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

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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

The Litwits March selection was Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter which was bound to incite a fabulous discussion…and I missed the meetup due to sinus migraines.  SHAME.  I hated to miss the discussion since I’ve not missed a single, solitary meeting since we began in September 2010.  My husband was slightly appalled, but as I had been mostly living in a dark hole all week moaning and inviting dear, sweet death to take me away – he understood.  Was that dramatic enough for everyone?

The ladies assured me that the discussion was fabulous – aren’t they always though?  I can’t wait to catch up with everyone in April and get a rundown everyone’s general feelings towards the novel.  Or ladies, if you’re reading this – please leave your feelings in the comments!

Anyway, everyone will just have to suffer through my own opinions for the time being!  And a word of warning, THERE BE SPOILERS LATER IN THE PROGRAMMING.

So – Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter takes place in small town Mississippi 25 years after Larry Ott is believed to have murdered a local girl.  He’s not in prison and was never convicted because they never found a body or much evidence beyond the circumstantial.  All the town knows is that he was the last person seen with her.  Of course, like any good little blip on the map, the townsfolk ostracize him from society and he becomes the ultimate loner.  When another girl goes missing, everyone immediately suspects “Scary Larry” and onetime childhood friend turned town constable, Silas, is left to uncover the whole imperfect truth.

Franklin’s novel is well-written, atmospheric, and succeeds in creating some of the best character development of almost any ‘mystery’ novel (literary or otherwise) I’ve ever read.  He smartly and realistically tackles heavy themes such as racism with the respect and depth they deserve.  On the other hand, the plot is very slowly paced and the book took me a long time to get through – particularly the middle.

I’ve seen some readers cite the plot as a bit too predictable, and I both agree and disagree.  Nothing that happens within Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter surprised me.  I saw most everything coming well beforehand, but I don’t think Franklin intended to shock his readers with plot twists.  Instead, I believe he wants his readers to fall into the same biases, prejudices, and yes – even racism that the book’s characters find themselves victim to.  That way, you are just as complicit in condemning Larry or Silas or the stepfather or whoever else you believe might have done the crimes.  After all, we never actually know who killed Cindy or even if she was killed, but we sure do have our conspiracy theories and rash judgments to guide our way.  Well done, Mr. Franklin, well done.

As an aside, Tom Franklin notes that the title comes from how southern children are taught to spell Mississippi – ‘M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I’.  I loved that and thought it extremely apt as the novel’s title.  As a southern child, I absolutely knew this little way of spelling Mississippi and appreciate the trip down memory lane.

Attention Litwits: May Voting!

Hi Ladies!  In celebration of Leap Year, I’m sending out the voting links early!  Our May books were randomly selected from the master list.  The selection is quite diverse and I’m sure you’ll see something to your liking.  As always, vote via the surveymonkey link that will arrive in your inbox shortly!  If you don’t receive an email (but please check your spam filter), feel free to leave your vote in the comments.  Voting closes on Sunday!

