Category: Book Club

Nov 12

Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Book Club, Family, Religion 19

This month’s book club for Wine and Whining took place on election night. Our regular venue was inundated with political cocktail parties… Which was annoying. Our venue is normally a terrible open mike night we hide from in a back room while drinking wine and eating desserts. Plus, it’s not like anyone could DO anything except watch voter returns with like 2% of the vote in. See? Whining!

Anyway. The book we read for this month was Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (oh you like Jodi Picoult? Check out my review of Plain Truth HERE.) From what I could hear over the blare of the bad open mike night, the din of political schmoozing, and the chatter of impecibly coiffed political analysts, it seems that we all agreed on this book (a fairly rare occurrence, I assure you.)

It was great! The novel starts off with us following a somewhat neurotic stay-at-home-mom named Mariah. She builds dollhouses and tiny furniture in her spare time (which CLEARLY is not a pastime you’d expect out of a laid back sort of lady.) She’s married to a traveling salesman named Colin and they have a 7 year old daughter named Faith. Mariah has a history of depression (and really, who doesn’t?) so she copes by keeping her life in methodical order. Each day has its assigned duties, and everything is orderly. Everything is orderly, that is, until she and Faith arrive home during an unscheduled leotard emergency (seriously, is anything involving leotards NOT an emergency?) and catch Colin in a compromising position with another woman.

Mariah crumbles and calls her mom in for backup. Millie arrives and takes care of Faith while Mariah gets back on her meds and spends a week crying in bed. Colin initiates a quickie divorce and takes off to Vegas to marry his newly pregnant mistress. He’s not exactly the best person in the world. Things start to get a little hairy back on the home front when Faith develops a relationship with an imaginary friend she refers to as her “guard.” Mariah was raised Jewish, Colin was raised Christian, but Faith was raised without religion of any kind.

Which is why it gets pretty crazy when her “guard” turns out to be “God.” Faith starts spontaneously healing people and suffering from stigmata. Yep. Stigmata. The literal manifestation of the wounds of Christ. I googled an image of Stigmata, but they were all really disturbing, so I’m saving you some gore here. Also, most of the Stigmata sufferers in google images are Catholic priests and nuns. But Faith? She is a little kid who has ZERO concept of the story of the crucifixion, resurrection, saints, martyrs, or any of the trappings of a Judeo-Christian up-bringing. This fact actually works to her advantage in helping her doctors and therapists  believe the unbelievable. A child from a highly religious household quoting bible verses isn’t really cause for concern… From a kid who’s never SEEN a bible, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot less likely to be a mental disorder and more likely to be… Real.

Enter Ian Fletcher. Ian is a sort of reverse televangelist. He’s like… Mythbusters on religious happenings… Otherwise known as a total buzz kill for the faithful. Colin eventually returns from Vegas and realizes there’s a media circus surrounding his daughter. He decides to sue for custody. I’ve read four Picoult novels now, and every one of them involves a court battle. If you have a violent hatred of lawyers or despise Law & Order, you might want to steer clear of her work. Just a little public service announcement.

Jamie and Adam can sniff out phonies. With science!

I don’t want to be the queen of spoilers, but I will tell you that by the end of the book Faith’s visions seem to have abandoned her. I’m certainly no expert in religious phenomena, but, you know, every reasonably knowledgeable Catholic-raised human knows a few stories of saintly happenings. The Virgin Mary is particularly fond of appearing to children and giving them messages. Unfortunately, celestial visions typically are a short term thing. It’s not like the kids from Fatima got to hang out with Mary every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really up to the reader to interpret Faith’s experiences. Was she really being guided by God? Was she faking it all? Was some other explanation of the events plausible? I myself felt pretty darned warm and fuzzy at the end of this book. The way the story played out gave me a little boost in “faith.”

So Bookworms, let’s be all controversial-like. When presented with the latest instance of Jesus appearing in toast crust or spontaneous healings, are you more the pilgrim type or the skeptic type? Let’s discuss!

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Oct 23

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Blogging, Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 8

Hi Bookworms!

Today is a big day. Today my first guest post is going live on Filing Jointly… Finally.  Blogstalker Book Club kicks off with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

And now for some shameless groveling… I need for all of you to go on over to Lauren’s blog (click HERE) and LEAVE COMMENTS. See, we need Lauren to continue believing that I am awesome. So if she gets lots of comments, she’ll think, “Ah yes, Katie is excellent, let’s keep her around.”

Pretty please? Thank you ever so much!

