Book Club: Troublemaker

During my drives to and from the gym, I like to listen to audio books. (I hate listening to music in the car. I find it oppressive.) I recently finished Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini. I’d heard of the book years ago, and was a low-key fan of Remini’s (I remember her from her Saved by the Bell days, and my husband and I used to watch The King of Queens regularly). I remember her explosive separation from the Scientology religion in 2013. And last year (earlier this year? I don’t remember exactly) I watched the A&E show on Netflix that she and Mike Rinder (another former high-end, though not celebrity, Scientologist) did together. So I was interested in reading/listening to the book. I wasn’t able to find any “book club questions” for this book, so I’m just going to ramble about it for a little while.

The audiobook is read by Remini herself, and as I mentioned before I’m already familiar with her and some of her work, so I wasn’t distracted or surprised by her thick New York accent. I enjoyed hearing her tell her own account of her life, especially some of the more “explosive” Hollywood stories. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.

Leah Remini was born and raised in New York. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she spent time with each of her parents separately. When her mother got remarried (to a Scientologist), she swept Leah and her sister into the church with her. They quickly moved through the lower ranks, eventually landing themselves in the “Sea Org.” Even after watching three seasons of the show and listening to this book, I don’t have a super clear understanding of the Sea Org, but I’ll do my best here. The Sea Org is one of the highest levels of “clergy” (though that’s not quite the right word) that civilian members of Scientology can reach. Members are recruited, and when they’re brought in to be offered a spot they are expected to sign a billion-year contract. You read that right; it’s not urban legend. Adults and children (Scientology views children as “adults in young bodies”) are required to sign a contract promising a billion years of servitude to become members of the Sea Org. Remini became a member at (if I remember correctly) age 13. Her sister was one year older, and her mother also signed at the same time.

The following chapters, covering her time in the Sea Org, are full of horrors. There were two stories that stood out to me the most. Both took place long before she was a legal adult.

In the first story, she tells of how she was put in charge of a battalion (not the right word, but it conveys the right idea) of other Sea Org members. She was a young teenager at this time in charge of a group of other teens and adults (remember, children are considered small adults) and given a job. She figured that the main goal of the job was to get the job done, so she motivated her team and they finished early. Because they had time to spare, Leah – in her teenage wisdom – gave her team permission to lounge by the pool. (She and her family were living in Clearwater, Florida, the home of Scientology, by this time.) They were caught by a higher ranking Sea Org member, and he took her and her entire team out to sea on a raft. This man insisted that she apologize to him and call him “sir.” She struggled with this; even though it was a fairly simple and painless way for her to get out of trouble, she just couldn’t bring herself to call him Sir. She’d been trained by her religion that all members were equal – she was just as important as he was, so why should she be forced to call him Sir? When she refused time and time again, he eventually threw her overboard. She almost drowned in the water that day.

The second story from that time that struck me was the time Leah was checking in on the nursery. As a teenager, like most teen girls, she had a heart for the babies. The fact that she had a new sister in that nursery (her mother and stepfather had a baby after the family moved to FL) didn’t hurt. She went in to check on her baby sister and found the conditions horrendous. Babies were left in cribs for hours on end with no care. There was a teenager in the room, but that person didn’t do anything to care for the children – no feeding, no diaper changes, no playing. Nothing. Hearing that story made my heart so sad.

After her time in the Sea Org, we get into some of the more interesting (to me) parts of Remini’s life: her time in Hollywood. I enjoyed hearing about her acting auditions, her (many) shows that had varying levels of success (but mostly failure). The jobs she took after the Sea Org but before she “hit it big” were also interesting – waitressing, becoming a secretary and then personal assistant for someone she knew, and others. I enjoyed hearing her tell her own stories with her very unique sense of humor. She can definitely make fun of herself! I found it interesting to learn that she took the Saved by the Bell job because she literally needed to pay the rent on her family’s apartment. Before long, she landed The King of Queens, though. (I say “before long,” but that’s really just in terms of the book. I’m sure it was many years, and a whole lot of frustration on her end.) I wish she’d spent more time talking about her time on that show, but I was glad to hear the parts she was willing to share. It was lovely to hear that her co-star, Kevin James, was as nice as he seems to be.

