Summer Reading Series: August Selection

coverMari and I are super excited at the response we’ve received for our Summer Reading Series!  If you missed it, you can read more about it HERE.  The books for June and July have been snapped up already, but you still have a chance to get your hands on the book for August, Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens!  A Skype call with the author is in the works for the discussion too.  You won’t want to miss it- Shawn’s really funny and smart and it’s bound to be a great time!

Shawn has generously donated 20 copies for our August 18th discussion, so if you are interested in Two Years, No Rain and can come back to Books on the Brain to talk about it in August, drop me an email with your address and “Two Years, No Rain” in the subject line.  We’ll get it in the mail right away.  

Shawn Klomparens will be on tour with TLC Book Tours in July and August.  Read more about that HERE. And if you are a Twitter-er, be sure to follow him.. he’s on a constant search for the Tamale Lady, which I don’t fully understand, but it’s pretty funny.

Two Years, No Rain will be released in June.  In case you miss out on the freebies and want to read with us, you can pre-order it now on amazon.com.

Here’s a synopsis of the book:

An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming… 

Hope you will read with us!

Guest Post and Giveaway: Sheri from A Novel Menagerie says, “Yeah, I’d Praise Book Clubs!”

My book club met on Sunday and we had the great pleasure to welcome a new member, Sheri from A Novel Menagerie!  She and I met through our children last summer, who by sheer coincidence were not only in the same unit at Girl Scout camp, but in the same cabin 2 years in a row.  The chances of that are so slim- one year they went in August, the next year June, one year they were in a sampler unit, the next year a horse unit- all with hundreds of other kids.  It almost seemed that fate was pushing us together.

At first Sheri was kind of stunned that we hit it off, because she says she “never gets along with other women”.   We bonded over our children (we each have two wild preteen girls- hers are twins, mine are “Irish twins”), we both have one brother named Bill (who, by yet another coincidence, attends our church), complicated relationships with our sisters, experience with insomnia (hers, and my husbands), our OCD tendencies, and of course, BOOKS!   I showed her my blog and told her about the book blogging community.  Sheri asked a million questions.  I sent her on her way with a few extra books I had hanging around.  She went home and started her amazing new blog, A Novel Menagerie, that very day.  If you haven’t seen it, you must go check it out.  She hosts memes, challenges, contests, and reads about 5 books a week (and I’m not even exaggerating!)  She also started an online business called BookCharming.com and makes these adorable floss book marks.  She has so much drive and energy and honestly, I don’t know how she does it all!

So when she asked me about my book club, I sadly told her that it was “full”.  We had what seemed the right amount of people (12) and the club had agreed that we wouldn’t be inviting any more.  But then, in January, someone dropped out.  I mentioned it to Sheri and before the words were out of my mouth, she was saying YES!  So here she is, with impressions of her first book club meeting.  Welcome, Sheri!

Yeah, I’d Praise Book Clubs!

My constant whining about not being in a book club was more than Lisa could bear.  Month after month, the nagging became like nails scratching on a chalkboard.  She had no choice.  Find a spot for me or listen to 11 more months of “poor me.”  I think she chose wisely…yes, she is indeed a smart girl!

So, after finagling me into the book club, I immediately purchased every book on our reading list.  I was bound and determined to know each book inside and out, be ready for any question, and be worthy of the book club.  The books arrived:

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Sarah’s Key

The Invisible Wall

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Our first meeting:  Oscar Wao.  Now, this book is a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Of course, then it must be good.  And, it was.  But, the book was somewhat of a grueling read.  It was not an easy book to get through.  As I spewed out of my mouth in the book club meeting:  

It’s like childbirth; you are not really enjoying it when you’re going through it.  But, once it’s over with you’re glad you did it.  

That’s it.  They’re giving me das boot.  No.  Wait.  Ellen agreed.  Whew!  Let me go back in time to explain.  

