Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

17333319The Litwits met on Sunday to discuss Hannah Kent’s debut novel released last year. Putting this book off for almost a year was next to impossible because so many of my online bookish friends loved, loved this story. And for the first time in a long time, I had to force myself to stop at 50 pages a day because I wanted to savor this gem of a book. I never wanted it to end.

Burial Rites is another novel that I don’t feel needs much introduction. It takes place in Iceland in the 1820s. Two women and one man have been charged and convicted of killing a man. Our protagonist, Agnes, has been sentenced to death by beheading. Kent writes of her final months living with a farm family as she awaits her looming death.

That’s not spoiling anything because this is a historical fiction novel based on the true story of the last beheading in Iceland. So…you know how it ends going in, but damn if you don’t hope and pray Agnes will find someway to beat her murder wrap. Whether or not she even committed the crime becomes almost a non issue as you fall in love with this orphaned, lonely, sad woman. I defy you not to want Agnes’s name cleared!

Beyond the central plot, Kent gives you so much else to love. The Icelandic landscape in all its cinematic glory and rolling hills and biting cold surrounds you and places you firmly within the story. Her writing is GORGEOUS. Her descriptions are lyrical and immersive. Some members did think she could be a bit long-winded at times and a little too dirty with her imagery (she doesn’t shy away from the nasty smells and ugliness of  bodily function), but others adored her language for its realism. Personally, I found myself reading the passages out loud – sometimes over and over again – mesmerized by all the pretty words.

Agnes was my favorite character, but many Litwits loved Margret as well. We discussed how Margret desperately didn’t want Agnes in her house, sleeping right next to her own two daughters. But once Agnes arrives in her pitiful state, Margret can’t help but feel for the doomed woman. What makes that so particularly interesting is how un-motherly Margret seems around her own children. Margret’s daughter, Lauga, quickly grows to resent her mother’s affection for Agnes creating such tension as the story unfolds.

We discussed the novel’s ending at length. Several of us felt the ending to be very abrupt, too rushed in its conclusion. Others thought this was done on purpose to emphasize the death that couldn’t be stopped. But it was just so sad.

So Burial Rites was a winner among the Litwits! We got a lot of good conversation in before our inevitable fall into the descent of television, tumblr, and fanfiction. Until next time ladies!!

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

unnamedOMG, Brooke has a proper book post up on a Monday morning. Just like the good old days. Praise be to all things holy. Seriously. Merry effin’ Christmas, y’all.

The Litwits met yesterday and we had another kick ass meetup/discussion. Our Christmas selection this year was Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares which I absolutely dreaded reading. Not just on my own behalf, but on everyone in the group’s as well. I had nothing to worry about, however, as the read was mostly painless and even pleasurable for most ladies.

The book is really your typical YA fluffy contemporary. Dash and Lily are 16-year-old Manhattanites who meet through a moleskin journal they trade back and forth, completing tasks and dares they dictate to each other. It’s cute, cheesy, schmoopy, and filled with Christmas cheer and holiday cynicism.

Our group decided it’s not amazing writing or anything mind-blowing, but Levithan and Cohn have created a simple story that should be satisfying to most teenagers and way less than painful for adults to sit through. You might even find yourself smiling at bits along the way.

What’s not to like? Plenty if you’re reading with a fine-toothed comb, but there’s no need for that! Yes, Dash is pretentious and Lily is immature. Yes, many of the episodes are cliche, over-the-top, and just downright implausible. And yes, even the writing suffers due to the back and forth alternating perspectives. Cohn and Levithan are playing with the traditional writing format which sometimes works and sometimes ends in EPIC failure.

Even still, most of us liked it against our better judgment. Perhaps it’s just the Christmas magic?

Speaking of Christmas magic, how about some Norman Reedus while we suffer through the TWD midseason withdrawals?

norman-reedus-gq-magazine-october-2013-style-01

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and A Litwits Anniversary!