Near the end of her time on The King of Queens, we entered 2006. If you follow Hollywood really at all, you might remember that as the year Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married. Their wedding in Italy was the beginning of the end for Remini and Scientology. I’m already getting pretty high on my word count, so I’m not going to go into very many details here. But let’s quickly summarize a few of the main events from that trip.

  • Tom and Katie’s infant daughter was left to cry on the kitchen floor. She needed a bottle, but no one was willing to give her one. Instead, they all chastised her as though she were an adult. (She was 7 months old at the time.)
  • Leah and her husband seemed to be “reluctant” invitees. They were invited, but mostly because some of their friends were “more important” than they were and Tom Cruise and the church of Scientology needed them there (Jennifer Lopez and Marc Antony).
  • On the way back to the airport to fly home after the event, Leah and her husband rode with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s children. A tense conversation in that shuttle van confirmed suspicions that Nicole had been labeled an “SP” (suppressive person) in the church. Now that Katie Holmes is no longer married to Tom Cruise, she has that label as well. And since her falling out and subsequent years of “tattling,” Remini is also a suppressive person.

There is so much to this book, and I couldn’t possibly talk about it all here. If you’re interested in Hollywood, or Scientology, or how one goes about escaping from a cult, I recommend this book. I found it very engaging.

Next month in Book Club, I’ll be talking about The Guardians by John Grisham.


Book Club: Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen is one of my favorite authors. In fact, having read her 2015 novel At the Water’s Edge is what inspired me to start the book club series on my blog.

But that’s not what inspired me to read Water for Elephants the first time.

When I first heard of the book back in 2011, it was already five years old. But it was getting the movie treatment right in the midst of the Twilight craze, and back then I was a crazy Twilight fan. How are the two related, you wonder? The male lead in Twilight, Robert Pattinson, was one of the stars of Water for Elephants. Because he was slated to be in the film, I wanted to read the book and then see the movie when it came out. So I got it on Audible and listened to it while making cloth diapers for Grasshopper before he was born. And now I’ve just read it (really read it, not listened) for the first time. I also rewatched the movie (with Scorpion, who’d never seen it).

And I loved both. Such a great story!

the official "water for elephants" book cover. a man is walking into a circus tent, and the title of the book is overlaid atop the image.

The remainder of this post contains spoilers for the novel and movie Water for Elephants.

My plan for this post, at least in part, is to answer some of the book club questions from my e-book, but first I want to spend a little bit of time comparing the book and the movie.

The story is the same, but there are a few big differences. First, the Uncle Al character in the book didn’t make it to the film. Instead, movie-August encompasses both roles. I don’t think this took away from the story at all. In fact, as I was reading I found Uncle Al almost distracting because he didn’t really seem to add much (despite being the owner of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus). I liked having August take care of both roles. The fact that he was played by the amazing Christoph Waltz was just icing on the cake.

In the book, we hear from “Old Jacob” about every third chapter. In the film, he appears only at the very beginning at the very end. I think both ways actually work pretty well, but the film version just ekes out the win for me here. It feels more like Old Jacob is actually telling the story from start to finish in the film rather than fighting not to forget his past due to his old age in the book.

Here’s a good article describing more of the differences between the book and the film if you’re interested. But now, on to some book discussion questions.

In connection with Jacob’s formal dinner with August and Marlena in their stateroom, Jacob remarks, “August is gracious, charming, and mischievous.” To what extent is this an adequate characterization of August?

This seemed like a pivotal moment in the story to me. It marks the exact time that August first sees Jacob as something of an equal. But Jacob wasn’t fooled by August, at least not fully. He can spot the graciousness, the charm. But that mischievous nature is always there, just underneath the surface of August’s demeanor. You can never trust him, and in the end that proves more true than anyone realizes.

