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!

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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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Book Club: At the Water’s Edge {Part 2}

Book Club with text

Here are the rest of my answers to the Book Club questions for At the Water’s Edge. My answers to the first five questions are here. As with the first post of this nature, a spoiler alert is in effect.

 6. How did you feel about Hank? Did he evolve during the course of the novel, or did his character remain the same?

Hank was okay. Much better than Ellis. I think perhaps he was as swept up in Ellis’s overbearing personality as Maddie was. Despite the fact that going to Scotland was Hank’s idea, I don’t think he would have made the trek without Ellis (and Maddie). Therefore, I think Hank was mostly harmless. As for whether he changed over the course of the novel, that’s a bit trickier. I’m not sure. If he did, I think it was for the better. The more I work through my thoughts here, the more I think perhaps he came to see Ellis for the monster he really was rather than Hank himself changing.

7. The idea for At the Water’s Edge came to Sara Gruen during a visit she took to Scotland. She became fascinated by the ruins of old castles, the wild beauty of nature, and the Scottish history and folklore. Discuss the role that the atmosphere and landscape of Scotland play in the novel.

Scotland is pretty important to the novel. After all, it is a story about the search for the Loch Ness monster. But beyond that, I think the setting – specifically the wilderness and ruins – play a role, specifically in two scenes that come to mind. The first one is when Maddie wanders the forest and comes across a ruined castle that is home to the Scottish military. That’s a powerful scene in her character development. The second is actually in the prologue, not the story proper. The banks of Loch Ness are the sad scene of a suicide, that of the first wife of one of the main characters. Without her suicide, this character wouldn’t be available the way he is later in the novel.

8. Discuss the evolution of Maddie and Angus’s relationship. What were some of Angus’s qualities that Maddie grew to most admire? At what point do you think she realized she loved him?

Maddie and Angus’s relationship starts out rocky to say the least. He’s the innkeeper at the hotel the trio live at during their stay in Scotland. He has a rough personality; the first time we meet him, there’s no indication that anything will happen with him at all. But as Hank and Ellis spend more and more time away from the inn, leaving Maddie behind during their search for the monster, she and Angus spend more time together, thus showing more of his personality to the reader. I think some of his best qualities, those that Maddie probably noticed as she got to know him, were his caring nature and his protectiveness over the women at the inn. As for when Maddie realized she loved him, I’m not really sure. I was caught off guard by that particular revelation, so I can’t really say for certain when I think Maddie, as the narrator, realized it herself.

9. At the Water’s Edge explores humanity at its most base, as well as its most noble. Can you give some examples of both from the story? In the end, what kind of statement do you think Gruen makes about human nature?

I think the easiest way to explore this question is with specific examples of individual characters. Ellis, obviously, is one of the worst in the novel, and the example of “humanity at its most base.” His substance abuse and selfishness are the kinds of things that show human nature at its worst. Another example is when one character beats another one in a show of domestic abuse.

The most noble are clearly Maddie and Angus. While not entirely virtuous (they engage in an extramarital affair while Ellis is away), their hearts are in the right place (regarding other things) and we see in the epilogue just how noble they are.

I don’t like to apply motive to authors; I wasn’t in Ms. Gruen’s head while she wrote this book, so I can’t say for certain what she thinks about human nature. It could be something as simple as “some people are good and others really, really aren’t.”

10. Before she gets to Scotland, Maddie has only Hank and Ellis as friends. How do the female friendships she develops in Scotland shape her in new ways?

Anna and Meg (the “female friends” mentioned in this question) are vital to Maddie’s character development. Without them, I don’t think she could have morphed the way she did. She needed the harshness they provided at the beginning (no one in the inn approved of the trio of monster hunters because they all remembered the disaster caused by Ellis’s father years before) in order to begin pushing her to see Ellis for what he really was. As she got to know them better, they softened toward her and eventually the three become good friends. Despite this softening, they’re there to keep her moving on the right trajectory, as well.

So there we go – my answers to the book club questions of At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. I haven’t decided yet whether my next one will be The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) or The Martian by Andy Weir. i have a copy of Vacancy which I’ve started, but thus far I’m not impressed by it. The Martian is one I’d have to buy (on Kindle, probably) or get from the library, but we saw the movie – which was amazing – and that makes me want to read the book. So we’ll see.


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Book Club: At the Water’s Edge (Part 1)

Book Club with text

For Christmas, I received from Will a paperback copy of the book At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. I was familiar with another of her books (Water for Elephants, which I really enjoyed), so I was excited to read this new one by an author whose work I knew I already liked. At that time (Christmas), I was in the middle of another book, so I had to finish it before I dove into this one. But I was so looking forward to this one that I finished the other quickly so I could begin reading soon.

The copy of the book that I have is the “Random House Reader’s Circle” edition, which means it includes questions for a book club in the back. Since I’m not a member of a book club, I decided that I’d work through those answers myself here on the blog. (As a side note, I’m going to try to make the Book Club a monthly feature here. That will keep me reading as well as give me food for thought on the books I read rather than being a passive “traveler” on those journeys.) There are 10 questions, and they’re pretty involved, so I’m going to break them up into two posts. But first, let me tell you about the book – just in case you haven’t read it.

From the back cover:

In January 1945, when Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a retired army colonel who is ashamed of  his son’s inability to serve [militarily], Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed – by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster. Leaving her sheltered world behind, Maddie reluctantly follows Ellis and his best friend, Hank, to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands. Gradually, the friendships Maddie forms with the townspeople open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears, and as she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, she becomes aware not only of darker forces around her but of life’s surprising possibilities.

