Book Review of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, it is one to read slowly as there is so much to savour in it. The relationships are complex and ever changing. The insight into human emotion and what makes people tick is really impressive. The plot holds together effectively and is well balanced. The use of first person, where different chapters are told by different characters, means that everyone gets to 'have their say'. As such the structure is simple but effective.
The story unfolds after the one of the protagonists, Roy, is wrongly accused of rape. He then goes on to serve five years of a twelve year sentence. Jones doesn't explore the trial in any detail but it underpins all that follows; had Roy been a white man rather than black then it is extremely unlikely that his accuser would have jumped to the conclusion that he was a rapist.
The only part of the story I didn't find convincing was the development when Roy went on to share a cell with his biological father. It did, however, provide an opportunity for father/son relationships to be effectively explored in the text. Barack Obama and Elle both rave about the book, so I guess for the majority this isn't a big criticism. (As an aside, have you noticed how authors tend to have quite big names recommend their books these days. I noticed the same thing in Rosie Walsh's The Man Who Didn't Call which Liane Moriarty recommended.
Book Discussion Questions for An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Book Club Questions for An American Marriage (if you haven't read the book!)
Summing up of Tayari Jones' An American Marriage
This is Tayari Jones' fourth book, but I believe the first one to be published in the UK. I hadn't come across her writing before but will now definitely seek out her other novels. There is flair and craft in every sentence she produces.
Book Review of The Man Who Didn't Call by Rosie Walsh
On the front of my copy of Rosie Walsh's The Man who Didn't Call is a quote by Liane Moriarty saying "I absolutely loved this book.". I can see why she enjoyed it as the ingredients are similar to those we might find in one of Moriarty's own books: a head over heels romance, combined with a seemingly unsolvable situation, and a mystery that needs uncovering. It is also a page turner with a (spoiler) happy ending!
The story begins with what turns out to be a seemingly 'too good to be true' romance between Sarah and Eddie. As Eddie already had a holiday planned, he decides to go anyway and promises to contact Sarah upon his return. Sarah waits for contact but none comes, as from the moment of Eddie's return, Sarah is 'ghosted (the American name of the novel) by Eddie. The rest of the novel revolves around the reader first uncovering why she has been ghosted' by Eddie (plenty of clues are given along the way) before watching how things will finally unfold.
Book Discussion Questions for The Man Who Didn't Call by Rosie Walsh
Book Club Questions for The Man Who Didn't Call (If you haven't read the book!)
Summing up of Rosie Walsh's The Man Who Didn't Call
The Man who Didn't Call is an enjoyable quick read with plenty of spine tingling intrigue and tear-jerking romance. The plot holds together well and the characters are well rounded. Stylistically it is a quick and easy read that would be great to take on holiday.
All my friends and family know that I love reading. As my blog title Book and Family Chat suggests I love all things book related. There's no doubt that Book deserves to be in the same sentence as family, though I probably should change the order of the wording of my blog to Family and Book Chat!
If I've got a lot on my mind I read 'easy' books that are quick to read and to settle into if I'm a bit more chilled I'll tackle some more 'challenging' books. I enjoy writing book reviews on all kind of books and all types of reading related issues. I enjoy writing bookclub questions for people in bookclubs. In fact, I can't remember the last time I didn't have a book on the go.
Being back home in Bangkok with Mick this trip has afforded me time during the day to spend some time reading. I have a bit of a passion for African literature which I'm indulging in right now.
I do find, though generally speaking, that constantly having my head in a book can get me into trouble. Allegedly booklovers and bookworms have some quite annoying habits!
Booklovers Annoying Habits
Do you have Annoying Reading Habits?
I should say that I accept that some of the above may well be annoying reading habits, but I am sure that I don't have any of them - well maybe one or two! I have plenty to say about the benefits of reading but I'm sure that can't be annoying! I wonder, do you have any annoying reading habits? If so what are they?
Book Review of Grown Ups by Marian Keyes
I simply cannot make my mind up about Marian Keyes. Rather like a packet of twiglets I begin reading with a premise that I don’t especially enjoy her books, but I then keep going back for more. Her latest title Grown Ups (which I have already blogged about briefly) has had this twiglet effect on me. I didn’t really enjoy the first 100 or so pages of Grown Ups and thought that Keyes was introducing far too many characters too quickly. I also thought her shifts in in time were a little awkward and jarring to the flow of reading. Then I decided I was being picky and I settled happily into reading the mid section of it. Once invested, I then had to stay up until 2.00 a.m. to read the final 200 or so pages as I simply couldn’t bear to put it down. Grown Ups went from a snack I could take or leave to a guilty feast that I had to devour there and then.