In his Carnival of the Animals, Ogden Nash wrote, “Elephants are useful friends.” In what ways is Rosie a “useful” friend?

I would love to have an elephant for a friend, wouldn’t you? They are my absolute favorite animal. And Rosie is a special elephant, for sure. She helps Jacob to survive the Benzini Brothers fiasco (and I don’t just mean the stampede at the end). She becomes his best friend, outside of Marlena, and personally I found it a lovely relationship – vet and animal. I’m not sure Jacob would have made it through the ordeal of August, Uncle Al, and his forbidden affair with Marlena (August’s wife) without her. That makes for a very useful character, I think.

After Jacob successfully coaches August in Polish commands for Rosie, he observes, “It’s only when I catch Rosie actually purring under August’s loving ministrations that my conviction starts to crumble. And what I’m left looking at in its place is a terrible thing.” What is Jacob left “looking at,” and what makes it a “terrible thing”?

This goes back to the first question, doesn’t it? That mischievous nature of August’s, which slowly morphs and shifts to pure evil by the end of the novel. He’s able to perform when needed. He hates Rosie – that’s clear from the very beginning of their relationship – but through a careful recitation of words that Rosie can actually understand, he’s able to appear to care for her. And that difference – caring vs performing – is a very dangerous thing.

That’s all I’ve got for my book club today. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts on Water for Elephants. Have you ever read the novel? Seen the film? What did you think?


Book Club: A Time for Mercy

A few months ago, Will bought me a copy of John Grisham’s (then) most recent book, A Time for Mercy. I had skipped the past few Grisham novels (nothing wrong with them, I’m sure, but he had been venturing away from legal thrillers, which are my favorites from him). I was excited to read this one, though, because it was to be a sequel to his first novel, A Time to Kill. I had read that book years ago, but had recently rewatched the movie version starring Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey.

This post contains spoilers of the book A Time For Mercy.


Even though I was in the middle of another book when Will presented me with this one, I dove in right away anyway. The story starts quite dramatically, with a young family (mom Josie and two young teens, Keira and Drew) terrified in their home. They live with the mother’s boyfriend, Stuart, and they can hear him coming in, drunk from his night out. This isn’t a new thing for Stu, and he often beats the family when he comes home like this. If they had anywhere else to go, they would. This night, he takes things much farther than he ever has before. Drew and Keira hear him beating Josie, but they lock themselves in Keira’s room out of sheer terror. When the noise from downstairs ceases, and the kids are fairly sure Stu has gone somewhere else for a while, they sneak down to the kitchen. The sight before them is nothing any child should ever have to see: their mother’s boyfriend has literally beaten her to death. Drew, age 16, makes his way to Stuart’s room and finds his gun, then shoots the man who killed his mother.

Keira calls 911 and the police and ambulance arrive at the residence. It turns out Josie isn’t dead after all, but Stuart certainly is. This, combined with the fact that Stu had already fallen into bed asleep, makes Drew’s assumption of self-defense a lot stickier. To make matters worse, Stuart Kofer was a well-respected sheriff’s deputy in town. Drew was unknown. So the dead man has a lot more friends than his killer, and in small town Mississippi, something like that can make or break a case.

No lawyer in the entirety of Ford County will touch the case with a 10-foot-pole. The judge finally forcibly assigns it to none other than Jake Brigance, the hero lawyer of A Time to Kill. After having been promised over and over again by the judge that the assignment is only temporary – just until he can get another lawyer to take the case – Jake reluctantly agrees. But of course, being the type of case it is (automatic death-penalty due to the fact that the victim was a cop), no one ever steps forward and Jake is stuck with it all the way through trial. After many twists and turns, including definitive proof that Stuart wasn’t the upstanding citizen he was assumed to have been, the case ends in a mistrial. This means that in some future, unwritten novel, young Drew will be forced to stand trial for this murder again.

My Thoughts

I was enthralled by this book from the very first page. I was so excited to have a fresh legal thriller from John Grisham that I had trouble putting the book down at night, no matter how tired I got. I was excited to see how that “definitive proof” I mentioned before (Stuart had been raping Keira and she was pregnant with his child) landed with the jury. As I read the book, I tried to see things from both sides, to be a juror on that case myself, and figure out how I’d vote. It was impossible.