Because of the nature of this post, I must declare a Spoiler Alert.

1. The novel takes place during World War II. Is the war setting a distraction or does it contribute to the success of the novel? Would changing the time frame change the meaning of the novel? How did the austerity of the times affect Maddie, who was used to a life of luxury?

I think the was setting was a huge contribution to the novel. The changes that happened within Maddie, the main character, wouldn’t have been as rich without that setting behind it. That setting was necessary to push her into experiencing the things she did. I think changing the time setting would cause problems in the execution of the story. 

The austerity of the times affect Maddie in ways that I don’t think even she expected. She got to see first hand the horrors of war. She experienced the fear of spending time in a bomb shelter during air raids. She met soldiers, without whom she might never have truly understood what was going on around her, despite her location. All of these experiences contribute to the character she becomes by the epilogue.

2. “What I learned over the past year was that monsters abound, usually hiding in plain sight.” Monsters come in all different forms in At the Water’s Edge. What are some of the monsters in the novel? How are they different from what you might expect?

There are two obvious answers to the first question: “Nessie” (though that name never makes it into the book) and Ellis.

The Loch Ness monster is obviously a main element in the book because without it – or the idea of it, anyway – Maddie, Hank, and Ellis would never have traveled to Scotland. If they hadn’t traveled to Scotland, the story that happened would never had taken place in their lives.

Ellis is a monster because of his chemical dependencies. His addiction to prescription painkillers and alcohol make him so frightening because you (the reader) and Maddie (the main character) never know which version of him you’re going to get. That can be the scariest kind of monster, I think.

There are minor monsters in the book as well. Rory, one of the Canadian lumberjacks in town as a soldier, is a monster who represents domestic violence. World War II is a monster. Even the monster of suicide makes an appearance.

As for how they’re different than what the reader might expect, that varies between the two. With the Loch Ness monster, it’s different because it seems to almost “know” a person’s intentions when they visit the Loch. (I’m going with the assumption here that the monster in the story is real.) It treats Hank and Ellis very differently than it treats Maddie, therefore making it not such a “monster” after all. With Ellis, the fact that he’s a monster at all is unexpected. He starts the novel as a carefree, fun husband for Maddie. By the end, he’s so awful that you kind of hope Maddie goes through with Meg and Anna’s (her Scottish friends) suggestion to poison him (but only in a “he’s an awful fictional character” kind of way – I’d never feel this way about a real person, no matter how awful they were).

3. Throughout At the Water’s Edge, Maddie transforms from a woman who is spoiled, naive, and helpless to one who is brave and capable. What and who are the major influences that led her to change? What are the biggest lessons Maddie learns throughout the course of the novel?

Ironically, I think perhaps Ellis (her husband) is the catalyst for Maddie’s transformation, at least indirectly. If he hadn’t dragged her to Scotland, she never would have met Meg, Anna, and Angus (the staff at the inn where they stay). If he hadn’t left her there for days on end several times during the course of the novel, she never would have developed relationships with those characters. And those relationships, along with her seeing the affects of the war with her own eyes, are the major influences leading to her change.

I think the biggest lesson she learns is compassion. As the question states, she begins the novel spoiled and naive. By the end – honestly by just a few chapters in, when they get off the boat in Scotland – she’s already learning compassion and caring, especially for people who have been hurt, in the war or otherwise.

4. Discuss the novel’s ambiguity concerning the supernatural. How does Sara Gruen blend mystical elements into the narrative’s realism? Did Ellis and Hank find the Loch Ness monster after all?

The blend of the supernatural (ghosts and the Loch Ness monster) into the “reality” of the characters’ lives is lovely and seamless. Maddie experiences the lack of supernatural during her “workday” at the loch with Hand and Ellis. Fully expecting to see the monster, she jumps and shouts at every little thing, and none of them turn out to be the monster. But then, when she least expects it, during a non-working trip to the water, something pushes her out of it. Is it the monster? Is it Mairi, Angus’s wife who committed suicide in the loch three years before? We, and Maddie, never find out for certain.

As for Ellis and Hank finding the monster, I don’t think they did – and not just because it’s a fictional monster. I think they truly believed perhaps they would find it, but the scene near the end of the novel where they have a model they’ve built based on locals’ stories that they’re getting ready to film tells me that they never saw the real monster.

5. Do you think Maddie and Ellis were ever truly in love? What did you think of Ellis? Did you empathize with him? Did Ellis change over the course of the novel or did the changes all take place within Maddie?

I think Maddie was in love with Ellis, but I don’t think he ever returned the sentiment. I think she was just convenient for him. He needed her in order to prove to his parents that he was independent and didn’t need their approval anymore. He liked her, sure, but their marriage was all about him.

My thoughts of Ellis changed over the course of the book. In the beginning, he seemed fine. I had no reason to suspect that he would end up as awful as he did. Did I empathize with him? No, not really, especially as I learned more and more about him. Ellis was a self-centered, drug-abusing jerk. No empathy from me, not even during his final scene.

I don’t think Ellis changed as the story progressed. The changes were definitely all within Maddie. It may seem like Ellis changed, but that was only because as Maddie became more aware of the things around her, she saw him for what he really was.

I’ll be back next week with my thoughts to other five Book Club questions on this novel.


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