XOXOXO

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Oct 22

Eventide by Kent Haruf (My Neighbors are STILL Cooler Than Yours)

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 11

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

Did everyone have a lovely weekend? I got my Halloween cards ready to send out. I hear the Post Office is having money problems, but it’s not my doing. I send out greeting cards for a multitude of holidays, and some for no reason at all. (Except, you know, Grandma is a good enough reason to send cards on any given Tuesday.) I also made 300 trick-or-treat bags for the little ghosts and goblins that will descend on our neighborhood.

Hey Trick-or-Treaters! Bring it on! Also, I am bad at using my iPhone flash.

My weekend kicked off with another meeting of the neighborhood book club, affectionately known as Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons! (Could someone explain to me exactly what a bon bon is? If there isn’t chocolate involved, I’m going to have to rethink my naming strategy.) This month’s book selection was Eventide by Kent Haruf. This may sound familiar to regular readers because it’s the sequel to Plainsong which I already reviewed.

It’s funny, because they’re in rural Colorado. No “tides” where there are no major bodies of water. Hi, I’m Katie, and I’m overly literal. Let’s make jokes!

Eventide picks up 2 years after Plainsong left off. Possibly my biggest gripe with this book was that the last book ended with a cliffhanger of sorts… There was that awful redheaded kid whose family was going to sue his teacher. Since the teacher was a main character, I was all attached to him and concerned about how things were going to play out. You know how they played out? Neither do I. That asshole kid never showed up in the sequel. Guthrie was still teaching, so I can ASSUME that whatever went down went down in his favor, but I don’t like having to ASSUME things when there’s a perfectly good sequel that could explain them. Sigh.

Otherwise, I loved this book. I think I liked it even better than the original. Is that even allowed? Are sequels allowed to be better? Maybe not in Star Wars (ooooh burn on the pre-quels) but certainly in Holt, Colorado. For a small town, Holt sure has its share of heartbreak. Neglected children, orphans, ranch accidents. Honestly, I haven’t cried this much while reading since Beth March kicked it in Little Women. It felt like a healthy cry though, and I was quite pleased with the way things wrapped up for the residents of Holt.

Eventide shared the same beautiful simplicity of writing that Plainsong did. If you’re interested in an honest, somewhat bleak, but ultimately heartwarming view of small-town America, I recommend both of these books.

So Bookworms, are there any sequels (movies, TV, books, etc.) that YOU liked better than the original? Let’s discuss!

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Oct 12

Confession Friday: I Don't Finish Reading Everything I Start

Book Club, Classics, Dystopian, E-Readers 32

Welcome to the Confessional, Bookworms! Let’s talk about my secret shames, shall we? Ordinarily, I am a stubborn book finisher. There have been occasions where I power through a book where I hate the characters, hate the situations, and sometimes talk back to characters… Loudly. It makes me feel powerful to “not let the book win.” The books that have won haunt me. Let’s talk about them!

I started reading The Fifth Book of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston because I had read her book The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of Girlhood Among Ghosts in college and really liked it. Woman Warrior was all about Chinese girls growing up in America and the cultural mish-mash they encountered. So, when I was in Barnes & Noble with my graduation gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, I saw The Fifth Book of Peace on the clearance rack and bought it excitedly. Unfortunately, I made it halfway through the novel and gave up. It starts off with Kingston lamenting the loss of one of her books and her home to wildfire. (Terribly sad for her, I’d absolutely lament too.) Then she started reconstructing what she remembered of the original novel. A Chinese American artist, his wife, and their son run off to Hawaii during the Vietnam era to avoid the draft. They lived off the grid in a squatters village and… I have no idea because I stopped reading. Reading this felt like a chore, and there are so many FUN things out there. I took a break from it, put it on a shelf, and never went back to it. To this day, it taunts me from the bookshelf…

Stop judging me, book!

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence is next in my little walk of shame. I really liked Lady Chatterley’s Lover, so I figured another Lawrence tome was a safe bet. Back in the days before I had a Kindle, I carried handbags of epic proportions. I went to visit my Slaw (short for sister in law, for those of you who aren’t up on my lingo. Jenny smells nothing like cabbage and I actually hate coleslaw, but my brain does stupid things with letters and this is what it spit out) in Chicago one weekend and had perhaps one adult beverage too many. At this point, I started hunting for my lip balm, thus scattering the contents of my ginormous handbag on a table in a bar. Photographic evidence below… I should really stop using that bookmark. That’s the one I was using on The Fifth Book of Peace too. Maybe it’s cursed. I read a little bit more of it on the train back home, but that was the end of that. I was expecting some Lady Chatterley flowery smut and I got a carnival and some weird dating stories. Then I fell asleep. Narcolepsy, I guess. Or a mild hangover. Tomato, toMAHto.