And then I got to the end. The jurors in the novel agreed with me: it was impossible to decide whether to convict young Drew or not. On the one hand, he absolutely killed Stuart, a cop – mandatory death penalty. There was no question about that. On the other hand, it wasn’t like Stuart was innocent himself. But, as the prosecutors pointed out, Stuart wasn’t the one on trial. Drew was. But that didn’t persuade all of the jurors. They simply couldn’t agree, and the hung jury meant a mistrial. While I’m confident that was probably an accurate representation of what would have/could have happened if this was based on reality, I found it immensely unsatisfying in a novel. I wanted a more solid conclusion than that.

Despite that, I think Grisham stayed very true to his fictional Ford County, and it was good to see so many familiar characters seamlessly woven in with the new ones. If you don’t mind reading a book now that you know all the twists, I highly recommend A Time for Mercy.


Book Club: Waiting for Rachel

Book Club with Lori

Lori and I read a fun, easy book for December called Waiting for Rachel. It’s book one in the “Those Karlsson Boys” series by Kimberly Rae Jordan, and one I’ve had sitting on my Kindle for a long time. When circumstances pushed me to read instead of watching YouTube videos (lol) back in November, this is the one I picked. It was a delightful read!

66D90916-4A8B-494E-B97C-0FACC5F8545APastor Damian Karlsson is ready to start a family, and he’s been interested in Rachel Perkins for months. The only problem is that she, while interested in Damian too, is unwilling to start a relationship with him because of demons from her past. She’s convinced herself that she can never be the woman Damian really wants, no matter what he says. Will Rachel ever be able to make peace with her past? Can she tell Damian the truth about why she can’t be in a relationship with him? Will that truth change his mind, or will Damian and Rachel find a way to be together after all?

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed this book. It was the first time in a long time that I found myself reading during the daytime instead of just in bed before falling asleep. I enjoyed the banter between Rachel and Damian, and I was definitely surprised by part of Rachel’s secret (though not all of it – the main part was obvious without needing to be said, but the cause behind it was unexpected). The final catalyst that pushed Rachel to finally share her secret was heartbreaking, and never fully resolved in this book. I definitely plan to get the two sequels to this novel in the coming weeks.

I will admit that Rachel’s stubbornness in not offering the truth sooner was a bit annoying, but not enough to keep me from reading the book, and I did enjoy it despite that.

Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog and read her thoughts on this book. And if you want to get your very own copy (which I highly recommend doing), it’s available as a free Kindle book on Amazon.


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Book Club: An Invisible Thread

Book Club with Lori

I’m so bummed out that I wasn’t able to read this book; it was on my “really want to read” list, and one that I suggested for Book Club. Unfortunately, the library didn’t have any copies available in time for me to get my hands on one – not even in the Overdrive Digital Library. Head on over to Lori’s blog, though, and read her thoughts.

This month we’re reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian turned WWII soldier. I’ve already got the audio book downloaded to my phone, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting my post up in December. See you then!


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Book Club: Keep Moving

Book Club with Lori

You know who Dick van Dyke is, right? He’s one of Hollywood’s most loved actors, starring in such films as Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He was also the star of the TV shows The Dick van Dyke Show and Diagnosis: Murder for a number of years. I didn’t grow up watching him much, but my husband did, and I was introduced to his work as an adult. Since then, I’ve become a big fan.

When I found the audiobook Keep Moving on my Overdrive app, written and read by Dick van Dyke himself, I knew that was one I wanted to read (listen to) for Book Club. Luckily, Lori happily agreed, so here we are.

We weren’t able to find questions about the book (it’s fairly new – less than a year old, I think), so we’ve decided to just write a few words about our thoughts on it.

