Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Books For Book Clubs

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is "Top Ten Books For Book Clubs".

Some of the books on this list are books I've actually read as part of a book discussion group. All of them have topics that would be good for discussion. Even if it is a book that your book group ends up hating, there will still be plenty to discuss. 

I've learned that it is better to look for books with complicated themes, conflicted characters, or difficult situations over books that are just fun to read (like Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic-an epic fail as a book discussion pick and I chose it!). The worst kind of book discussion is one where the members just say "it was a good book" but can't really find anything worth discussing about it.

1. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was a huge hit with my current book groups. They all loved the book and found plenty to say about Kim, her tough situation, and her horrible Aunt Paula. Themes and topics we discussed: parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, immigration, poverty, sweatshops, duty to your family, education

2. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult's books are always great for discussion. I was in a group that discussed this book about school shootings and bullying and we all thought it was a riveting book. What makes Picoult's books perfect for book groups is that she usually makes the reader think about both sides to a story, there is usually plenty of drama and conflicted characters. In addition to this one, My Sister's Keeper and Sing You Home would also be good picks.

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I love to read books set in other countries so my book group picks tend to feature other cultures. This very popular book is what I'd call "book club gold". It will provoke strong emotions in the reader. Another great pick especially for women's book groups is A Thousand Splendid Suns which looks at the lives of women in Afghanistan.

4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

While none of my book groups have discussed this book yet, I think Between Shades of Gray would be great for discussion because of the characters, the difficult choices they face, and the historical significance. Though it is a YA book I think it would have tremendous crossover appeal.

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Though I haven't participated in a book discussion with this book (too many holds on library copies!) The Help is another book I'd consider "book club gold".  I know the discussion would certainly be popular. 

6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This book would provoke such great discussions and with more and more adults finally picking up the series I hope to someday do a book discussion of The Hunger Games. Unfortunately there are so many holds on library copies that I think I'd have to purchase multiple copies of the book just for the discussion group.

7. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

While this was not one of my favorite books, the controversial story would be great for discussion. It would certainly provoke strong reactions from the readers. 

8. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This is such a popular book with book discussion groups that it may be awhile before my groups will be able to read it. I loved Major Pettigrew's dry humor but what makes for good discussion is the relationship between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali as well as the theme of change vs. tradition.

9. Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I've read this with two of the book discussion groups I've belonged to over the years. It is one of my favorites. Themes for discussion: sisterhood, what defines a family, love vs. duty

10. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

This book does not get a lot of attention in the States but it would be perfect for discussion as it is set here. The novel takes a look at the history of slavery through the eyes of a young girl who is captured from her village in Africa and sold to a Southern plantation. It can be pretty dark reading at times but is ultimately inspiring and uplifting.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (94)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

At first I didn't think I'd be able to finish a single book this week but thankfully The Buffalo Soldier became engrossing and I also discovered the very funny Spying in High Heels.

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, don't forget to check out my Top 10 Books I Want to Read Because of Downton Abbey post.

Books read:

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian

This is my afternoon book club's January pick. I have never read a Chris Bohjalian book before and while it took me a little while to get into the story, I really liked it in the end. It reminded me of Jodi Picoult's writing minus the courtroom drama.  I definitely plan to check out some of his other books.

Spying in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

This is a book I got when it was free for Kindle last year. On a whim I started reading it and I got sucked right into the story and ended up buying a book bundle with the first 5 books so I can read more of the series. I have to admit that I enjoyed the romance and humor a little more than the mystery with this one :)

Books reviewed:

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Currently reading:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I loved this book when I read it back in 2007 but now I am finding that I have to force myself to read it not because it isn't good (it is fantastic) but because it is depressing reading and not what I am in the mood for right now. Unfortunately it is my evening book discussion group's January pick and our meeting is on Tuesday. Maybe I can make due with a Cliff's Notes kind of refresher...

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

I am slowly reading a little of this at a time in between all the books I "have to" read. I do love this series and can't wait to watch Episode 4 of Season 2.

What I might read next depending on my mood:

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

Killer in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

In My Mailbox (73)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren to share what books you received for review, purchased, or checked out from the library during the past week.

For review:

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

I received this ARC through the Amazon Vine program. I really liked The Vespertine so I have high hopes for this companion novel about Zora.

I first came across this book through Shelf Awareness and when I saw it was available through NetGalley I requested it. 


Spying in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

I've already finished this first book in the High Heels mystery series and while it has some flaws, it was still a fun book so when I saw that the first 5 books were available in a bundle for $2.99 for Kindle, I went ahead and bought it.