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen:  Throughout the 1980s, the highest priority of Seattle-area police was the apprehension of the Green River Killer, the man responsible for the murders of dozens of women. But in 1990, with the body count numbering at least forty-eight, the case was put in the hands of a single detective, Tom Jensen. After twenty years, when the killer was finally captured with the help of DNA technology, Jensen and fellow detectives spent 188 days interviewing Gary Leon Ridgway in an effort to learn his most closely held secrets-an epic confrontation with evil that proved as disturbing and surreal as can be imagined. Written by Jensen’s own son, acclaimed entertainment journalist Jeff Jensen, Green River Killer: A True Detective Story presents the ultimate insider’s account of America’s most prolific serial killer. Green River Killer is bound to become a well-recognized member of the crime-genre graphic novel family, including titles like Darwyn Cooke’s The Hunter and Alan Moore’s From Hell.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand:  On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War. The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will. In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: A novel of remarkable depth and poignancy from one of the most acclaimed writers of our time. It is July 1962. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an earnest young history student at University College of London, who unexpectedly wooed and won her heart. Newly married that morning, both virgins, Edward and Florence arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their worries about the wedding night to come. Edward, eager for rapture, frets over Florence’s response to his advances and nurses a private fear of failure, while Florence’s anxieties run deeper: she is overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact, but dreads disappointing her husband when they finally lie down together in the honeymoon suite. Ian McEwan has caught with understanding and compassion the innocence of Edward and Florence at a time when marriage was presumed to be the outward sign of maturity and independence. On Chesil Beach is another masterwork from McEwan—a story of lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen: The largely unknown story of female Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532–1625) is beautifully imagined here in YA novelist Cullen’s sparkling adult debut. In a page-turning tale that brings to life the undercurrent of political, romantic, and interfamily rivalries in the court of Spanish King Felipe II, the author shines a light on Sofonisba, who is brought under the tutelage of Michelangelo and later appointed as a lady-in-waiting for the king’s 14-year-old wife, Elisabeth, to whom she becomes a close confidante. The author offers an intriguing vision of what life was like for women of different economic and political stations at that time, and she also takes care to not short-shrift the specifics of Sofonisba’s art and methods. Cullen has found a winning subject in Sofonisba, whose broken heart as a young woman colors her perceptions and judgment about the queen and her imperious husband, as well as the young Elizabeth’s attraction to the king’s brother, and Elizabeth’s odd relationship with the king’s son from his first marriage. Ongoing references to the Spanish Inquisition and the life of the controversial Michelangelo add depth to this rich story.

February With the Litwits: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Another book club Sunday has come and gone.  And, as always, we had a marvelous time.  We had several new ladies this month who were wonderful to meet and I hope they had a good time and will continue to read along with us!

As for the book, most everyone enjoyed it on some level.  We praised Harbach for his ability to draw interestingly complex characters even though they often frustrated us to no end.  The writing is really on a higher level than many other contemporary authors – we learned new words, read some beautiful sentences, and found much to praise in Harbach’s technique.  I particularly appreciated how the novel was intelligent without being pretentious, although there are a couple of pretentious characters.

Some members loved the book’s pacing while others believed the narrative to wax and wane.  For me, the novel started off a bit slow because I had no clue what the point was or where the story was going, but about halfway through I could not put this book down.  The characters were just so engrossing even though most of them weren’t the kind of people you liked, but they felt honest in their waywardness and their utter lack of direction.  Each character deals with a search for identity, especially in the aftermath of having the person they thought they were ripped out from underneath them.  And everyone loved Owen – hands down our favorite character.

We discussed the implausibility of many situations our protagonists found themselves in – from how they deal with their mortality and death to their ideas about relationships and love.  The ending left some wondering what happens next and would we be willing to read a sequel.  Most of the characters are in their early twenties with so much life left ahead of them – we left the novel caring about where they’d end up in 20 or 30 years.

Harbach has created a moving novel about the quest for identity, the hunt for the American ideal, and the love for a book called Moby Dick.  He writes a story wrapped in baseball and all its superstitions where baseball transcends sport into a metaphor for life – an American life of hopes and dreams both fulfilled and unfulfilled, and those still in process.  And if I’m being honest, I might have cried just a bit at the end which hardly ever happens to me.  Something I can’t quite place my finger on captivated me in a way that genuinely surprised me and turned on the waterworks.  The Art of Fielding is the kind of book I know I’ll reread again and again, learning something new each time.  Highly recommended read.

Next month we’ll be reading Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin!

January Meetup: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book club Sundays are absolutely my favorite days.  I look forward to the next one as soon as the current discussion ends.  It’s not just because of the books (even though as a huge book nerd they play a large part) – it’s also because we have the best members of any book club in the whole wide world since the dawn of time, Amen.

Today’s meeting was at my house (hence the cleaning post below) and our January selection was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I was nervous because I loved this book more than what some would consider a ‘normal’ amount – what if they didn’t like it?  What if they thought my book love was creepy?  But I decided to just be honest and let my freak flag fly – and yes, I do think some members thought I might have taken things a little too far (especially the newer ladies), but I’m not making any apologies.  Y’all should just be thankful we’ve never read any Harry Potter, trust me.

Speaking of new ladies, we had several first time attendees and I hope y’all felt welcome – we can be a bit overwhelming as a group because we get louder and louder as the evening progresses.  We’re also very opinionated without fear of expressing those opinions.  At the same time, we welcome any and all, love hearing what others think even (and maybe even especially) when it differs from our own, and most of us started out strangers at some point so we know how you feel!