Keep Moving is a memoir of van Dyke’s life, but it’s also more than that. Besides the anecdotes and stories from his lie in Hollywood, the author reminds us of the importance in moving every single day. As he approaches his 90th birthday, I think he’s a pretty good source on what might help us to live longer, and he says that moving – exercising – especially something you love doing – is a vital part of that. That’s where the title of the book comes in. Keep Moving. Sing and dance and walk and run every day. If you don’t like any of those things, find something you do like to do, and move every day. This is good for your body and your spirit.

Besides having lived a long and full life himself, Dick van Dyke has one other piece of personal history that gives him credibility to the “Keep Moving movement.” When he was a young man (mid-30s) and acting in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he had an accident on set. He visited the doctor, where he was told that he had severe arthritis and would be basically lame within the decade. He rejected this notion. Not all of it, obviously – arthritis isn’t something you just decide that you no longer have. But the part about being unable to walk within just a few years… he rejected that. He continued to sing, dance, run, jump… move. And by fighting his arthritis, he has been able to live a full and happy life, continuing to do all the things he loves. What an inspiration!

I have really enjoyed listening to Dick van Dyke read his own book. It’s one that Will and I have been listening to together in the evenings while he works and I knit. It’s a fun book, and hearing his voice has made me want to find some old Diagnosis: Murder episodes to watch 🙂

Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog and find out what she thought about this book.

Next month, we’re reading An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff. It’s “the true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny.” The based-on-a-true story genre is my favorite kind of movie (not documentaries, but films with actors telling a true story), so I’m looking forward to this book. We haven’t been able to find questions on that one, either, so the post will be much like this one was.


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Book Club: Austenland

Book Club with Lori

Lori suggested 2 books she’d recently read for this month’s book club, and of her two options, I chose Austenland by Shannon Hale. This was a book I’d heard a little about, but never picked up. When I discovered the Overdrive app for my phone and iPad (a digital library that partners with real libraries to offer digital content – ebooks and audiobooks – to patrons), and learned that my home library was one of the partners, and that Austenland was available as an audiobook, it was a no brainer for me. I could listen to the book while I knitted and not have to choose between the two pastimes. Score!


Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Predjudice.

When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined.

Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own? (From the publisher.)

For my post, I’ve taken a few questions from LitLovers, but Lori says that they seem to be the same questions that were found in the back of her copy of the book. Since I had an audiobook, I didn’t have that feature.

Austenland, besides chronicling Jane’s stay at Pembrook Park, lists all thirteen “boyfriends” she’s had in her lifetime. How well does the reader get to know Jane’s past? How much has she changed from her first relationship at age twelve to the one that is now just beginning?

Hearing about some of those past relationships were my favorite parts of the book. It was really interesting to hear about her Jane’s past and discover how they helped to shape her current self. And of course she changed – who wouldn’t over the course of 20 years? It would be silly if she hadn’t.

Jane observes of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice: “Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance.” What would Austenland be like without Jane’s own funny, insightful, biting narration?

Because I’m not a huge Austen fan (out of ignorance, not necessarily dislike), I don’t think I could have handled this novel without Jane’s personality. I’m afraid I would have found it dull and awful if she’d been a true, non-rule-breaking participant in Pembrook Park, aka Austenland.

Jane’s great-aunt Carolyn set the whole Pembrook Park adventure into motion. What do you think Carolyn’s intentions were in sending Jane to this Austenland? Do you think Jane fulfilled those expectations?

Carolyn left Jane the trip to Pembrook Park in her will only after a visit with Jane six months earlier showed her to be a fan of Jane Austen – particularly the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. They had a bit of a heart to heart talk wherein Aunt Carolyn learned that Jane was more in love with Mr. Darcy than she was interested in finding someone real. Knowing that, I think she sent Jane to Pembrook Park with the hope that she’d find herself. It was an effort to allow her to explore this interest of hers while combining it with the reality of the now. If I’m right about Carolyn’s expectations, I think Jane passed them with flying colors.

Jane walks away from Nobley and Martin at the airport with the parting words, “Tell Mrs. Wattlesbrook I said tallyho” (186). Why does Jane enjoy her last line so much? What does she mean by “tallyho”?