So, like a little Nervous Nelly, I walked down the street with Lisa to the book club meeting.  They aren’t going to like me.  I won’t fit in.  I didn’t read the Reader’s Guide questions thoroughly enough.  I wasn’t even sure how I completely felt about the book.  I walk into Ellen’s home.  Immaculate.  Oh, I am such a sub-standard mother.  Ellen would never even sit on my couches.  I’m going to have to host my meeting at Lisa’s house.  There were a few people to meet and… (can you hear the angels singing?) WINE!  I thank God Jesus was into wine!  It’s a goodie that God makes sure is around for me!  Everything looked great.  There was food, wine, the immaculate house.  I was making conversation with whoever would talk with me.  Let’s see if I can remember all of their names (whoever I forget, please forgive me):

bc-bluebirdEllen

Diane

Elaine

Sara

Lisa

Sheri (that’s me)

Orchid

Maggie

Valerie

Tammy

So, Lisa thankfully sat by me during dinner and helped me to remember who’s who, names, etc.  The meeting soon started and Orchid (and her amazingly cool hair) led the meeting.  She read aloud.  But, she read a passage that was written in partial Spanish.  When she said the passage aloud, she said it entirely in English.  <Enter my big mouth> 

bc-sunset“Do you speak Spanish?  I mean, I can read it, but not speak it.  And, well…” (God, Sheri shut up!)

Yes, she did.  And, my inappropriate outburst led into a discussion about the foreign language in the book.  (Thank God!)  The conversation continued and it seemed like we all had something to say. 

My SELF observations:

1. I am the only dumbass who didn’t know that the splotch on the cover was the face of Oscar with a wing coming out of the back of his head.

2. I am the only idiot who thought that Oscar shouldn’t have quit on Yunior when Yunior was trying to help him lose weight.  

3. I’m the only deranged person who didn’t feel sorry for Oscar.  

4. I talk too much.

5. I don’t know enough.

6. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks my thoughts are “spot-on.”  No, that’s not a maybe.  It’s a for sure!

9780312370848My GROUP observations:

1. They were lovely women who really enjoyed this opportunity to get together and discuss their love for books. 

2. These were some INTELLIGENT chicks!

3. There is a common, invisible thread that ties them together.  They appreciate this book club and each other.

4. If I bribe them with my AWESOME Key Lime Martinis, they may let me come back again.  I hope so because I’m almost done with Sarah’s Key.

5. Lisa is my friend!

If I could only talk to intelligent women about the books I read ALL DAY LONG.  It would be like Heaven.  I wonder if I should try to find a job in the book industry.  I’m turning into a one-dimensional person… BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS.  Maybe I need to be in 4 book clubs… one for every Sunday.  Yes, that might cure my itch!

Thank you to Lisa for letting me smuggle my way into the group and share my neurosis with her readers.  

Sheri is donating 2 beautiful BookCharming.com Book Marks to my 100K celebration.  The first one is the Bluebird design, and the 2nd one is Sunset.  Gorgeous, right?  She’s so flippin’ talented!  This chick has skills!!  I’m going to throw in our book club’s next selection, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay to go along with the beautiful book marks.  Leave a comment by Friday, February 20th for a chance to win.

To read Sheri’s review of Sarah’s Key, click HERE.  I had to skim it because I haven’t read the book yet.  Hope I finish it before next month’s meeting!!

Tuesday Teasers

tuesday-tMiz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

Grab your current read.  Let the book fall open to a random page.  Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
9780143113232lMy teaser comes from page 70 of  Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe, which my book club will be discussing in January.  It’s about a 43 year old woman- a great cook with no business experience- who opens up a tiny restaurant in Paris.  
“I launch into haphazard peeling and chopping, using an unorthodox technique which probably wastes a fair bit of time, but it suits me.  It consists in doing everything at once.”
Now if that isn’t the story of my life!!  Wasting time trying to do everything at once!
What are you reading this week?

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

a_thousand_splendid_sunsA Thousand Splendid Suns is another remarkable story from Khaled Hosseini.  Like the Kite Runner, this book is set against the backdrop of turbulent times in Afghanistan, but unlike Hosseini’s first novel, ATSS focuses on female relationships; about love and loss and endurance, making it a superb choice for a book club.  

I’m going to try to summarize the book without giving the whole story away, but if you plan to read this anytime soon, you might want to stop here and skip to the last couple paragraphs.

The two main female characters are Mariam and Laila.  The novel begins when Mariam, a harami (illegitimate child), is 15 years old.   After her mother’s suicide she goes to live with her wealthy father, his 3 wives and their 10 children.  Soon she is married off to Rasheed, a much older man. 

