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?

 

Litwits December Meetup: The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

9724798I’ve seen Sarah Jio receive a lot of love in the blogging community and was excited to read this novel with my book club ladies. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to the hype for me or most of the other Litwits.

The members who found the book enjoyable liked the ease factor of the reading experience – there was nothing heavy or deeply layered. Instead, this book was great for ‘bubble bath’ reading which was exactly where I read each and every word! Jio also has a wonderful sense of place. The island where the story takes place was so vivid. I wanted to walk those beaches. I, personally, also appreciated having some kick ass older female characters.

But mostly, the story fell flat. We felt that the plot was contrived with a soap opera-ish vibe. Everyone hated that all the characters conveniently had changed their names over the years to help hide the mystery. Emily called the whole thing ‘lazy’. I can’t say I disagree with her. The ending seemed a let down for most as well. Silly, predictable, and eye-rollingly simple. The mystery really wasn’t that thrilling, nor that mysterious. I think it had a potential Jio never lived up to.

Some ladies claimed that the blurbs and synopsis were very misleading – that the book was less mystery, more romance. If they’d had better warning going in, they might have enjoyed the story more instead of expecting something completely different. Others didn’t find Emily’s reaction to her divorce very believable – especially the immediate two love interests. The parallelism between Emily’s modern story and Esther’s historical story was also a bit beyond everyone’s belief.

While we didn’t find Jio’s debut stunning or particularly well written, many Litwits claimed they’d be willing to try another of Jio’s novels now that they know better what to expect. I’m also tempted to give her another go since so many bloggers enjoy her. Are we just crazy? Let me know if you think her other two books are any better in the comments!

In addition to our book discussion, we also did a gift swap where everyone bought a gift ($10 or less) that in some way related to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas! We had a ton of fun with this without breaking the bank and highly recommend to anyone looking for something festive. The Litwits – we are awesome!

November Meetup: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Awhile back, I read and reviewed Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.  I wasn’t nearly as enthralled as the rest of the interwebs and book readers.  So when it was selected as The Liwits’ November book club read I was really excited to see how the ladies would respond.  In short – they pretty much agreed with me.

Obviously, Zusak’s novel is much beloved by many, but as someone who didn’t find it extremely compelling – and a tad bit on the gimmicky side – I was pleased to discuss my dislikes with fellow critics.  Not that we trashed the novel – not at all – and we had one lovely member who adored the book.  We all agreed that Zusak’s prose was mostly gorgeous and that dude can write, but I think Death as a narrator ultimately bothered some Litwits.

Katherine wasn’t thrilled with the ‘magical realism’ aspect of Death adding a sort of fictional haze over the realism of WWII.  I agreed, going so far as to argue against fictional WWII literature in general.  Others believed Death was humorous, added a certain levity, and was personified in a wholly humanistic way that didn’t bother the grittiness of the story at all.

We argued with America’s marketing of The Book Thief as young adult literature.  I’m fairly certain we all agreed that the book belongs among all ages equally.  We did think that teenagers would appreciate the novel.

Our discussion led us to ideas of what evil truly is and what it looks like, the differences between sociopathy and psychopathy, and even our recent political elections.  Everyone enjoyed the novel’s German perspective as we dived into a debate about how humans can turn a blind eye to such torture and how we believe it could happen again if we aren’t careful.  Unfortunately, many struggled with the constant reminders that everyone was going to die in the end which led to an anti-climatic ending that left no tears scattered across the final pages.  In converse, some appreciated this warning which allowed them to enjoy the journey without worry for the emotional turmoil at the end.

I encourage other groups to read this novel together.  While not everyone will love it and some might even find it difficult to get through, The Book Thief generates some amazing discussion which is, after all, the point of a book club!  I’m glad The Litwits read this story together and had such profound thoughts.  Can’t wait until next month when we read The Violets of March by Sarah Jio.  Hopefully, a bit of a lighter read for the Holiday season!