Of course there were cameras that night! Of course there were.

Our last stop on the walk of shame is 1Q84. Oh boy. So I’ve mentioned that I only speak English right?  The title of this book apparently means something funny in Japanese, but something is lost in translation. The number nine and the letter Q? Yeah. Not funny. How I came to be reading this in the first place is an embarassing story. I’m apparently an accidental cultural bigot. My book club (Wine and Whining) read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and I loved it. Yay dystopian clones! One day, I was hunting through the books available for Kindle from my local library. I saw 1Q84 by Hakuri Murakami and I thought “oh! I liked his book about the clones!” Because if you’re me, those two completely different Japanese names are the same?! You are welcome to judge me harshly for this- I deserve it.

Murakami is more the sort of novelist that fancy people pretend to like- nothing about clones (sad face.) The problem with Kindle books is that you can’t see the, uh, girth of the novel. I’m also lazy and I never look at the approximate page numbers when choosing books, so I didn’t realize that trying to read a 928 page novel on alternate worlds set in Japan wouldn’t be possible in the span of my two week lending period. The book went back to the library (no late fees = digital lending perk) and I never checked it out again. Woops.

Maybe one day I’ll get back to it. Maybe.

There you have it, Bookworms. Katie’s walk of shame- books I didn’t finish. Happy weekend!

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Oct 08

Wine and Whining: Gone by Cathi Hanauer

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 11

Hello Bookworms!

It’s safe to say that I’m in too many book clubs… The count is three. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to name them. The original book club shall now be known as Wine and Whining (not because anyone else does this, but because I get quite nasal when I don’t like the selection. I’ve been around these ladies for over a year now and therefore have ceased to be on my better behavior.) The neighborhood book club shall henceforth be referred to as Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (because Lorna Landvik wrote a fabulous book with this title, and it’s about a neighborhood book club.) The third book club is a new venture for me. In case you don’t follow my twitter or facebook pages (which you can easily do by clicking the buttons to your right…) you may have missed my shameless self promotion. I was asked to be a guest contributor by Lauren of Filing Jointly…Finally to do a monthly book club type column on her brilliant blog. Since she refers to her readers affectionately as “Blogstalkers,” I shall refer to anything having to do with said column/club as Blogstalker Book Club. (This month we’re reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. You know you want to read along!)

Last week we had our latest meeting of Wine and Whining. The selection was Gone by Cathi Hanauer. I was not a fan of this book. To be fair, it wasn’t that it was poorly written or anything. I just didn’t really like any of the characters and some of the situations made me angry. If the mark of good writing is that you can elicit emotions from your readers, Cathi Hanauer is a genius.

Here’s the premise of Gone. Our protagonist is Eve Adams (points of the amusing name there) and she’s a nutritionist who runs her own consulting practice. She is married to Eric who is a sculptor. Yep. A for real fine art sculptor who makes stuff out of bronze. They have two kids; a 14 year old who seems hell-bent on getting into trouble and an 8 year old boy who is somewhat sickly for no apparent reason.

Eve and Eric go out for their anniversary dinner. When they return home, Eve asks Eric to return the leggy college aged babysitter to her dwelling (even though Eric is drunk and Eve should have realized this before asking him to drive anyone anywhere.) Eric’s in a serious artist slump and is depressed (which is later revealed as though it’s a huge shocking development) so he decides to offer the hot babysitter a ride to Arizona. Right now. Without telling his wife. He doesn’t even sleep with the babysitter. They literally just take an impromptu road trip.

You still with me? Okay. So then Eve is at home and she’s all “oh crap my husband left me for the hot babysitter, now what?!” She goes on with her life trying to keep it together. She keeps seeing clients, struggles with the children, struggles with their emotions, buys a parakeet (I guess nobody buys parakeets when they’re of sound mind and body.) All well and good.

Gone. Not to be confused with Gone Girl or Gone With The Wind, because I liked those a lot better.

