The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

DownloadedFileTitle:  The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

Publisher: Gallery Books; Reprint edition (July 17, 2012)

Pages:  320 pages

Genre:  contemporary women’s fiction

Where did you get it? Purchased in-store at Barnes & Noble.

Why did you read it? My book club chose it for discussion.

What’s it about?  This is a mother/daughter story.  Cam is a single mom raising teenaged Aubrey on her own since her husband left to join a cult.  She has Aubrey’s life pretty well figured out; Aubrey will attend a fantastic liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, right after her 18th birthday, when she claims the trust fund arranged for her by her father.  But Aubrey has seemingly lost her mind in her senior year of high school.  Once a college bound straight A student and band geek, she’s met a boy and suddenly quit band.    She doesn’t  have any interest in her mother’s plans; the same plans she’s been going along with for years up until now.  Mother and daughter are no longer close and fail to see the other’s point of view.

What did you like?  There was a lot to like!  The book is witty and fun, insightful and smart.   Having two moody teenaged daughters of my own, I could really relate to Cam.  Cam had so many hopes and dreams for Aubrey and just wanted what was best for her.  And that feeling of your child becoming a stranger to you was sadly all too familiar… the feeling of, “Where did I go wrong?”  And how everything you say somehow gets misunderstood.  Yeah, that’s my life.  But having been a teenaged girl once, I could also relate to Aubrey’s feelings of wanting to please her mom, but also wanting her mom to butt out and let her live her life.  I read a lot of lines out loud to my daughter and we laughed a lot.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Cam and Aubrey.  I loved being able to “hear” their distinct voices and really understand where they were coming from.  Cam’s chapters are all in the present, but Aubrey’s reach into the past to give us the backstory.  It wasn’t typical and I liked this approach.

What didn’t work for you?   This is a small thing but at times there was an overabundance of adjectives.  Whenever I would find a particularly adjective-filled line, I’d email it to my friend so we could share a laugh.  There was a point in the book, maybe 2/3rds in, where I became much more interested in Aubrey’s story, and less interested in Cam’s.  Aubrey, like a lot of teenagers, had this whole secret life going on and I wanted to see what she’d do.  Cam’s ex, Aubrey’s dad, made a reappearance, and I found that storyline much less interesting.  I started skipping over the Cam chapters so that I could read Aubrey’s chapters all in a row.  But I did go back and read Cam’s chapters.  And I don’t think my reading of the book suffered by doing it that way.

Share a quote or two:  

“”When did he take over Aubrey’s life so completely?” I ask, even as I try to figure out when my daughter turned into a stranger.  Six months ago?  No, it’s been longer than that.  In that time, she’s become like a guest forced against her will to live in my house.  A guest who would happily pack up and leave and move in with said boyfriend if I pushed her even the tiniest bit.”

“Forget anthrax.  The greatest chemical threat facing our country today is the hormones delivered to our daughters at puberty.  Hormones that, in Aubrey’s case, were not fully ignited until Tyler appeared.”

Who would enjoy this book?  People who enjoy humorous contemporary fiction, those who like mother/daughter stories, those with older teens who are getting ready to lift their wings and leave the nest.

Who else has reviewed it?  Many bloggers have reviewed this book!  Here are a couple of standouts:

Suko’s Notebook

Raging Bibliomania

Anything else to add?  I really enjoyed this book.  The Gap Year was a good choice for my book club as a lot of us have teen daughters, and mother/daughter struggles are somewhat universal.  We had a lot to talk about.  Highly recommended.

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Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

DownloadedFileBefore I Go To Sleep is an impressive debut by S. J. Watson.  It begins with a young woman waking up in bed and not knowing who or where she is, or who the older man next to her might be.  Racing to the bathroom, she looks in the mirror and finds a person looking back at her that she doesn’t recognize, an older version of herself.  She sees pictures on the mirror of this older self with the man in the bed. That terrifying beginning is the set up for a book that deals with memory and identity.

Who are we if we don’t have our memories? Ben, the man in the bed, patiently explains, as he does each day, who he is, who she is, what their lives are like.  Ben goes off to work, leaving her to fend for herself until she receives a phone call from Dr. Nash. “You have amnesia,” Dr. Nash explains. “You’ve had amnesia for a long time. You can’t retain new memories, so you’ve forgotten much of what’s happened to you for your entire adult life. Every day you wake up as if you are a young woman. Some days you wake as if you are a child.”

A blank slate every day.  A mind wiped clean.  How did this happen? She meets with Dr. Nash and he has her start a journal, which helps her put her life into context and gives her some continuity from one day to the next.  She begins to remember things; her name (Christine), her husband, Ben.  But nothing is as it seems, and she has the sense that they are hiding things from her.  Nash suggests the journal be kept hidden from Ben, who doesn’t want her seeing a doctor.  Ben is patient with Christine, but also deliberately vague and evasive.  Who can she trust?

