’re real, and that’s enough to say that yes, they are genuine. As for whether they’ll reunite, I don’t think so. In the closing chapter, Willow seems pretty stable in the group home, and as much as she loves Matthew, seeing him again would be bad for her. It could easily send her spiraling back into the blackness she was finally able to escape. Despite the fact that she wouldn’t have been able to leave without Matthew’s help, I still think she’s better off making a fresh start.

6. Are Zoe’s dramatics typical of a preteen girl, or is she herself a character on the brink of becoming unhinged? Does her own behavior contribute to Heidi’s undoing? Why or why not?

As a mom of boys, I found Zoe positively horrid. Are all 12-year-old girls like that? Because my 12-year-old boy certainly isn’t! I hope to shout her dramatics aren’t typical, but from what I’ve heard from moms of daughters, they probably are. They can be, anyway. I don’t think she’s “on the brink of becoming unhinged,” though. I think she’s just a brat. As for Zoe’s behavior contributing to Heidi’s downfall, I don’t think it did. I think her mere existence was a factor. Zoe was a constant reminder of all the children Heidi could never have. Instead of feeling blessed with the one she did have, Heidi focused more on those she didn’t have. So through no fault of her own, Zoe did cause (in part) her mother’s fall, unfortunately.

7. Heidi goes above and beyond to help Willow, a complete stranger. What would you have done in such a situation? How much are you willing to sacrifice to help someone you don’t know? How far is too far?

Our family has been in a similar situation – helping a homeless person. Not a teenager with a baby, but someone who needed a place to stay. We took this person in for one night (he was in after the kids went to bed and out before they woke up) and then provided food for him to last a couple of weeks. Four years later, this same person needed help again. He had a camper this time around, so we allowed him to camp in our driveway, hooked up to our power, for two weeks. So I can honestly say that we have helped in a similar way to Heidi. But to bring someone in to quite literally live with you for an unspecified amount of time, like Heidi did with Willow? No, I don’t think we would do that. There’s a fine line between helping and enabling, and it’s easy to cross. Most likely, we’d give the person some money or food rather than bringing them into our home long-term.

8. What do you think is the significance of the title Pretty Baby?

I wondered this very thing the whole time I was reading the novel. There are several things I can think of that might fit the title. First, Heidi and Chris’s aborted baby, Juliet (though they didn’t know the gender at the time of the abortion). She could have been the “pretty baby” because she is representative of the large family Heidi never got to have.

Or it could have been Ruby. She was quite literally the “pretty baby” in the novel, because she was the only real baby.

Finally, it could represent Heidi and Willow themselves. Each in their own way is still a baby due to their circumstances.

I’m not sure which of these reasons (or something else altogether) the author chose as the meaning behind the title.


Now we come to the part of the Book Club where we announce the next book we’ll be reading. Drumroll, please…

The Martian

by Andy Weir

I watched this movie recently and just loved it, so I’m super excited to Book Club about the book. Questions can be found in this Google Doc. We hope you’ll join us!


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Did you blog about Pretty Baby this month? Link up with us! We’d appreciate a link back to our blogs somewhere in your post (easily done by copying the code below), and commenting on other clubbers would be awesome too!

Ladybug Daydreams Book Club
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The Book Club: Introduction

 Book Club with Lori Last month, when I did book club questions for At the Water’s Edge, the response to those posts was amazing – beyond anything I expected. In fact, one of my colleagues at the Schoolhouse Review Crew, Lori at At Home: where life happens, liked the idea so much that she asked if she could join me in this new endeavor. Thrilled, I told her, “Of course!” So we’re doing just that – starting a virtual Book Club together. The way it works is this: anyone who wants to participate (and this includes you!) reads the book. We’re doing one book per month, and we provide links to the questions we’ll be answering on our blogs. On the first Monday of the following month, answer the questions on your blog (don’t have a blog? That’s okay; more on how you can participate in a minute), and link up with Lori or me. We’ll have a linky to sign, and if I can manage to figure it out properly, signing on one of our blogs will show up on both of them. For those of you who don’t have a blog, you can participate by leaving comments on one (or both) of our blogs recording your answers to the questions. Or even just recording your answers in a private notebook and commenting to let us know that you’re reading along with us. At the end of the post where we’ve answered the questions ourselves, Lori and I will announce the next month’s book, along with providing links to the questions we’ll be answering. So, without further ado, the book we’ll be reading in March is

Pretty Baby

by Mary Kubica

The questions can be found on the author’s website, and the posts with our answers (and the reveal for the April book) will go live on April 4th. We hope you can join us!


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