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde

Ok, on to the discussion.  On a whole, everyone enjoyed (some fell madly, deeply in love) The Night Circus.  Of course, there were a couple of members here and there who weren’t as thrilled primarily because this type of story just wasn’t their cup of tea.  Everyone agreed that this novel is a sensory experience – the midnight dinners, the circus sights and smells, the magical attractions hidden inside each tent, even the heat of the fire jumps straight off the page.  Reading this book is an experience – it feels like something new and exciting.  We are convinced it could make a fantastically enchanting visual experience when it finally comes out in theaters – Summit Entertainment has purchased the movie rights and David Heyman (Harry Potter!) has been in negotiations to produce the film.  We just hope the magic and whimsy isn’t lost in translation.

Some loved Marco and Celia; others loved Bailey, Poppet, and Widget.  We discussed whether the book and the competition had a true villain.  Are Hector and Alexander H. really evil or can their actions be excused or at least understood?  Have they lived for so long that they no longer value life or do they just not believe death is the worst thing that can happen to a person?  I think everyone enjoyed Herr Thiessen the clockmaker – for most he was the most beloved character.  We all felt sort of sorry for Isobel, but others were put off by her clinginess – how many people would essentially give up their life and follow a circus around to be with someone they don’t even actually ever see?  I love when a book’s secondary characters steal the show.

The ending left some members wanting – feeling more like a whimper than a bang.  But Kelly thought the quietness of Marco and Celia’s story went perfectly with the subtle ending.  Several ladies loved the Shakespeare allusions – The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, bits of Hamlet are all interwoven.  And we thoroughly questioned Bailey’s decision to join the Circus – fate or free will, what was the true driving factor of his ‘decision’?  And what about that email address on his card?

Side Note:  When you email Bailey you receive the following auto-response:

 

Thank you for your interest in Le Cirque des Rêves!

If you are inquiring as to the itinerary of the circus, we apologize,
but it is against our policy to disclose information about current or
upcoming locations.

Other inquiries will be responded to in as timely a manner as possible.

Cheers,
Erin

 

So if you like magic, illusion, quiet love stories, and a sense of place that is undeniable – go read The Night Circus if you haven’t already.  A little disclaimer: the novel isn’t about a high-action competition between two master magicians – in fact, as Jessica so succinctly pointed out, the competition is really only glorified interior decorating – but it’s the best interior decorating book I’ve ever read!

Second Side Note:  Courtney berated me for not having watched Downton Abbey yet.  SHAME!  I promise to watch (and maybe blog) about my experience with the show once it hits my mailbox.

Next month the Litwits are reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach where we finally discover the answer to the age-old question:  Do you really have to love baseball to love a book with baseball in it?

Coming Soon: ATL Author Events!

After Kelly alerted everyone’s attention to the upcoming Erin Morgenstern event in a couple of weeks, I thought it would be a great idea to post some other literary type events taking place over the next couple of months.  Mark your calendars for the following:

JANUARY:

FoxTale Book Shoppe:

A Grown Up Kind Of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson Launch Party – Thursday, January 26 @ 7 pm (FREE event)

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern book signing – Friday, January 27 @ 7 pm ($30 tickets – see website for details)

A Return Visit by Gin Phillips – Saturday, January 28 @ 1 pm – Written with the same warmth and depth of feeling that drew readers to The Well and The Mine, Phillips’s haunting and engrossing new novel, Come In and Cover Me, re-imagines the American Southwest’s prehistoric Mimbres culture and its leap into supernatural territory. This is a return visit to FoxTale for Gin, so let’s give her a Woodstock welcome!

Lunch with Kim Edwards – Sunday, January 29 @ 1 pm – discussing The Lake of Dreams and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. This is a GREAT Book Club Event and it’s just $5! Join us for a light lunch as Kim Edwards talks about the books that have made her a hugely popular novelist. Imbued with all the lyricism, compassion, and suspense of her bestselling novel The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edward’s The Lake of Dreams is a powerful family drama and an unforgettable story of love lost and found. $5 for lunch, paid at the door. Don’t miss this exclusive FoxTale event. Author will sign only those books purchased at FoxTale.