January Voting Selections

It’s that time again, Litwits!  January is only two months away (can you believe it?) so we need to get down to business and make our monthly book selection.  Bianca has selected this month’s options and she decided to make it a Jodi Picoult month!  I’m super excited to finally read something by Ms. Picoult and hope y’all are too.  Should generate some awesome discussion.  You’ll be receiving the voting link later Thursday night or early Friday morning, but here’s a little preview of the books:

House Rules: Jacob Hunt is a teen with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, though he is brilliant in many ways. But he has a special focus on one subject- forensic analysis. A police scanner in his room clues him in to crime scenes, and he’s always showing up and telling the cops what to do. And he’s usually right. But when Jacob’s small hometown is rocked by a terrible murder, law enforcement comes to him. Jacob’s behaviors are hallmark Asperger’s but they look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly the Hunt family, who only want to fit in, are directly in the spotlight. For Jacob’s mother, Emma, its a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it’s another indication why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family, the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?
Sing You Home: In the aftermath of a series of personal tragedies, Zoe throws herself into her career as a music therapist. When an unexpected friendship slowly blossoms into love, she makes plans for a new life, but to her shock and inevitable rage, some people- even those she loves and trusts most- don’t want that to happen. Sing You Home explores the delicate boundaries of identity, love, marriage and parenthood. What happens when the outside world brutally calls into question the very thing closest to our hearts: family? Once again, Jodi Picoult gracefully brings the hidden tensions of life sharply into focus in this poignantly honest novel.
Mercy: The police chief of a small Massachusetts town, Cameron McDonald, makes the toughest arrest of his life when his own cousin Jamie comes to him and confesses outright that he has killed his terminally ill wife out of mercy. Now, a heated murder trial plunges the town into upheaval and drives a wedge into a contented marriage: Cameron, aiding the prosecution in its case against Jamie, is suddenly at odds with his devoted wife, Allie, seduced by the idea of a man so in love with his wife that he’d grant all her wishes, even her wish to end her life. And when an inexplicable attraction leads to a shocking betrayal, Allie faces the hardest questions of the heart: When does love cross the line of moral obligation? And what does it mean to truly love another?
Handle With Care: Every expectant parent will tell you that they don’t want a perfect baby, just a healthy one. Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe would have asked for a healthy baby, too, if they’d been given the choice. Instead, their lives are consumed by sleepless nights, mounting bills, the pitying stares of “luckier” parents, and maybe worst of all, the what-ifs. What if their child had been born healthy? But it’s all worth it because Willow is, well, funny as it seems, perfect. She’s smart as a whip, on her way to being as pretty as her mother, kind, brave, and for a five-year-old an unexpectedly deep source of wisdom. Willow is Willow, in sickness and in health. Everything changes, though, after a series of events forces Charlotte and her husband to confront the most serious what-ifs of all. What if Charlotte should have known earlier of Willow’s illness? What if things could have been different? What if their beloved Willow had never been born? To do Willow justice, Charlotte must ask herself these questions and one more. What constitutes a valuable life?

Happy Birthday, Litwits!

October’s meetup marked the 2 year anniversary of the best book club of all time – and yes, I’m completely biased.  We met at Victoria’s to discuss Arcadia by Lauren Groff and party down!  Festivities included a White Elephant-esque book gift exchange, a huge gift basket raffle (congrats Jennifer!), and one awesome bookish cake.

While we had all of the fun activities planned, we also made time to discuss our book of the month – Arcadia.  The story begins in the late 60s and follows Bit from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood as his life is shaped by the commune he’s born into and the people he meets there.  Yes, there are many, many hippies.

The ladies had strong feelings about this book.  Many were not fans and weren’t afraid to share their disappointment.  Others found the human connection to nature, the history of commune living, and some of the individual characters fascinating.  The naysayers disapproved of the slow nature of the plot and how nothing really happens – EVER.  Arcadia truly is a character study – brief glimpses into the positives and negatives of a free society hidden away from mainstream consumerism, but ultimately destroyed by a leader with a messiah complex.

Some members praised Groff’s powerful women and how often women really were the backbone of the novel.  I, personally, loved that the novel didn’t preach HIPPIES ARE AWESOME or HIPPIES ARE THE DEVIL!  Instead, Groff expertly showcased the pros, the cons, and everything between.  Unfortunately, the hippies fell flat for me and the story just wasn’t my cup of tea.

While Arcadia didn’t win a ton of new fans, it definitely managed to incite some great conversations about communal living, education, humanity’s relationship with nature (we might have talked about snakes for 15 minutes), and porn.  Because we always end at porn – some how, some way.