Killer in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

Undercover in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

Alibi in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

Mayhem in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

From the library:

The sample I requested for my Kindle was so funny that I decided I had to give this book a try. Admittedly I've never seen The Office but I think I will enjoy the book anyway.

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

I thought The Violets of March was excellent so I knew I wanted to read The Bungalow. It sounds like it offers both mystery and romance, two of my favorite things in books.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

I have wanted to read this book for years but never got around to it. Now with my love for Downton Abbey, I thought it was time to pick up The House at Riverton. I am also hoping one of my book discussion groups will pick it for our March book.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

I grew up as a big fan of the Little House on the Prairie books and the Michael Landon TV series. When I heard about this book, I thought it sounded like something I'd really appreciate.

Have you read any of these books?
Which ones sound interesting to you?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas
Publication date: April 5, 2011

My review:

Kate was only four years old on the Christmas Eve that she, her two year old brother Michael and baby sister Emma were separated from their parents and sent to an orphanage. Kate has vague memories of that night but what she does remember is that her mother said they'd be together again and that she loved them. Kate also remembers the promise she gave to her mother to keep her brother and sister safe. Now ten years later after going from orphanage to orphanage, the siblings find themselves sent off to Cambridge Falls and the orphanage of Doctor Stanislaus Pym. It is here that they find out the truth about themselves and their parents' disappearance, a mysterious prophecy, and a powerful atlas that someone would stop at nothing to possess...

The Emerald Atlas has been compared to Harry Potter and Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I'd say the book is more like the latter with a dash of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe thrown in for good measure. I found it to be an engrossing fantasy with dastardly villains, surprising plot twists, magic, humor, and fun characters. The story has familiar elements but at the same time manages to somehow be original. 

I like that the main characters are pretty ordinary, unlike Lemony Snickett's Baudelaire siblings who are all unusually intelligent for their age. Kate, Michael, and Emma's strengths are their devotion to each other, their belief in their parents' love for them, and their desire to do the right thing. At the beginning of the novel it feels like Kate is the main character but she does share equal space with Michael and Emma later on. Kate is protective and mothering which is understandable given their circumstances. Michael is bookish and he has a mania for dwarves, constantly quoting from a guide to dwarves-a prized possession from his dad. Emma is feisty and has a temper. She is a little sister trying to prove she is grown up too. At times the characters reminded me of the siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events or even the interaction between Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia. 

The villains are pretty creepy, especially the Countess. The Countess reminded me a little bit of the White Witch of Narnia. She couldn't turn people to stone but she could use her voice to control people and create illusions. She derived pleasure from hurting people, even kids. She was quite a nasty piece of work. Her nemesis, Dr. Pym, is like a mix of Dumbledore and Gandalf. He is equally powerful but in a quiet way. The other main character is Gabriel, a villager who is brave enough to stand up to the Countess when other adults wouldn't. 

Overall, I thought this was a great start to the series. I was originally drawn to the book because of the reviews comparing it to such great fantasy novels but while The Emerald Atlas can't live up to Harry Potter it is still a good story. I particularly enjoyed the fantasy elements like the dwarves and screechers, the time travel, and the mystery surrounding the Atlas.  The author is a screenwriter and perhaps that is why I could easily see this being adapted to film. I would suggest this book to fans of MG and YA fantasy or adventure. 

Readalikes: A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snickett, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (81)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  

This week, I'm waiting on:

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Publication date: January 31, 2012

Description from Goodreads:

In her bestselling novels Kristin Hannah has plumbed the depths of friendship, the loyalty of sisters, and the secrets mothers keep. Now, in her most emotionally powerful story yet, she explores the intimate landscape of a troubled marriage with this provocative and timely portrait of a husband and wife, in love and at war. 
All marriages have a breaking point. All families have wounds. All wars have a cost. . . .
Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life---children, careers, bills, chores---even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own---for everything that matters to his family.
At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope.
I've never read any of Kristin Hannah's books before but this one just sounds too good to pass up. I have a feeling it will be a book with emotional impact that will make readers think.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Downton Abbey Edition

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is a freebie so I picked "Top Ten Books I Want to Read Because of Downton Abbey".

I am a huge fan of the ITV/PBS series Downton Abbey. I've been thinking of starting my own Downton Abbey reading challenge even though January is almost over. For the time being, here are some books I want to read because of the show.