Mrs. Wattlesbrook is quite prim and proper. She takes her theme park (for lack of a better term) to huge extremes, and not just the time period. She herself has taken on the role of a nobleperson of the era. Tally-ho is the kind of phrase that’s used by commoners – lower class people. During Jane’s stay at Pembrook Park, she proved herself to be just that time and time again. I think this line is just her way of taking one last jab at Mrs. Wattlesbrook.

What might Jane Austen think of Austenland, if she were alive today? Could she have possibly anticipated how influential her novels would become, even for twenty-first-century audiences? Could she ever have imagined a fan like Jane Hayes?

If Jane Austen was anything like most current authors, I think she’d be flattered by novels like Austenland. Because “fan fiction” is quite a large genre of its own nowadays, this is just a new take on it. As for whether she could have anticipated her novels’ influence… maybe. But it was probably more of a hope than an anticipation. Would she have imagined a fan like Jane Hayes? Again, maybe… but hoping more than expecting or imagining. (As a former fiction writer, take my word for this – it’s what we all hope for.)

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I have a few book ideas in mind for next month’s book club. I’ll either update this post or make a new one (or both) once Lori picks from my list. But before you go, make sure to hit up Lori’s blog and see what she thought of Austenland.


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Book Club: The Dragon of Lonely Island

Book Club with Lori

Lori recommended this book, and it’s been a really fun read. I need to borrow it from the library again to read aloud to my boys (not that I don’t have enough of those!).

Three children, Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily, find themselves on a small, lonely island for the summer while their mother writes a book. The family borrows a house from Mother’s aunt, Mehitabel. Aunt Mehitabel has left a skeleton key and confusing note for the children, and they spend the summer trying to make sense of it all. In their quest, they find themselves face to face with a three-headed dragon who teaches them all about the myths of dragons, as well as some history surrounding the creatures.

Lori suggested these questions from Sweet on Books.

How would you describe the siblings’ relationship?

They seem to get along okay – about as well as normal siblings, I’d say. They’re at a tricky stage, though, with Hannah (the oldest) being at a point where she’s starting to outgrow her siblings. Zachary and Sarah Emily seem to be really close, though.

Which sibling do you relate to the most and why?

I think I relate to Hannah the most because I don’t think I’m much fun (lol). I’m definitely the kind of person who wants the kids to do kid things and to be left on my own to do grown up things. Obviously I fight this in order to spend time with my children (whom I adore, and I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a chore to spend time with them – it’s not).

Do you think that inequalities for girls still exist today?

I think things are different for boys and girls. But different is not the same as unequal. Instead of working hard to be “equal” (which by definition means “the same as”) boys/men, girls and women should embrace who we are and appreciate our gender roles.

Do you believe in dragons? Would you like to meet one?

I believe dragons used to exist, but I don’t think they still do. I think they’re really just a variety of dinosaur, and from what I’ve read in the Bible, it seems to support this view. I don’t think they were ever “wise” or able to talk or anything, though. Would I like to meet one? Probably not. I’m not one for creepy things 😉

What would you do if you were stranded on an island? Name three things you don’t think you could live without.

I would be just fine relaxing in a cozy chair and knitting somewhere. The rest of my family would be all about the walking around and exploring. Three things that would be difficult to live without: my phone (some sort of communication with the outside world would be nice); yarn and knitting needles (can’t cozy up and knit without those!); and a pan to cook some good food in.


We haven’t decided yet on a book for next month; I’ll do a short follow up post once that decision’s been made.

Don’t forget to check out Lori’s thoughts on The Dragon of Lonely Island here.

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Book Club: Circus Mirandus

Book Club with Lori

When Will and I were in the grocery store a few weeks ago, a book in the checkout line caught my eye. There was an elephant on the cover (my absolute favorite animal!) and a tagline that said, “Magic so wondrous,  you have to believe it to see it.” I picked it up to read the summary, and Will asked me if I wanted to buy it. Normally I say no in situations like this, but I wanted to read this book, so this time I said yes. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a children’s novel, but I’m glad I read the book anyway. It was a whimsical tale about a boy and his grandfather and the magical circus that binds them together, even through the ultimate separation.