Mariam can’t catch a break.  First her mother kills herself, then she’s treated as a second class citizen by her own father, then she’s married off to an old, abusive man who doesn’t allow her to have friends, talk to people, or show her face in public, and who beats her on a regular basis because she is unable to give him a son.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Laila, a smart and stunning young girl born to one of Mariam and Rasheed’s neighbors shortly after they marry, grows up and falls in love with her childhood friend, Tariq.  When the political situation in Kabul starts heating up, his parents decide it’s time to move to Pakistan.  He begs Laila to come, but she stays behind with her parents.  They have a quick “indiscretion” before he goes, shocking each other with its intensity.  After Tariq’s departure, Laila’s parents decide they, too, should leave Kabul.  As they are packing up, a bomb hits their house, destroying their home, killing her parents and badly injuring Laila. 

Rasheed and Mariam take 14 year old Laila in.  Mariam nurses her back to health.  Soon the disgusting Rasheed decides he’d like to have Laila as his 2nd wife.  Learning Tariq has been killed, Laila, harboring a secret, agrees to marry the old man.  In my head, I was screaming, NO!  He’ll hurt you!  But it was the only way for her to survive after losing everyone she had to count on.  Women had no freedoms, weren’t allowed to work, travel without a male chaperone, etc.  How would she support herself?  So they marry, and then Laila has the audacity to give birth to a female child.  Rasheed loses whatever kind feelings he had for her at that point. But then the two wives, after some initial tension, form an unbreakable, familial bond that will endure huge challenges and obstacles.  

Spanning almost three decades, from about 1975 until just a few years ago, there are a lot of historical events happening throughout the story.  The political unrest worsens as the Taliban take over and women are more oppressed than ever.  I felt huge empathy for these women and their lack of freedom and basic rights.  I related to their maternal sides, their protectiveness toward Laila’s children and toward each other.  

I loved this book.  As brutal and intense as some of it was (particularly in Rasheed’s final scene), it spoke to me on a deep emotional level.  I cared about these characters.  I desperately wanted things to work out for them.  I’m no expert on Afghanistan history or culture, but it’s possible that the portrayal of some of the characters was a bit stereotypical (actually, that would be my only criticism of the book-it’s beautifully written).    

Khaled Hosseini is a brilliant storyteller.  If you love a good story that isn’t all sunshine and roses, this might be the book for you.  It’s number one on my list of Favorite Reads of 2008!  

Reading Group discussion questions can be found HERE.

Khaled Hosseini’s website is HERE.

In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 23

The very patient and wonderful Michele from the fabulous blog Michele – One L talks about her book group, the LOLAs, in this 23rd volume of In Praise of Book Clubs.   I apologize to Michele and all the LOLAs for the long delay in posting this terrific entry!

I have loved to read since I was little and was excited to be invited to join a group of women reading and talking about books!  This was seven years ago and at that time I hadn’t really heard of book clubs other than what Oprah was doing. What fun to think about reading the same book and talking about it with other women! 

Ladies on Literary Adventures, otherwise known as LOLAs, is our book club.  It started in April, 2001 and I joined in December, 2001.  We started out as an off-shoot moms group and have had up to 25 folks on the list. While we don’t limit our membership to moms, it seems that the majority of folks we know that love to read are also moms.  We currently have 11 active members and all are quite faithful about reading and coming to the meetings. 

The Literary: As you can imagine, we’ve read a lot of books over the years. We’ve read fiction, memoirs, and self-help (not my favorite – I usually can’t even finish them). Books range from fluffy chick lit to serious subjects. Some of the books that stand out to me: Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker – I never would have read this book on my own but it has shaped my ideas and actions regarding my children and their safety;

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier  – another one I would not have picked out myself, I’m not much of a classics reader, but thoroughly enjoyed;

These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner – one of my favorite books of all time; and

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik – another of my all-time favorites.

You can see all the books we’ve read at Library Thing HERE.

There are a lot of books that I’ve read because of LOLAs that I may not have searched out on my own. I was a tried and true mystery/thriller fan and would never consider anything else. But I’ve grown to love many other genres because of just one book suggested by the ladies. It’s wonderful. 