Before I Go To Sleep is a well crafted page turner.  I thought I had it figured out a couple of times but it wasn’t until near the end that all the twists and turns came together for me, and because that was great fun, I don’t want to give too much away.  Even though the amnesia concept is a frequent plot device in fiction, I found this book compelling.  We, as readers, experience everything and discover things at the same dreadful and ominous pace as Christine. It is a dark and delicious read. **purchased on the Nook for a book club discussion**

Friday First Lines (volume 1)

One thing we like to do in my book club is to take an annual quiz at our year-end party.  I list the first and last sentence of each book we’ve read over the year, mix them up and see who is able to match them with the correct books.  (Oh, I know what you’re thinking – “Whoa! They are so crazy!”  I know, I know, we really know how to party!)  ANYway, for some this challenge is simple, but for others, not so much.  Either way, it’s fun looking back over the list and sharing our thoughts on why authors chose to open (and conclude) their books the way they did.

I asked a few authors to comment on the first sentence of their book, and I got such a great response.   So good, in fact, that I’m turning this into a little series here at Books on the Brain called Friday First Lines.  Each Friday I’ll share First Line thoughts by two or three authors.

Will these first sentences be enough to entice you to add them to your TBR list? They were for me!

DownloadedFileAuthor Kevin Lynn Helmick writes:

And then there was the heat.  Driving Alone, Kevin Lynn Helmick, 2012

It’s been over a year now since I wrote that line so I’ll do my best to remember how it got there. I’m pretty sure I added it sooner rather than later, but once I did I really didn’t have any doubts about it. It just worked, for me anyway. It could have even worked as a title or last line. It’s simple, yet suggestive enough to be complex, and I’m a big fan of sentences like that. I don’t think I changed it at all once it was down. I think it just came up without too much thought,  but looking at it now, And there was, is probably from the Bible, not that I’m all into the Bible, but It looks Biblical to me now, in foreboding sort of way.

First lines, are they important? I suppose if you come to the page with any kind of idea that what you’re doing is important, then that’s a good place to start, followed by the second line, and third, and so on.  I can only speak for myself, and I see the first line as an invitation, a promise, it’s me saying, ‘come with me, I wanna tell ya something. It’s fun in here, interesting at least, and worth your time. I Promise.”

I think your first line should raise an eyebrow. It should be memorable, but not flashy or show-offy. I usually spend quite a bit of time writing and re-writing that opening, first act, scene one, and I probably did on this book too, but not the first line. That was set in stone, and everything else kind of hung from it. I’ve written worse sentences, I’m sure, and I don’t have any writer’s remorse over that one.

DownloadedFileAuthor Erika Marks writes:

The first sentence of my novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR (NAL/Penguin), is as follows:

The little girl was breathless with excitement as she pushed through the fence of hedges toward the water’s edge, skinny freckled legs and lopsided red pigtails spinning in opposition as they disappeared into the fog
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First sentences are such tricky things! I know as a reader, I always “taste” a novel by reading that first sentence or that first paragraph, so there’s no question to me that it has to draw a reader in. That said, I will often change my first sentence all the way up until the final draft (or maybe even later), simply because it may take me writing (and rewriting) the whole novel to really know what I want that first “taste” to be, what flavor I want that first sentence to have. In the case of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, which centers around a town celebrating its annual Mermaid Festival and the relationships that blossom because of it, I wanted to establish the setting right away, to let the reader know that they too were about to be swept up in the excitement and magic and romance of the impending festival, just like the little red-haired girl.

Next week we’ll hear from authors Jennie Shortridge (Love Water Memory) and Cari Kamm (For Internal Use Only).

#bookclubproblems

1.  Not enough wine.  #wine #nowine #fail #pleasebringmorewine

2. When the conversation gets hijacked by the “smart one.” #boring #knowitall #shutup #idgafaboutyourmastersdegree

3. When there are too many side conversations going on.  #rude #annoying #RUDE #putasockinit

4.  When someone treats book club like a therapy session.  #whiner #personalproblems #stopit #canwepleasetalkaboutthebook  #passthetissues

5.  When someone RSVPs to bring a dessert then doesn’t show up for the meeting.  #flake #wheresmychocolate

6.  When someone doesn’t want you to ruin the ending for them because they haven’t finished the book.  #ohwell #sucksforyou #nexttimereadit

7.  When someone stays later than everyone else every month.  #goodnite #imtired #gohome

Please feel free to add your own hashtags in the comments!

6 Years of Book Club

Six years.  11 regular members (although we’ve had as many as 13).  70 different books (we skipped two months).  Math is not my strong suit but even I can see that 11 x 70=770 individual books.  Some were borrowed from the library, but the vast majority were purchased in paperback, on Kindles, on Nooks, and on iPads.   That’s a whole lot of purchasing!

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We talk and talk and talk about the books we read.  We dissect them.  We dog-ear them and mark them up.  Some of us go crazy with highlighters, others prefer post-it notes.

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We share recommendations with each other.  We pass books around from member to member and have side conversations about those books.  Gone Girl is currently making the rounds, and before that it was The Help and before that, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Most of us have read those books now even though they were never actually selected for book club discussion.