A few weeks later, Lori and I were emailing back and forth to try to figure out what books to do for book club this summer, and I requested something “light and easy” because of all the stress of our moving and living situation. She suggested two (one of which was the Women of WWII that we did last month), and one is one that her daughters read (which will be up next month). I suggested Circus Mirandus – the book with the elephant and great tagline.

As always with book club posts, Spoiler Alert.

Aunt Gertrudis says bad sense runs in the family. Do you believe bad sense is inherited or learned? Why?

I think “bad sense” is learned. While it might seem that it’s inherited based on the people in our lives that seem to exhibit it on occasion (or regularly…), you can just as often find people from a “bad situation” who have overcome that to become smart and successful. If bad sense was genetic, you wouldn’t see that often, if ever.

Grandpa Ephraim wrote to a lightbender. Is it possible to bend light and if so, how?

Simply speaking, anyone who wears correctional lenses (glasses) bends light every day. The glasses refract the light to help them see better.

You can also bend light with a prism. Or a hose. Both of those allow us to see the bent light in the form of a rainbow.

But someone just bending light on their own, with no tools, I’m not so sure.

Interesting thought occurred to me as I typed about rainbows just a moment ago, though… The rainbow is God’s promise to never destroy the world by water again. The lightbender in the story is Micah’s savior (of sorts). I’m not suggesting that the lightbender is God or anything, but the fact that this is the way in which his powers manifest make it an interesting comparison.

The Lightbender uses a parrot to send messages. What other bird is known for carrying messages and how are they trained?

It seems as though using birds to send messages is a very popular thing for fantasy stories to do. They use owls in Harry Potter. I’m not sure what birds are used for messaging in real life – carrier pigeons, maybe? Being unsure as to whether this is even the right answer, I don’t know how they’re trained.

Circus Mirandus is in La Paz, Bolivia. Find it on a map. How far is it from your city or state?

I know that La Paz, Bolivia is in South America, so I didn’t have to look too hard to find it on the map. I did not, however, know the distance from my hometown – it’s roughly 5400 miles.

Porter can open a door from one part of the world to another. If you had such a door name the one place you would like to use the door to visit and why.

Paris, France. There are a lot of places I’ve wanted to visit (London, Australia, Peru), but Paris is the one that I want to see the most.

Ephraim writes letters to his father during the war. Each letter has Ephraim doing something worse than the letter before, such as cutting school, then robbing a train. Why do you think Ephraim is writing these types of letters? What is his purpose?

I think that young Ephraim thinks that if he’s bad enough, his father will have to come home from the war, and seeing his father again is the one thing in the world he wants more than anything. So it’s worth it to him to behave badly if it means he’ll get to see his dad again – having his father around to punish him for behaving badly is better than not having him around at all.

Jenny pulls Micah into the crafts closet when she thinks he is about to cry. What does this tell you about Jenny and her character?

It shows that she’s both acutely aware of people’s feelings (to have recognized that he was about to cry) and she has a lot of empathy – she wanted to protect him from potential ridicule from other classmates.


There are dozens more questions on this book from the website we’ve used for these questions, but I’m already getting pretty longwinded here, so I’m going to wrap it up. Before I go, just a couple of final thoughts on this book. I really enjoyed reading it, despite the fact that it was a children’s book. Just because a book is written with kids in mind doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate or enjoyable for adults, and Circus Mirandus proved that to me. As soon as we get moved into our own house again, and unpack the boxes and find this book, my older kids (at least Munchkin – the reader) is going to read it. I look forward to hearing his thoughts on it. This one is definitely something to pick up! But before you do, head over to Lori’s blog and read her thoughts on this book.

Next month, we’ll be reading The Dragon of Lonely Island.


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Book Club: Women Heroes of WWII

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

Book Club with Lori

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

Here are a few of my favorites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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