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Our first brunch/book club adventure. Clever & witty name tk.

Two of my favorite past times/hobbies/activities/passions are books and brunch.  Put them together and ta-da – what a fabulous day!  I met the lovely ladies Nicole (@nicolebo) of Linus’s Blanket and Erica (@EricaBrooke) of Harper Perennial fame  at V Bar in the East Village for mimosas, breakfast, and to talk about our first book:

STRANGERS AT THE FEAST by Jennifer Vanderbes

Yes, we all agreed the jacket was unattractive at best.  And if you can explain the tear, I’d love to hear it.

Since I just had 2.5 magnolia cupcakes, I’m on a sugar-high and can hopefully publish this post (that’s been sitting in draft since Monday) before the crash comes!  This is my first real book club gathering in two years, and I must say it was charming that all three of us were racing to finish the novel right before meeting.  I was ready to pack my Kindle away and walk to brunch and planned to finish the remaining 12% while sitting on a sunny bench and waiting for the ladies to arrive, when the action that had been foreshadowed the entire other 300 or so pages FINALLY happened. Needless to say I couldn’t put it down then, sped to the end before speed walking to the V.

STRANGERS AT THE FEAST was the first book I’ve read by Vanderbes (first I’d ever heard of her).  I think all of us felt the same way – we expected to like it more than we did.

There is typically something universally relateable and compulsively readable about a family in crisis.  Nicole pointed out that the pacing felt off – the book was quite slow, foreshadowing this massive event that was to take place and when it (don’t want to give anything away!) FINALLY happened, it wrapped up so quickly and none of us were satisfied with the conclusion.

Also, as Erica so eloquently notes in her GoodReads review: there is a bit about an adult brother and sister who “fiercely hug” every night before bed that freaked us all out. Unintentional incest overtones alert!

 

Book Club at our initial Dos Cominos inception brunch

Our April pick (when hopefully we’ll have the whole “club” present, including Colleen @booksnyc, Jenny @jennysbooks, Miriam @MiriamParker, and Neha) is YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE by Siobhan Fallon.

 

Addition to post: on the topic of blurbs – even though Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE was hugely, wildly popular, I never would have thought a quote from him of vampire fame would be relevant to this book, though it appears on the cover.

I don’t know what I had expected when picking up MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, but what I found was a comforting read, similar to going back to my parent’s house – it’s welcoming and warm; almost from a different time – and you feel right at home with Major Pettigrew and Jasmina Ali.

The characters are discreetly clever – I found myself chuckling (I feel like that’s an appropriately old fashioned word) at their antics and the Major’s thoughts and actions.  An upstanding and opinionated gentleman, the Major was of a different world and I had a hard time remembering that this book was taking place in present day.  When text messaging was mentioned in passing I’d get a little jolt as the story was often so quaint and the opposite of modern (until Pettigrew’s son, more tk).

Unlike NYC apartment searches when “quaint and cozy” mean good luck trying to fit a twin bed in the bedroom, “quaint and cozy” are compliments as this is no small novel. It looks at the influences of social class and race and society’s expectations.

At its heart, it’s a love story – one of different values and characters than we typically find in society these days.  Major Pettigrew and Jasmina are both widowed and definitely “over the hill” – but by no means dried up and stagnant in intelligence, wit, and heck – sexuality!  This is a book I’d love for my grandmother to read, as I feel these love stories are often overlooked for the wrinkle-free versions.

Major Pettigrew’s son was just terrible, but also only too believable.  I’ve seen his type – the young, slick guys in finance whose sole ambition in life is to be as rich as possible and have that be known, at the expense of others.  This was epitomized by his BLACK Christmas tree, to match his modern house – absolutely no warmth or sense of tradition.  I was horrified at the way he treated his father and cringed at the lack of respect.  I like to think he did defrost a little towards the end… No spoilers though – you have to read it yourself!

My favorite passage in the book was when Pettigrew was hoping to help Jasmina make friends and fit in with the social crowd, but his (understated) humor went –

“He could not, in good conscience, promote any association with Daisy Green and her band of ladies. He could more easily recommend gang membership or fencehopping into the polar bear enclosure at the Regents Park zoo.” -pg 113

This was Helen Simonson’s debut novel, and I look forward to whatever comes next. Helen is a true Brit who I wager takes milk in her tea, but she now lives on the East Coast.  You can connect with Helen on her website or via her Facebook page.

I suggest MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND to anyone looking for a charming read that will take their mind off their own pressing matters.  I am so thankful TLC Tours introduced me to this fabulous story and talented writer & I suggest you visit the rest of the tour stops, listed here.

And, just because I think it’s fascinating, here’s the UK cover – what do you think? I like the tea cups, but don’t think the style and colors correctly portray the story. This looks more like the hipster’s version of MAJOR PETTIGREW to me!

I really wanted some sort of clever title for this, but came up with nothing (and am trying to get better about SEO).  I won an ARC ages ago from Shelf Awareness (this novel has been on sale since March), where it remained under my desk until I grabbed it to read in the park while I devoured my Subway (if we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll know I’m addicted to their limited edition Orchard Chix Salad footlong).

Though I hate drama and the unknown in real life, I like to read about it.  So the promise of “mystery, betrayal, and family tragedy” had my expectations high.

This is Dianne Dixon’s debut novel, and she had me interested for the first few chapters, but also confused: how did this man know the address of his supposed estranged family, but not know the how, the why, or that they’ve died?  Unfortunately, these questions are never answered to my satisfaction.

The chapters jump between time and narrator, and after having read the “twist” at the end I believe this author’s style was inspired by Jodi Picoult.  It’s an interesting story, but I was left with wanting more.  Not wanting more in a sequel, but left feeling unfilled by the explanations and discoveries given.  There were too many plots running and none seemed to reach their potential, or a satisfactory conclusion.

THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS wasn’t unenjoyable; I believe if I had read this as a book club pick I would appreciate the discussion and insights from other people instead of leaving my questions bouncing around in my head unanswered.  I will buy the next book from this author, but plan to download to my Kindle as I don’t think it would be one I would be compelled to keep in my (physical) library.

Visit the author’s website: http://www.diannedixon.com/
Available on Amazon here.

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