So a mixed response on my part .... I do think that Keyes tends to include too much dialogue in her books. I guess this is how she ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells’, but it reaches a point where it is intrusive. Whilst there is nothing wrong with some element of soul searching, self-revealing chat in any novel there’s no need to spell absolutely everything out for us. (We readers can infer and intuit!) Having said that Keyes books are so successfully representative of contemporary life that it is impossible not to forgive her for this occasional sledgehammer approach. Keyes' observations are incredibly astute and so perceptive that the reader is left pondering and worrying about the characters and their lives as if they are actual friends and neighbours. I don’t know what the magic writing ingredient Keyes has but I found this happened to me, not only when I read Grown Ups, but also when I read The Break. The issues explored kept entering my thoughts literally months after I’d finished reading
Grown Ups somewhat ironically named, explores the family relationships of the three Casey brothers. Keyes uses the brothers as a backbone around which to structure the book, but the focus is equally on their wives, children, nephews and nieces. There’s the eldest brother Johnny, a good-looking extroverted, moderately successful business and family man, who finds himself in the midst of something like a mid-life crisis. Next is middle brother Ed. Seemingly ordinary his love for his wife is unwavering and solid. Ed demonstrates an unnerving depth of understanding about life. Finally, there is spoilt brat youngest brother Liam - womaniser, selfish-pig and borderline paedophile, he has little going for him.
Keyes is never one to shy away from difficult issues and in this book bulimia is explored with skill and sensitivity. It helps the readers (as bystanders and observers to the action) understand what those with the illness go through. What doesn’t work so well is Keyes', at times, clumsy and unlikely plotting. In Grown Ups Keyes creates an unlikely scenario where one of the characters becomes concusse. This plot detail is set up as a device to enable. Clara to share unwelcome truths about her relatives.. She exposes family members for who they really are and so keeps the story moving forward. I'm afraid didn't find this tool for developing plot convincing or realistic, but perhaps, on the other hand, that doesn't really matter.
Book Discussion Questions for Marian Keyes' Grown Ups
In the book Ed leaves Clara when she stops seeking medical help for her bulimia. Do you think this was the correct course of action for him to take? Why or why not?
Liam and Nell marry quickly, but separate after less than a year of marriage? Nell reflects that the marriage was never likely to last and that she entered it knowing it wasn’t a forever marriage. What is your view of this attitude? Does it affect how you view Nell?
Who is your favourite character in the book and why?
Towards the end of the book Johnny claims that he never considered reigniting a romantic relationship with his ex lover? Do you believe him? Why or why not?
Jess is very upset about her 50th birthday celebrations. To what extent do you think she is right to be angry and hurt?
Who has the most solid relationship in the book? Why?
After Rory died Jess’ in-laws never forgave her for marrying his best friend. Why? How would you sum up the relationship between Jess, Rory and Johnny?
Does the menopause feature in ‘Grown Ups’? If so, how and when? Is this question only acceptable coming from a middle-aged woman? Discuss!
How is the ability to communicate effectively shown as a key life skill in the book?
Book Club Questions for Grown Ups (if you haven't read the book!)
Super organised mum, businesswoman and family organiser Jess admits to herself that her teenage years were ones of insecurity and self-doubt. She sees the same traits in her daughter. To what extent do our teenage experiences form our adult selves?
Clara has to eat little and often in order to ‘manage’ her bulimia. Alcoholics can stop drinking completely. Discuss whether all addictions are equal?
Some people love large family get-togethers and others hate them. What about you?
Marian Keyes commented in a recent interview that her writing has developed over the years and that in her earlier novels her male characters were less well developed than now. What does this reveal about her, her readers and today’s world?
Marian Keyes writes long books but they are fairly quick to read. The chapters are quite short, there’s plenty of dialogue and the plots are driven by realism and relevance. What five ingredients do you think an excellent book should contain.
The age gap between Nell and Ferd is less than the age gap between Nell and Liam, yet the former seems far more significant to Nell’s sense of what is appropriate. How important a factor is age in relationships, both to the individuals in it and onlookers!
Keyes makes passing reference to contemporary issues such as Brexit, but, by and large, the novel focuses more on familial emotional relationships than society. This contrasts with other current releases, e.g. Jonathan Coe’s Middle England. How much context do you enjoy when reading contemporary realistic fiction?
Keyes has sold over 35 million books, yet she comes across as modest and unassuming. To what extent do you think ‘money’ changes an individual?