IMG_20131026_030601Sunday the Litwits met to celebrate our three year anniversary and to discuss Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Without bragging and making y’all jealous of how fabulous my book club is, suffice it to say we had one badass afternoon.

This year’s festivities included two kinds of cake – pumpkin spice and blueberry pound cake. Both were excellent and not baked by me, lol. I had help from Piece of Cake and will definitely be a frequent customer. We also held a big giveaway of three book packages – 10 books a piece. We drew names and Holly, Emily, and Melanie all won. They seemed pretty happy with their loot! Our final celebration included a Chinese gift exchange! Everyone ended up going home with a new-ish book.

After all that fun, it probably won’t shock y’all that the discussion for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a bit on the light side. I think everyone enjoyed it and really seemed to love the creepy pictures beyond anything else. Some general complaints included the cliffhanger ending and just wishing for a little bit more such as Miss Peregrine turning out evil. I mean, she did sort of brainwash all those kids to stay in that time loop and never age.

For me, Miss Peregrine’s had a strong start and a somewhat lackluster ending. I liked how genuinely creepy the first bits were, but then the novel morphed into something more on the science fiction spectrum with time travel that I wasn’t expecting. The time travel definitely has the ability to become something awesome in subsequent books, though. I also just felt a bit odd about the kids never growing older.

If you’re looking for something light and spirited this Halloween, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children really would be a perfect fit as long as you aren’t looking for a perfect book.

Rating: starstarstar

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

13539044The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick had a lot to live up to. I know it’s blasphemous to prefer the movie to the book, but I adored this movie. And when I say I adored, what I mean is I was borderline obsessed. Okay, not even borderline. Unsurprisingly, The Litwits wanted to read the source material so I eagerly picked up a beautiful movie-cover edition (don’t hate me!) and got started.

You don’t need a synopsis. Because you’ve already seen the movie. Right? RIGHT? If not, pause your reading and go watch. Now. Yes, right now. Then come back – or don’t. Up to you.

Ultimately, I still enjoy the movie more but feel like as a whole they are highly complimentary. Certain characters are drawn far better in the book – Pat’s brother, Pat’s mom, while others I prefer the movie version – Pat’s Dad, Tiffany. The book allows some great insight into Pat’s thoughts and inner monologues and the movie excels at making me feel all the feels. Several Litwits members agreed that the movie was the more emotional medium in that they cried watching but not reading. What also interested me in the book was the ambiguity of the story. Pat’s never diagnosed in Quick’s story and the relationship between Pat and Tiffany is left a bit more open ended than the Hollywood version.

Kathleen finished reading the book and immediately watched the movie and felt that the movie did an amazing job capturing the essence of the story. I have to agree wholeheartedly. SLP is a great film adaptation. What both narrative forms have going for them is Pat. He’s the happiest, most joyful, and positive character Victoria believes she’s read in a long while. I think he’s the reason so many people love this story no matter how they come to it. His mantra from the book is ‘be kind, not right’ which is something we all need to remember from time to time.

The rest of our discussion centered around watching the Eagles chant on YouTube, state mental health institutions, and what an amazing job both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence did in the film.

Now, not everyone was extremely pleased with the story and that’s okay! Some members didn’t think the characters were that likable and that some of the details were a bit far-fetched. I can see both these things as being very true – but the movie captured my heart in that special way where I ignore all the flaws, lol.  I was surprised how many Litwits enjoyed the book more (I shouldn’t have been surprised), but I’m sticking with the movie.

Have you seen the movie and read the book? Which did you prefer? 

Rating: starstarstarstar

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (July Meetup)

13339004Another bookclub meetup is in the books! We met on Sunday afternoon to discuss Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. And even though there were only four of us in attendance, I still think we had a very interesting and in depth discussion. Several members who were unable to attend emailed me to let me know how much they really enjoyed this story of a girl in 1930s NYC.

Book Jacket: (because I’m having the hardest time summarizing)

“On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel her on a yearlong journey toward the upper echelons of New York society – where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.”