The Adventures: We’ve talked to a lot of authors!  We’ve talked with Caroline Leavitt twice! She was our first – her book Coming Back to Me was awesome and based partly on her own life! Caroline was great fun to talk to and is a wonderful author. The second time we chatted was about Girls in Trouble.   We talked with Adriana Trigiani about Big Stone Gap and Big Cherry Holler.  Jennifer Haigh, author of Baker Towers, was also fun to talk with. And it was interesting to talk to Lisa Tucker – I just love all her books, with The Song Reader being the best. We talked to Victoria Zackheim, author of The Bone Weaver.  Two more are Lorna Landvik for Oh My Stars and Sarah Bird, author of The Mommy Club

It always feels so surreal to talk with the authors of books we’ve just read, to hear what they think of the books, their characters. It puts such a different spin on the book, making it come alive in my imagination even more. I was amazed to learn from each one of them that their characters are very real to them. Not in a ‘crazy I hear voices way’, but, in my engineering mind, as close to that as you can get without being crazy. LOL  I am fascinated to learn of the writing process and how different it is from what I would have imagined.  

Our other adventures would be our meals – we either eat out or bring appetizers to a home. We’ve discussed the theme idea where we eat foods relating to the book, but the closest we’ve gotten to that is eating at a Chinese restaurant when we were discussing Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The best part of LOLAs is, of course, the Ladies!  I’ve made great friends that enjoy reading as much as I do! During our meetings, the book discussion sometimes is a large part of the night. I usually learn quite a bit about myself and other points of view/thought from these discussions. Other times the book discussion is a very small part of the evening. But either way we make sure we laugh and talk with each other, finding out about their families, children, jobs, life.  

We are truly Ladies on Literary Adventures and it’s tons of fun!

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

To check out my current giveaway, click HERE

Review: Peony in Love by Lisa See

Lisa See is a master at exploring ancient Chinese life, particularly the lives of women.  Set in 17th century China, Peony in Love is the story of how a privileged young girl from a wealthy family becomes a lovesick maiden, a hungry ghost, and eventually, an honored ancestor. 

The story opens with 16 year old Peony and her household preparing for a performance of the opera “The Peony Pavilion” which her father has staged and directed at great expense.  Visitors have arrived and there is much excitement.  The opera is performed over the course of several days, and the young unmarried women are permitted to view it only from behind a screen, because it would be improper for a man outside of their immediate families to see them. 

Peony, an only child, is educated and well loved, unlike many ‘useless’ girls of her time.  She is lovely with her tiny bound feet and delicate lily gait.  She has studied the opera, considered a danger by some, and has many opinions and feelings about it.  Through the screen she can see some of the guests and a section of the stage.  She glimpses a handsome young man in the audience and, during a particularly poignant scene, is overcome with emotion and needs to move about.  Quite by accident, she encounters this young man (a sensitive poet who was also moved by the scene) in a courtyard of her home.  Ashamed at being seen yet drawn to him, they have a few moments together boldly speaking about the opera.  

Peony finds a way to meet this young man twice more.  Her mother discovers she has been out, and fearing the appearance of impropriety, banishes the betrothed Peony to her room.  Though she never learns the poet’s name, Peony becomes obsessed with the idea of him.  Her father has already arranged a marriage for her but she is lovesick for her poet, consumed by thoughts of him and wishing to marry him.  Ever the dutiful daughter, she continues to prepare for her marriage but also begins a project based on The Peony Pavilion, obsessively recording her thoughts on love in the margins.  She starts refusing food and ignores the advice of her doctors.  Her mother, alarmed and desperate to make Peony well again, burns every edition of The Peony Pavilion that she can find in a vain attempt to shock Peony back into health.  By the time Peony realizes she has made a horrible mistake about her sensitive poet, she is on her deathbed and it is too late. 

But that is just the beginning of this love story.  Peony learns about yearning and romantic love as a young girl; she later discovers physical love as a hungry ghost, and ‘deep heart’ love as a sister-wife in the afterworld.  She finds a way to make her voice heard and to live on even after death. 

I was anxious to read this book after having read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, perhaps my favorite book of all time (definitely in my top 3).  It is beautifully written, historically accurate, well researched and artfully constructed.  It’s a very visual book; I could vividly see the scenes in my mind’s eye.  There are so many wonderful cultural details and rich descriptions of traditions, superstitions and ideas about the afterlife, the treatment of ancestors, foot binding (not nearly as intense as Snow Flower, thank goodness), women’s issues, marriage, writing, and everyday life that make this a truly absorbing novel.  I loved it and would recommend Peony in Love to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or just a really good (tragic romantic asian ghost) story. 