Buckhead Barnes and Noble:

Jennifer HudsonWednesday, January 18 @ 7 pm (line starts at 5 pm)

Deborah Harkness: A Discovery of WitchesThursday, January 19 @ 7 pm (passes handed out beginning at 5 pm)

FEBRUARY:

Eagle Eye Bookshop:

Lisa Gardner:  Catch MeThursday, February 9 @ 7 pm

Rachel Simon:  The Story of Beautiful GirlTuesday, February 21 @ 7 pm

Kim Harrison:  A Perfect BloodSaturday, February 25 @ 1 pm

Buckhead Barnes and Noble:

Eleanor Brown:  The Weird SistersTuesday, February 21 @ 7 pm

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, so check the store links for other events and all the nitty-gritty details you’ll need for each signing.  If you plan on attending, go head and let us know in the comments.  We’ll create a group outing if enough interest is shown in any of the above events.  I already know I’ll be attending the Erin Morgenstern signing, the Kim Harrison signing (birthday present!), and probably the Deborah Harkness event this Thursday.

WORLD BOOK NIGHT!

In addition to the above events, I’d also like to tell y’all about World Book Night.  Basically, on April 23, 2012, 50,000 volunteers across the US and many more throughout the UK (where the event originated) will be giving out 1,000,000 free books.  Sounds awesome, right?  If you want to be a book giver, just head over to World Book Night’s website and fill out the easy-peasy application.  You’ll just have to submit your contact info, give a description of where and why you want to give out the books, and choose your top three book selections (the nominated novels are fantastic and there will definitely be something there that you’ve read).  If you are selected, you’ll receive 20 free copies to pass around.  The point and purpose of the event is to give them to those who either aren’t readers, who read very little, or who aren’t able to come by reading material very easily.  Go sign up – they need a ton more volunteers!

March Voting

It’s that time again, Litwits!  You’ll be receiving the voting link soon (if not, please email me or comment here) for our March selection.  This time around Jessica did the choosing and here’s her reasoning behind her fantastic selections:

I joined Litwits to change my reading habits: I love to read, but as a magazine editor, that’s what I do all day! When I come home after work, sometimes it’s just easier to reread a favorite than to put my energy into a new book. So when Brooke offered me the opportunity to choose this month’s selections, I knew I had to pick books I had never read. And since my husband and I are saving for a house, the books had to be on my bookshelf or readily available from the library. Those criteria still resulted in a pretty long list, but these are the titles that most spoke to me.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin. This book has been on my list for a year—ever since I read the first few pages on Amazon and was annoyed that the excerpt ended with a cliffhanger! The effusive reviews from Amazon readers added to my enthusiasm. The story of a mystery that spans decades and takes place in a small Southern town reminds me of one of my favorite Southern authors, Ron Rash. (Having grown up in the country, I’m a sucker for books that are set in the rural South.)

A Beautiful Place to Die, by Malla Nunn. I picked this book from a Borders bargain rack last year, and it jumps out at me every time I pass my bookshelf; I don’t know why I haven’t read it yet. Like Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, it’s a mystery, but this one’s set in South Africa. My favorite college class was on the history of Africa—it was my only 8 a.m. class in four years, which should tell you how good it was. Some of the best nonfiction I’ve ever read came from those assignments. But I’ve yet to find a novel that compares, so I’m hoping this will be it!

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My introduction to Garcia Marquez was The Autumn of the Patriarch—not the best choice, since it consists of about ten sentences spread over 200 pages. A friend assures me that his other books are much easier to read and are worth the effort, and I’ve been meaning to give him another chance. This one’s her favorite, so it made my 2012 reading list.

True Grit, by Charles Portis. I added the Jeff Bridges movie to my Netflix queue and thought, I wonder if that’s based on a book? And it was! As a child, I did my homework in the living room while my father watched Westerns (well, those and horror movies), so the genre is very special to me. But I’ve only read Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) and would like to try something different.  Amazon describes Portis as “one of America’s foremost comic writers,” and Western plus comedy seems like an ideal pairing—not to mention, the John Wayne version of True Grit is one of those movies I watched during homework time.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful 2012 so far and don’t forget to vote!  Voting will end one week from today!