Amor Towles has never written a book before. He also spent his career on Wall Street. The fact that he was able to pen this gem of a story really surprises and impresses me. And while the story isn’t perfect by any means and suffers from several ‘first novel’ weaknesses, I was really able to forgive all of those bits for the sheer quality of his writing – the emotions he was able to evoke and the imagery he created. In short, I’m thrilled the Litwits selected this novel and even more thrilled that Towles just recently released a novella following Eve, another central character to the plot of Rules of Civility.

While there was an overwhelming sense of appreciation and enjoyment from the ladies, the conversation wasn’t entirely positive. Some members felt that the dialog lacked a true 1930s feel and that some of the details weren’t historically accurate. These inaccuracies distracted them and affected their reading of the book. We also wished that Tinker and Eve’s characters had been more fleshed-out, but enjoyed Katey’s character development quite a bit. With the publication of his short novella centered on Eve, I think Towles himself actually believed Eve needed more depth and exploration. We talked in great detail about whether or not Towles’s decision to write from the female perspective worked – whether he was able to write convincingly female characters –  and were ultimately torn.

For me, Rules of Civility is a novel that wonderfully evokes 1930s noir novels. I felt that darker, grittier atmosphere come alive and enjoyed Katey’s story immensely. I especially loved the lyrical writing and the many literary references tossed throughout – particularly Katey’s love of Great Expectations. If I had to sum up my reading, I’d stay Towles’s first novel is a debut with moments of brilliance. Those moments have me earnestly awaiting his next novel as I think he’s going to only improve with time and experience.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: June’s Litwit Meetup

imagesI was so excited to read Sloan’s debut novel. I mean, the freakin’ cover glows in the dark. How awesome is that? Gimmicks like that totally sucker me in. I was even more excited to read it along with my bookclub. A good, lighter read for the beginning of summer.

The story combines a quirky bookstore with all the nerdy tech-savvy of Google. Our fearless leader, Clay, has found himself out of a job due to that pesky recession. No one is desiring his programming and web design skills so he finds a job at an eccentric bookshop. Mr. Penumbra’s store is like no other – built extremely tall and awkwardly narrow, only the front shelves actually house books for sale. The multitude of the collection is ‘borrowed’ by odd characters who often come in during the dead of night. What are they up to? Clay is determined to find out.

Did the ladies enjoy? Mostly yes. We agreed the novel is a strong debut with some room for growth. The story starts off interestingly enough – Clay is an extremely likable narrator. Victoria loved how welcoming and friendly Clay’s narration felt. The side characters were great, if at times a little underdeveloped. We all loved what we knew about them and would have loved to know more.

No one felt that the modern technology combined with the old world bookiness detracted from the story at all. We actually loved how Sloan was able to incorporate both worlds and show how they needed each other to survive. What we weren’t too impressed with was the mystery. In theory, the idea is wonderful, but in execution it faltered. The climax wasn’t particularly surprising or intriguing. In fact, the mystery kind of felt like it went no where. But the journey mostly made up for that pitfall.

As a group, I think we would describe Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore as a good read but not a great read. Everyone enthusiastically agreed that we’d read Sloan’s next novel. Hopefully, his next work will better stand on its on as Penumbra felt very derivative at times (many members compared to The Da Vinci Code) and surprisingly fresh at others. A fun beach read we wished had a bit more development and a more shocking conclusion!

Next up for the Litwits: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles!

BONUS!!! Here’s a link provided by Macmillan Audio of a sample of the audiobook: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook clip!!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

482976[T]he child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination.

The Litwits met yesterday to discuss A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. For the first time in a long time, we universally loved this story. Since we all know writing about books we love is harder than those we hate, this post is going to be atrocious. Francie is my new favorite heroine of all time. Her sad moments are filled with joy, her happy moments sobered by sorrow. She’s independent, smart, and dreamily lonely. Her story is both tragic and uplifting. I wanted to crawl inside this novel and live there forever.