For those of you not "in the know", Downton Abbey is set in the early 20th century and deals with the social changes coming because of WWI and progress. It explores the relationship between the servant class and the aristocratic Crawley family as well as changes to society like the right for women to vote. There is also humor, romance, secrets, and plenty of drama. Now on to my list!

Top Ten Books I Want to Read Because of Downton Abbey:

1. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

This novel revolves around the life of a house maid at a grand estate whose live becomes embroiled in secrets when a poet commits suicide at the house and the aristocratic daughters of the house are somehow involved.

2. The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

Of course I want to read this because it is both a behind the scenes guide to the show as well as a historical look at what life would be like at a home like the fictional Downton Abbey.

3. The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

This novel features a main character named Cora who is a wealthy American who travels to England to marry an impoverished but titled aristocrat. Ring any bells?

4. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

While part of this book takes place aboard the Titanic, the main character is servant to Lady Duff Gordon.

5. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I actually want to see the movie more than I want to read the book but both sound interesting. A butler looks back on his many years of service to a family and realizes his regrets.

6. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton

Like The American Heiress, this book is about wealthy young American women who travel to Europe to find husbands with titles. While I've read Ethan Frome, I've never read any of Edith Wharton's other works and this sounded interesting.

7. Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

This is the memoir that inspired the popular series Upstairs, Downstairs which serves as inspiration for Downton Abbey

8. The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West

Vita Sackville-West lived during Edwardian times and this classic novel is the story of Sebastian, the heir to an estate and his sister Viola.

9. Up and Down Stairs by Jeremy Musson

This nonfiction book takes a look at the history of servants from the Middle Ages on and it just sounds fascinating to me.

10. What the Butler Winked At by Eric Horne

Aside from loving the title, Eric Horne served as a butler from the 1860s to the end of WWI and I've heard this memoir is really well written and full of interesting information.

Have you watched Downton Abbey? 
What do you think of my list?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (93)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I only finished two books this past week but I really liked both of them. One was laugh out loud funny and the other one was pretty sad and sweet. This week I am catching up on book discussion group books as my meeting is next Tuesday. 

I also just celebrated my 2nd Blogoverary (January 22nd). I just don't know where the time has gone!

Books read:

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

I really liked this book and while I usually prefer her Shopaholic books, I thought this one was better than Mini Shopaholic.

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

I didn't realize when I started reading this book that it was based on true stories. There are real historical figures in it and the love story was inspired by a true story that the author heard about a wedding where the bride's grandmother and groom's grandfather meet and realize they know each other and were married before WWII. That scene is actually how the novel starts out.

Books reviewed:

The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

Currently reading:

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian

This is a book discussion book and I've never read anything by the author before. Hopefully I will enjoy it. 

I am a big fan of Downton Abbey and I am enjoying making my way through this book. It is full of interesting information about what it would have been like to live at a place like Downton Abbey in Edwardian times.

What I plan to read next:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This is another book discussion book but one I read in 2007 so I need a refresher. 

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

I have had this book checked out from the library for a long time and I need to read it this week or next week or I won't read it at all.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

I have heard good things about How to Save a Life and I have a copy from the library and it is also something I need to review for NetGalley (I requested it but forgot to download it to my Kindle till it was too late).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In My Mailbox (72)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren to share what books you received for review, purchased, or checked out from the library during the past week.

For review:

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

There has been a lot of buzz about this historical fiction novel featuring Catherine the Great. I am eager to give it a try. I am definitely interested in learning more about her.

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

I loved the premise of this one. I really like books that involve history and secrets and combine the past with the present in some way. 

I did not request this book but I did like one of Klassen's other books (The Apothecary's Daughter). This one is supposed to have something of an upstairs/downstairs story with a lady hiding out from her horrible fiance by posing as a maid in the house of a man she once rejected. Hmm, I think I can see where this is going...

Quiet by Susan Cain

I was excited to get this from NetGalley. I will probably end up buying a finished copy at some point (I haven't read it yet but I know I will find it interesting as an introvert).


The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

This is a beautiful book. I haven't had a chance to peruse it properly but I love it already. If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, I think you'd enjoy it. There are lots of lovely stills from the show and historical tidbits about life in Edwardian England. It came with a nice bookmark from Masterpiece Classic. 

From the library:

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

I am super excited about this book. I first heard about it last year in a webinar about book discussion groups and it has received a lot of positive reviews. 

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I think this book is going to become even more popular as the Oscar season gets underway. I did not get the movie tie-in cover since I got it from a library but I like this picture because it has George Clooney on it and who doesn't like to look at George?