Return of the Online Book Club!

I am excited to announce that the EDIWTB Online Book Club is back!

Here’s how the online book club works. I choose a book, and EDIWTB readers who are interested in participating sign up by sending me their name, email address and home address. Participants receive a copy of the book in the mail, courtesy of the publisher. About a month later, on a pre-selected date, I post a review of the book here, and then the book club discussion takes in the comments section of the blog.

It’s a lot of fun, and all you have to do is be one of the first 15 to sign up.

The book is Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst, and we’ll be discussing it on August 2, 2016. I picked Harmony because I really enjoyed two of Parkhurst’s prior novels – Lost and Found and The Nobodies Album. Her books are so different – from each other and from most novels that I read. Here’s what Harmony is about:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly “normal” family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a “family camp” in New Hampshire–a life-changing experience that alters them forever.

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally–a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly–whose condition is deemed undiagnosable–is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book’s Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable.

If you’d like to participate in the book club, send me an email at gayle@everydayiwritethebookblog.com with the following:

name

email address

home address

I will let you know if you’re one of the first 15 to sign up. Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing the books!

2016 Summer Reading List

Thanks to the many Facebook friends who provided suggestions for the 2016 crowdsourced Summer Reading List! I asked for recommendations of books you’ve recently loved –  and you didn’t disappoint.

Here is the list. I’ve put ** next to those that were recommended by more than one person. When it’s a book I’ve read too, I’ve included a link to my EDIWTB review. Happy reading!

**A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (several votes). This has been on my TBR list for a long time.

**China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Reliance, Illinois by Mary Volmer

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (reviewed here)

Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

**Fates And Furies by Lauren Groff (reviewed here)

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne

The After Party by Anton Disclafani (reviewed here)

The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur

THE+NEST+by+Cynthia+D'Aprix+SweeneyThe Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

**The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

**Tuesday Nights In 1980 by Molly Prentiss

The Secrets Of Flight by Maggie Leffler

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

**Some Luck, Early Warning and Golden Age by Jane Smiley (reviewed here, here and here)

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen

The Sudden Appearance Of Hope by Claire North

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

Heat And Light by Jennifer Haigh

Under The Influence by Joyce Maynard (reviewed here)

**All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr  (I really can’t believe I haven’t read this yet)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (reviewed here)

**When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The Sympathizerows_13923264503861 by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Secrets Of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

Thursday 1:17PM by Mike Landweber

**Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (reviewed here)

City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Good Luck Of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

**Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

**Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

American Housewife by Helen Ellis (reviewed here)

Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing The Way America Works by Jay Newton-Small

Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise-Parker

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

First Wives by Kate 9780525953005_custom-1a7b1faa66fe002fff8a3604f6c0f3534d546b1c-s200-c85Anderson Brower

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

At The Edge Of The Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Ice Cream Queen Of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald

**Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (reviewed here)

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War by Lynsey Addario

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Disrupted: My Misadventure In The Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Homegoing by Yaa Gaasi (I am reading this now)

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

City of Thieves by David Benioff (reviewed here)cityofthieves.final.indd

Kingkiller series by Patrick Rothfuss

Out Of Time series by Beth Flynn

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

A Fine Balance by Mistry Rohinton

Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Dreamland: The True Tale Of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

In The Kingdom Of Ice: The Grand And Terrible Polar Voyage Of The USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, And The Battle For Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru

Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea by Barbara Demick

Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox by Joanne Bamberger

S by Doug Dorst

Us by David Nicholls

Finding The Dragon Lady – The Mystery Of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu by Monique Brinson Demery

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Thanks again for all the recommendations!

THE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close

28007954If you were a fan of Jennifer Close’s The Smart One or Girls In White Dresses – as I was – then you will want to give her new novel The Hopefuls a read. While Close’s first two novels dealt with the confusing, rootless post-college mid-20s, The Hopefuls is about a young married couple in their late 20s who moves to Washington, DC in the early years of the Obama presidency.

Beth and Matt Kelly start out living in New York, but they head south so that Matt can work in the administration after Beth loses her job in magazine publishing. Beth is a bit bewildered by the ways of Washington; she tires quickly of cocktail party conversation about who does what in the White House (and therefore who has more exposure to POTUS), and she hates pretty much everything else about the city – the weather, the dowdy clothes, the transience of its inhabitants, and the proximity to Matt’s large family. Soon, however, Beth and Matt develop a close friendship with another couple, Ash and Jimmy, which turns things around for Beth.

Jimmy and Matt are both ambitious, but while Matt makes lateral moves through the administration, Jimmy gets promoted, leaves to work at Facebook, and ultimately gets recruited to run for state office in his home state of Texas. Beth and Matt decide to move to Texas so that Matt can manage Jimmy’s campaign, a move that tests both marriages and each of the friendships.