Francie’s story is rather simple – she’s growing up in the tenements of Brooklyn circa 1901-1919. Her family has no money and does whatever’s needed to get by. Papa Nolan sings for his supper, literally, but doesn’t contribute much stability or financial success to his family’s needs. He’s a drunk with a heart of gold. Odd sentence, that. He loves his children dearly – especially Francie, but doesn’t love himself enough to rise above his struggles and survive. Mama Nolan is described as being made of steel. She shoulders the weight of supporting her family by scrubbing the floors of the buildings in Brooklyn. She can be cold and off-putting, but she never loses the loyalty or essence of motherhood. Neely is the coddled brother Francie loves dearly. They had such a beautiful sibling relationship. Much of Francie’s story is Betty Smith’s as well. She definitely wrote what she knew.

Oh, the novel. I dashed if off at odd moments. It doesn’t take long to write things of which you know nothing. When you write of actual things, it takes longer, because you have to live them first.

Emily described Smith’s writing as concise and immersive without being flowery or overdone. I wholeheartedly agree. Her prose is simple, honest, and lingers in sentimentality only at the most appropriate moments. The pacing was perfect and my time spent with this book was never a burden. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of Francie. I wanted to continue on with her to college and beyond. The shear optimism this book exudes in the face of destitution and poverty won me over.

The ladies also loved Smith’s sense of place. Brooklyn comes alive as does the early 20th century. With A Tree Grows in Brooklyn you get to live a time not experienced first hand. I love books that bring to life something I’ll never be able to experience – unless they invent time travel before I die (it could happen!).Women’s rights were becoming a thing and I liked seeing how the American society was reacting to the stronger feminine presence.

I could totally keep going. But I’ll spare y’all. If you haven’t, go read Smith’s most popular and acclaimed novel. You’ll be left wishing you had read slower and adding Smith’s other works to your TBR shelves.

March Meetup: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

16299So I read and reviewed ATTWN last year and was excited for the Litwits to discuss this novel because I sort of expected it to be a hit! And it was. I don’t think a single member was too disappointed. That’s a huge win when you have a very diversified group of literary ladies.

Christie’s page-turning plot was no doubt a leading cause. We talked in depth of how intricately her narrative was plotted – what with all the characters and their layered pasts. Christie also takes great care in how she divulges all the twists and turns (of which there are many) to her readers – never letting them in on a secret too early. For this reason, her killer is next to impossible to suss out. In today’s far too often cookie-cutter mystery, Christie’s shocking reveals really set her among history’s elite whodunnit novelists.

We had fun delving into each character’s gritty back story and their particular reason for being selected among the doomed party. Whether or not they were actually to blame, how they lived with their culpability, and ultimately how crazy they had to have been. The psychological aspects of Christie’s story are so deliciously wrought with morality questions that it’s easy to understand why many readers and high schools across the nation deem her genre novels literary classics.

I think the only bit anyone didn’t agree on was the ending. Some loved Christie’s unveiling of the murderer through the novel’s last chapter – a letter from the actual killer. Others wished they had been left never knowing who was responsible. I was actually genuinely surprised at how many Litwits would have been satisfied without the killer’s identity being revealed!

So we Litwits highly recommend this or any other Christie novel for book clubs or individuals across the globe. We have some Christie aficionados among us who recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Body in the Library. Happy Reading!

February Meetup: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

11250053What a bittersweet Litwits discussion! We’re losing the amazingly fabulous Bianca to the greener grasses of California. She will be dearly missed especially since she’s been with us since the very first discussion EVER. Hard to lose the founding ladies, but we wish her nothing but the best in her Cali adventures!

On Sunday, we gathered to discuss The Snow Child and I could not have been more excited. I totally fell victim to all the hype surrounding this novelized fairy tale and was hard-pressed not to read the whole dang thing months in advance. Jack and Mabel’s story just intrigued me so much. A couple who hasn’t been able to have a child, who went through the pains of a stillbirth, moving to the seemingly barren terrain of frontier Alaska during the 1920s was impressive enough. Throw in the additional story line of a magical little snow child that comes to them in their greatest moment of need and I was hooked. And for me, the story could not have been any better.