My book club will have the great privilege of talking to Lisa See by speaker phone next Sunday at our meeting.  I’ll be sure to take notes and share the details here!

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 19

In this 19th volume of In Praise of Book Clubs, we hear from Sarah of the terrific blog, The Last Book I Read.  Here she talks about the book club she formed with other stay at home moms in her area.

I started my book club a little over a year ago.  As a stay at home mom of a then almost two year old I was craving the company of other women during the day who could talk about something other than their kids.  I went to a playgroup which I enjoyed, but I wanted a playgroup for ME.  And, while I have other girlfriends that I swap books with and talk books with all the time, I needed something in person and I wanted something during the daytime.  I wasn’t looking to get out of the house, but I was looking for better conversation.

So, I asked a couple friends and I put up a little sign and soon enough we had a group of 4.  We try to meet once a month and whoever hosts the group at her house gets to pick the book and also lead the discussion.  When we meet the kids go off and play together while we get to talk about the book.  We’re pretty informal-don’t really have any rules and it’s agreed that if you haven’t finished the book that’s ok.

One of the things I like about our group is that I think we don’t have the same exact reading tastes.  We like enough of the same books that it’s not a chore to read the month’s book (well, that’s not exactly always true), but we’ve all also been pushed into trying new things.  I prefer to choose books that we haven’t read before but it often happens that someone chooses a book she’s read before and wants the others to try.

Some of our selections have been The Memory Keeper’s DaughterNights of Rain and StarsWhen Rabbit Howls, Captain Corelli’s MandolinBelong to MeThe RoadThree Junes, and The Ice Queen.

Although it was not my intent at all, something that has naturally occurred is that we often talk about how we responded to a book as a mother of a young child.  For example, in our conversation about The Memory Keeper’s Daughter* we all found the deception of telling a mother her child had died was practically unbearable to contemplate.  Since having kids I’ve found myself even more emotional about death/kids/families in novels than I used to be (and that’s saying something because I’m an easy crier at books.)  My book group has shown me that I’m not the only one who’s become so sensitive to those topics.  [Our upcoming discussion is about Belong To Me, during which I cried and cried at the friend’s death imagining myself dying with my children around me.]

*(I like to steer clear of Oprah books when it comes to my picks, but we’ve actually read quite a few of them.  I hate to admit it but they usually are really easy to talk about and universally liked by us. I just have a thing about reading what everyone else reads.)

As a YA librarian I wanted to introduce my friends to some YA lit and chose Speak for my first book.  I thought the discussion we had about this book was one of our best yet.  A YA buddy had suggested it as being a good one for women to discuss because no matter who we are or were it was likely we could all think back to being a teenage girl and feelings of isolation.  This proved to be true!  I am looking forward to introducing some more YA titles into our mix, perhaps some Sarah Dessen or Shannon Hale.  I also think maybe we should try some sci-fi or fantasy since that is a genre we haven’t yet discussed.

We’ve definitely had some flops.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was only read by one of us.  Two of us couldn’t get more than two chapters in.  When Rabbit Howls was so interesting in concept, but in reality nobody could get through it.  It was one of those books that you like someone to tell you about, but it turns out that that’s enough. And even though it’s topped book lists galore for the past two years not one of us liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Nickel and Dimed was another choice that really prompted conversation.  Truthfully, though, our conversation ended up being a lot more about what we thought about Ehrenreich, cleaning services, and the economy, and not so much about the book as a work of writing.  I think sometimes that happens with non-fiction choices– you don’t talk about it as a book per se, but just about the content.

Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to post about my book group.  I hope it encourages other stay at home moms to form their own groups!

Blogger Bio:  My name is Sarah, I’m a thirty-six year old young adult librarian, who is presently a stay-at-home mom. I have two children, aged  three and 9 months.  We live in central New Jersey in a beautiful area with lots of fields and farms.  I’ve been an avid reader since childhood.  I read a ton of ya books (hence, ya librarian), but I do like adult books too. I like historical romances, general fiction, and anything set in a boarding school! My blog is The Last Book I Read.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain? If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win The Safety of Secrets by DeLaune Michel, click HERE