I just reread my reviews of The Smart One and Girls In White Dresses, and The Hopefuls has a lot in common with Close’s earlier books. They are each light on plot and heavy on analysis and description. Close is a keen observer of relationships and the subtle ways they change over time. Developments play out over the breakfast table, over text, in the backseat of a car. There are chapters in which you expect something dramatic to happen, based on how Close sets up scenes, but they pass by relatively uneventfully, without the confrontations we think might be coming. (This isn’t a criticism. I don’t mind this type of storytelling; I find it realistic and relatable.)

Close’s narrators tend toward the passive, and Beth is no exception. She spends her whole year in Texas with very little to do, just reacting to Matt’s moods and helping Jimmy when she can. She doesn’t assert herself when she is wronged – she just lets things happen to her, shrugging them off when they hurt her feelings. But I still enjoyed the way The Hopefuls unfolded, and wanted to see how things turned out for her. I also liked all the detail about DC – the restaurants, the acronyms, the annoying people trying to get ahead. It’s my hometown, and I love it, warts and all.

I found The Hopefuls to be a satisfying read. Just be warned: if you decide to pick it up, don’t expect a lot of action, and be prepared to want to shake Beth from time to time.

The Hopefuls comes out in July.

Summer 2016 on EDIWTB

I haven’t posted a lot lately, but I am definitely reading and making some plans for the blog.

This summer will mark my 10th anniversary (!) of blogging here on EDIWTB, and I want to mark the milestone by sharing some fun book-related things:

  1. Retrospectives of my favorite books and audiobooks from 10 years of reading.
  2. The possible resurrection of the EDIWTB online book club. (Trying to pick a book now…)
  3. The crowdsourced 2016 summer reading list
  4. More author Q&As
  5. Conversations with some other veteran book bloggers

Another idea I am playing with – video or audio book reviews. Would you listen to or watch a book review, rather than just reading it? I’m curious to see how this would go over. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

So keep an eye on this space for some milestone content. I’m almost done with Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls and am 1/3 through Yaa Gaasi’s Homegoing, so I’ll have some reviews up this week and next.

Thanks for sticking with EDIWTB!

THE AFTER PARTY, by Anton DiSclafani

9781594633164The After Party is a buzzy book this spring, one that I’ve seen on a few “Summer Must Read” lists, and I jumped at the chance to get the audio version a few weeks ago. I never read DiSclafani’s earlier novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, but had heard great things about it.

The After Party takes place in the mid-1950s in Houston, and it is about two women: CeCe Buchanan, the narrator, and Joan Fortier, her best friend. CeCe and Joan grew up together, inseparable. CeCe always admired Joan’s wealth and beauty, but felt she fell short on both counts. When CeCe was fifteen, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Her father had moved out of the house earlier to be with another woman, so CeCe moved into Joan’s huge house and was supported by Joan’s parents until she reached adulthood and married.

The After Party is about the strange, tortured relationship between CeCe and Joan, which followed a similar pattern: Joan acted out, CeCe tried to tame and protect her, Joan pushed CeCe away, Joan left for some significant period of time, Joan returned without warning and Joan kept CeCe at arm’s length but permitted just enough closeness to keep CeCe in her life, but always wanting more. This pattern continued for years. CeCe got married and had a son, but Joan was always a looming presence – or absence – in her life. The book is about CeCe’s coming to terms with this imperfect friendship, and her ultimate understanding of why Joan acted the way she did.

So here are my issues with The After Party:

  • CeCe was frustratingly inconsistent. She’d insist that she didn’t care about Joan anymore, that she was through with her, and that she loved her husband and son more than anything, and then a paragraph later she’d contradict herself. I understand that this was DiSclafani’s way of conveying Joan’s power over CeCe, but it was frustrating as a reader.
  • I didn’t buy into the Joan Fortier mystique. She was self-centered and not a particularly supportive friend. I did understand why CeCe felt so indebted to Joan (I won’t spoil that here in the review), but why she was so enthralled, I don’t know. This is the type of friendship that runs its course when people grow up.
  • The book needed more editing. There were certain phrases that were repeated over and over. Aside from my eventual fatigue with hearing the name “Joan” so many times, I also grew tired of hearing CeCe say the same things. Perhaps she was trying to convince herself that she was happy in her life? Whatever the reason, the book needed another good read-through with a red pen.

That said, I do think DiSclafani is a good writer, the repetition aside. She expertly conveyed CeCe’s loneliness and her anxiety about her young son, who had not spoken a single word well into his 3s. There were two chapters that I found incredibly moving: when CeCe’s mother was dying, and when CeCe meets up with her childhood nanny, ten years later. Those two chapters were excellent. I also liked the author’s depiction of high society Houston in the 1950s, and how it trapped women into certain roles and expectations.