Eve has this client named Michael. He’s morbidly obese and she’s trying to help him get healthy. Wonderful. Only Michael OBVIOUSLY has a serious psychological disorder. His binging is like a Lifetime Original Movie about bulemia, but without the puking. This character really hit a nerve with me. Hanauer’s description of Michael felt judgmental and void of empathy. He was apparently SO fat that he couldn’t help but stink constantly (because you know, all big people smell bad?!) and was fired from his job for being a stinky fat man. Really? I know when you’re morbidly obese it’s harder to do things. Getting up stairs and whatnot can feel like a marathon. We get it. He’s a fat guy. Stop being so mean about it. I don’t care if he’s fictional! He needs an intense psychotherapy program, not a flaky nutritionist who thinks she’s revolutionary for telling people to eat real food in healthy portions. Eve also seems to think she’s a genius for finding “just the right” gastric bypass surgery for him. NONE OF THIS IS NEWS, EVE!

Now for Eric. He’s an ARTIST. Artists are supposed to be all moody and brilliant and whatever. In his moment of drunken clarity, Eric goes off to Arizona, drops the babysitter off with her cancer ridden mother (how nice of him) and moves in with his mom. He stumbles around for a while trying to figure himself out. Then, like a beacon of light, one of his sisters who happens to be a therapist says, “Dude. I think you’re depressed. Try this Lexapro for a while.” So he does. And what do you know? FOUR days later, he’s CURED. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! Anybody who has ever suffered with anxiety or depression or bipolar disorder could tell you it’s not that freaking easy. Sometimes, the doctors don’t figure out the medication that will help you right away. Sometimes they have to play with the dosage. Sometimes people need face to face therapy in addition to pills. I don’t think there is anyone in the history of the world who has ever been cured of their psychological disorder by four doses of Lexapro.

So what about the point of the book? About how Eve dealt with her emotions of being left? How Eve and Eric reconcile? The effect this all has one the kids? Honestly, I don’t care. I was so angry about the Michael situation and Eric’s miraculous recovery that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the book. And thus, I went to book club, drank wine, and whined about how much I didn’t like it.

Don’t worry though. Cathi Hanauer has a zillion positive reviews on Amazon. My meanness will do nothing to hurt her sales. Also, if you happen to be Cathi Hanauer, I’m sorry. I just didn’t like those two aspects of your book and was too distracted to appreciate the finer points. Clearly it’s my personal demons and not your writing that caused my irrational anger. I’m an incurable book heckler.

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Sep 24

My Neighbors Are Better Than Your Neighbors: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 14

Hello Bookworms! If you recall from an earlier post, I joined a second book club. This is my neighborhood’s book club and despite knowing it existed, I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 4 years and haven’t joined until now. I’ve got some mild social anxiety issues… So the idea of joining a room full of strangers scared me a little. I tend to clam up and then everyone thinks I’m bitchy… I’m not typically a shrew, I’m  just awkward.

Luckily, our neighborhood guru is awesome and hilarious- it’s almost impossible to say ‘no’ to that girl. So, when we ran into her at a mutual friend’s baby shower (and she started the conversation by complimenting my flowers) I decided to give the book club a shot. She’s also such a freaking trooper- she had her appendix out the day before book club and STILL showed up. God bless her wormy little heart!

What in heaven’s name was I worried about? I apparently live in the greatest neighborhood on the planet. I’d suspected as much, but now I’m sure. Not only do most of the houses look like they’re made out of gingerbread, but the people who live in them are sweethearts! Like gingerbread ladies with gumdrop buttons. I just took that comparison too far, and I don’t care! Huzzah!

This month’s book was Plainsong by Kent Haruf. I’d never heard of the book or the author before, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

If you read this, you’ll learn how to tell if a cow is pregnant! (Anal palpation. You’re welcome.)

As far as the book goes, I liked it. It was set in rural Colorado and followed the lives of a select group of residents in a small farming community. We’ve got an unusual cast of characters: a clinically depressed mother of two, the two precocious boys she seeks escape from, her beleaguered high school history teaching husband, a pregnant teenager, a pair of middle aged bachelor farming brothers, a female school teacher with a heart of gold, and her Alzheimer’s ridden father. There are a few other less critical characters, but I think this description gives you a good idea of the sort of slice-of-small-town vibe the author was going for here.

I only have one complaint with this book. There are TWO instances of teen sex parties where a single female services more than one male. I don’t know what goes on in Colorado, but I think that’s a sufficiently unusual circumstance (at least I sincerely hope it is.) I can’t figure out why it had to make an appearance twice. I’m hoping it was just a literary device, otherwise I’d begin to worry that the author might be a touch pervy. Although, he DID take the high road in a scene with the town ne’er-do-wells tormenting little boys, so I shouldn’t have played the perv card. Sorry, Mr. Haruf… If you’re reading my blog, holy crap on a cracker! I’ve arrived.

So bookworms, are any of you involved in a book club? Tell us about it!

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