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When one of us falls in love with an author, we fall hard.  We’ll read their next book and we’ll read all their previous books.  We’ve discussed Lisa See’s books 3 times.

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We tell our friends about the books we’ve discussed.  We blab about them at hair salons, grocery stores, offices, our kids’ schools.  We talk books at parties and backyard BBQs and family dinners.  We encourage people to read the books we love when we’re in a bookstore or staring at the stacks of books in Costco.  We gush about them on Facebook.

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browniesI understand now why publishers court book clubs.  Book club members love books, book clubs buy books and book clubs sell books.  If any publishers would like to court us and donate a set of 11 books to help us celebrate our 6th anniversary in March, we would gladly accept, wink wink 😉  You would not have to twist our arms.

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Six years.  770 books for our little club, plus countless more that were purchased by others on the pure enthusiasm of our 11 members.  Book clubs really are a powerful force!  And we also like to eat.  Pass the brownies.

CLICK HERE to see which 70 titles we’ve read in our first 6 years!

Sunday Salon, November 6, 2010

What?  Activity on my blog??  Shocking, I know.

Also shocking- my oldest became a teenager this week.  I am the mother of a teenager. This is.. unsettling.  Moreso because she was doing teenager-ish things all weekend.  On Friday night her junior high band played with the high school band at the high school’s football game.  She tried to leave the house wearing eyeliner- I made her take some of it off (the black line under her eyes) because I just can’t stand her looking older than she is.  Naturally she got mad, talked back, stomped around and ranted about how “everyone wears it,” but then finally took it off.  Her “friend who is a boy” (NOT a boyfriend!!) wanted to go to the game, too, but didn’t have a ride, so she begged me to pick him up and I finally agreed.  (My husband said, ‘What the heck is this, a date?”)  On Saturday night she went out to a movie (PG-13, of course!) with a group of kids (all teenagers) and stayed out past 11 pm.  Today she’ll be competing in a swim meet.  Right now she is sleeping until the last possible minute- typical teenage behavior and NOT typical of her as she has been an early riser since birth.

My head is swimming with the fact of my kids growing up so quickly.  I swear they were just babies, recently, but by December 2011 I will be the mother of TWO teenagers, yikes.  It feels like they got old overnight.  I know there are many parenting joys still ahead, but I am mourning the end of their childhoods.  I’m sure there is a silver lining someplace (more reading time for me as my kids need me less??) but it is certainly bittersweet.

Speaking of reading.. I’ve been doing some here and there in between running the newly minted teenager and her ‘tween sister to all their various social engagements and activities.  I finished ROOM by Emma Donoghue this week; I loved it and immediately passed it on to my mother.  It would make such a great book for discussion with my book club but alas, we only read paperbacks, cheapskates that we are, so that will have to wait a year or so.  But at least if my mother reads it we can talk about it right away.  It’s one of those books that begs to be discussed.  I also finished Dear Mrs. Kennedy for my TLC Book Tour stop tomorrow and  Dracula, My Love by Syrie James for our book club discussion next week, and started reading our December selection, People of the Book by Geraldine March.  The teenager is reading The Miles Between by Mary Pearson and my ‘tween is reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini.

I hope you all enjoyed your extra hour of sleep last night.. have a wonderful, relaxing Sunday and a great week!

Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

TitleNefertiti by Michelle Moran

Pages:  480

Genre:  historical fiction

Where did you get it? Purchased at Target

Why did you read it? My book club voted it in

What’s it about? Greed and power and immortality.  Told from the point of view of Nefertiti’s younger sister Mutnodjmet, this is the story of the rise and fall of the ambitious and beautiful teenage queen and her Pharoah, Akhenaten.  They decide the people should worship a minor god, Aten, changing the Egyption religion and taking control of the riches away from the powerful priests.  They build an entire city, Amarna, with giant monuments to Aten and to themselves in the desert.  Tensions run high as the priests and people rebel.  Meanwhile Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s chief wife, is unable to give him a son, while a lesser wife, Kiya, produces several, including Tutankhamun.

What did you like? It was a well-researched and super-quick read, exciting and fast paced, with lots of period detail and political intrigue.

What didn’t work for you? It was a bit repetitive and the dialog was simplistic- a very easy read and what I might call “hist-fict lite.”  I got frequently annoyed with Mutnodjmet for falling for her sister’s BS over and over again and being repeatedly surprised by her betrayals.  The repetitiveness of situations and conversations seemed like filler to me and caused the book to be longer than necessary.

Who would enjoy this book? Anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt or anyone looking for a light and easy read.

Who else has reviewed it? Many others including Caribousmom,  Diary of an EccentricPeeking Between the Pages, and Violet Crush.

Anything else to add? I enjoyed the book but did not love it, and most of our book club members expressed similar feelings.  We found there wasn’t that much to talk about, although we did have fun perusing a book on Ancient Egypt (with photos) that one of our members brought to share at the meeting.

Discussion questions can be found here.