But I was angry by the time I finished The After Party – angry at CeCe and angry at the book. My friend Nicole called it “claustrophobic”, which is a perfect description for it.

I listened to The After Party on audio. I thought the narrator, Dorothy Dillingham Blue, did an excellent job. I loved her Texas accent. (It’s not her fault that I had to hear the name Joan so many times!) I would definitely recommend the audio if you want to give The After Party a try.

THE HEART by Maylis de Kerangal

613bnEcJUxL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal follows one day – 24 hours – in the life of a heart.

One Saturday at dawn, 19 year-old Simon Limbres goes surfing with his friends on a beach in France. En route back home, the driver falls asleep and crashes into a guardrail, instantly rendering Simon brain-dead. What follows from there in de Kerangal’s gorgeous novel is the path that leads from the heart still beating in Simon’s chest to its transplant into a recipient 24 hours later.

The Heart is a meticulous, moving depiction of organ donation from many perspectives: the doctor who declares the donor dead, the donor’s family, the organ coordination nurse, the surgeons who participate in the organ removal, and the recipient. This is not an easy book; it is at times extremely painful and sad, not to mention bloody. But it is also fascinating. Do organs take with them anything of their original owners – their memories, their personality? How does one convince a family to allow their deceased loved one to donate their organs in the absence of a specific directive, when they are awash in new, raw grief? What is it like to receive an organ that was in another person’s body just four hours earlier?

I have always been interested in organ donation, and when I saw The Heart written up in The Washington Post, I knew I wanted to read it. It was very informative, especially on the medical front. But I had no idea it would be so beautifully written. The Heart is translated from the French by Sam Taylor, but even in English it is just a gorgeous book. I love how de Kerangal changes perspectives so fluidly, and her descriptions are exquisite. This is not a book to skim or absorb quickly! It should be savored, each word treasured and digested.

Heartbreaking: Simon’s mother, when deciding whether to allow the harvesting of his organs, thinking about his heartbeat through various stages of his childhood: “Simon’s heart, a round belly rising gently at the bottom of a portable crib; the bird of night terrors flapping distraught inside a child’s chest; the staccato drumbeat syncopated with Anakin Skywalker’s destiny; the riff under the skin when the first wave rises – feel my pecs, he said to her one evening…”.

I loved The Heart, even if I didn’t race through it or stay up late to finish it. I suspect it will be one of my standout reads of 2016.

 

RED THREAD SISTERS by Carol Antoinette Peacock

51V1x2hEuoL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Our May mother-daughter book club read was Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. I’ve always been interested in Chinese adoption, so I was excited to add this title to our reading list.

Red Thread Sisters is about two Chinese girls who are best friends growing up in an orphanage. Wen was abandoned at age 6 by her family at the orphanage after her father lost his job and they couldn’t afford to keep two children, while Shu Lin was left at the orphanage as a baby because of a deformed foot. While the two often dream of being adopted, in the end, it is only Wen who is picked by an American family. When the book opens, Wen is meeting her adoptive family for the first time and having to say goodbye to Shu Lin.

Wen moves to the Boston area and tries to get used to life with her new parents and at her American school. She has a lot of trouble trusting that her parents will keep her and that she won’t be sent back to China if something goes wrong. Wen tries to reciprocate her younger sister’s affection, but she doesn’t know how to be a member of a family, or how to express love for someone other than Shu Lin. Meanwhile, she misses her best friend terribly, and feels guilty that she is in America living a comfortable, privileged life while Shu Lin is still at the orphanage.

Before she left, Wen promised Shu Lin that she would find her a family in the United States. She soon realizes that that is a hard promise to fulfill. At first, she tries to talk her new parents into adopting Shu-Ling too, without understanding how big of a commitment an adoption is. She then starts to learn more about the adoption process and how she can help Shu Lin’s chances of being adopted.

Red Thread Sisters prompted a good discussion among the group about girls in China, international adoption and the challenges of being integrated into a new family. We also talked about friendship and responsibility, and whether Wen should have made her promise to Shu Lin. The girls liked the book – it held their interest and they felt compassion for the characters. We all agreed that there wasn’t enough detail in the book: Wen seemed to have little problem understanding what was happening at school, and the months just seemed to fly by with no sense of her daily life in America. She was also pretty inconsiderate of her adoptive parents’ feelings, but that was in part due to her inability to connect emotionally.

Overall, Red Thread Sisters was a good perspective-broadening book, even if it wasn’t the best-written book we read this year. It led to a robust discussion between the girls and mothers, and that’s usually the sign of a good book club book.