But this post is about far more than my own biased opinion! My fellow Litwits did really seem to enjoy the story. A couple were a bit bothered by a somewhat slow, tedious first half and one or two didn’t manage to overcome that particular pitfall. Others pushed through the rather depressing first few chapters only to be rewarded by this quietly magical and very literary fairy tale. Quite simply, I think this might have been our best book discussion in a long while.

Thematically, the novel is rich and layered with such things as social pressures, social norms, self-discovery and identity, journeys, and the cyclical nature of life. Ivey’s language is dense in the best way possible, filled with the harshness and the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. You can tell she loves her homeland so very much. Kate talked in detail about how the Alaskan landscape really changes with the mood of the story – darkening and lightening to enhance the novel’s progression and delight the critical reader. A definite reason to reread. You could have an entire discussion on sense of place.

 

As for our snow fairy, Faina, she was such a wonderfully mysterious character and you are never really sure one way or the other what the truth about her existence really is. It’s left very much in the reader’s hand and spawned a lot of lively debate concerning her conclusion. But she isn’t the only marvelously written character! Everyone loved Esther and her whole family. She added a level of comedic relief in the midst of such dire and tragic circumstances. Ivey just seems so well-versed in how to balance intense emotion with the lightness of good friends and laughter.

In short, I highly recommend The Snow Child to all readers, but especially to fellow bookclubs. Let your members know that the story builds slowly, but pays off so much in the ending. And even though at times the narrative is highly predictable, Ivey’s poetic talent makes every word worth reading.

January Meetup: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

6614960I’m coming to you live still riding the wave of euphoria that always warmly overwhelms me after a Litwits discussion. Because, again, I love my book club more than words can express and today’s gathering was superb. We met to discuss House Rules by Jodi Picoult – selected, in part, by the amazing Bianca.

Before the discussion commenced, we took part in a Litwits fav – a book swap! We all kindly donated books we have read and loved or read and not loved to give away to our fellow members. It’s like one big giant book store exploded on my dining room table and everything is FREE. You can imagine how awesometacular this is. See where the previously mentioned euphoria comes into play? And then there was food with pumpkin chocolate chip cookies made by Bianca. Because she is made of sunshine and rainbows.

Once settled with our treats and new books, we eagerly began our month’s discussion. Bianca immediately led the way explaining why House Rules disappointed her as she’s an avid Picoult fan. The ending let her down. There was no interesting plot twist. Instead, the story was highly predictable from very early on and when you read 500 pages expecting some amazingness to find its way into the ending, the conclusion seen coming way back on page 50 is a huge let down. All of the members agreed on this aspect. Bad ending was bad.

Jodi naysayers aside, most everyone agreed that her writing is compelling and page turning. She researches her subject matter intensely and pays very close attention to detail and proper science. Emily wished there was a reference page so she could study up on the source material. She was also bummed that Picoult didn’t in some way inform her readers that the scientific basis for some of her information had been rescinded by the medical community – specifically, blaming childhood vaccinations for the recent prevalence of Asperger’s.

The story is told through several different characters’ perspectives – alternating between chapters. Some loved this and thought Jodi pulled it off well. Others preferred Jacob’s perspective above all others and thought the story would have been strengthened if told solely from his vantage point. As for me, I wasn’t a super fan of the alternating, but I did enjoy seeing both brothers’ perspectives. I thought both Theo and Jacob were intriguing characters.

So overall, I don’t think House Rules amazed anyone, but several Litwits seemed interested in reading more of her work. I’m glad I finally read something by Picoult and would read something else. Next month we’ll be diving into The Snow Child which I’m thrilled about. Have heard nothing but great things!

Oh…and if my previous Silver Linings Playbook recommendation didn’t convince you to go see the movie, then perhaps the Litwits endorsement will! Everyone is in love with the movie and we highly, highly recommend it to any and everyone!

P.S. Bianca’s favorite Picoult novel is Mercy! What’s yours?