Summing Up of Marian Keyes' Grown Ups
In Grown Ups the reader is encouraged to take on the role of voyeur and nosy neighbour of an extended family. There is plenty to see as the Caseys are a sociable crowd inclined to partake of dinner parties, extravagent weekends away and meet-ups. The book ends with us wondering what the different individuals will ‘get up to’ next. We feel empathy for the suffering of some of the Casey family; we dislike others, but significantly we relate to all and see bits of ourselves in them. Whilst we might nit-pick and find fault with aspects of Keyes’ writing she manages to keep us hooked. 35 million book sales speaks for itself.
Keyes' understanding of addiction is often mentioned in reviews written about her, and she seems happy to discuss her own alcoholism. In Keyes' recent interview on the Fortunately Podcast this crops up. Keyes talks bout how bulimia can be more challenging than alcoholism as everyone has to eat.. The podcast is well worth a listen to. It is in this interview that Keyes also made the comment that she doesn’t read male authors. She later withdrew this claim, but nevertheless … interesting!
Book Review of Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover's Educated is brutal, compelling and tragic. It is not an easy read and her experiences have clearly left more than physical scars behind. It is clear that Westover is still coming to terms with the abuse she has been subjected to and and is still, at least to some extent, escaping it and its effect. I suppose she always will be.
Westover is being compared to the likes of Jeanette Winterson and Lorna Sage, Without wishing to sound too flippant, or undermine these excellent books and the experiences of their authors, I would argue that in comparison, therir lives are are presented as being a 'stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon.' Harrowing beyond belief and painful to read, Tara Westover's Educated will surely become a classic memoir.
Educated is an account of Tara Westover's life as part of a Mormon funadmentalist family living in Idaho. Her father becomes increasingly radical, her brother Shawn grows to be increasingly abusive, and her mother is either unable or chooses not to protect her. It is essential to her survival, both emotional and quite possibly actual, that she escapes the confinements of her childhood and moves away. She achieves this through the path education.
Westover is keen to point out, in the author's note that Educated is not criticizing any religion. She is scrupulous in the book in the use of footnotes to show when she has paraphrased; she always acknowledges when her memory may not be completely accurate The need to present absolute truth demonstrates how difficult it has been to leave behind the world she grew up in where she has constantly been expected and forced to accept twisted and manipulated 'truths' of her reality. She is cut, beaten and abused, yet the abuser's behaviour occurs, or so she is told, in order for her to enact the 'power of atonement'.
There is a chasm between her educated Cambridge and Harvard life, and her childhood spent preparing for the 'End of Days'. She leaves behind the mountain which she so beautifully describes in the opening page of the book, but finds the transition to belonging in the world of academia almost an insurmountable challenge. Westwood grew up without any schooling often in fear. and squalor. The contradictions of her life were enormous. She needed to constantly dress modestly yet was accused of being a whore; Westwood needed to accept the doctrines of a woman's place being in the home, whilst working in hard and dangerous conditions in the scrapyard and she needed to accept unquestionably her bi-polar's father's version of truth as fact when it so clearly wasn't.
Book Discussion Questions for Educated
Why has Westover called the book Educated?
It is not until Tara reaches 'adulthood' that she realises that Shawn has abused her sister Audrey prior to his abuse of her. Audrey ultimately chooses not to escape the life she has had and instead condones what has happened. Explore how Audrey and Tara are both similar and different.
The university professors in the book are represented as 'saintly' and one of them even descirbes Tara's situation metaphorically as being like 'Pygmalion'. Explore why it either can or cannot be seen in this manner.
After Tara's father suffers horrific burns his wife and children nurse him back to something aproaching health. Tara's father uses his recovery as further evidence that hospitals are the work of the devil. What other ways does he use religion to 'prove' his own beliefs are correct? What does this reveal about him
Towards the end of the book the Westover family becomes relatively rich due to the success of the home remedies and tinctures that Tara's mother makes? Explore the various ironies in this turn of events?
How is the mountain used as a metaphor within the book?
Whilst not for a minute disputing the events that occured in this memoir, all narratives are inevitably biased (as Westover acutally points out).. Is it possible to put a more 'positive spin' on any of the events in this book? Could Tara have stay in Idaho and had a happy life? Why or why not?
In the memoir Tara's family are afraid of the 'Feds' and are quite isolated. Should the state have been more involved in what was happening on Bucks Peak?
Why do you think Tara's mother chooses to not believe that Shawn abused her?
Some books really resonate with the reader and stay with them for weeks, months and years. Do you think this memoir might be one such book? Why or why not?
If this was a work of fiction do you think it would be less or more convincing a read? Why or why not?
Book Discussion Questions for Educated (If you haven't read the book!)
The accounts of Shawn's fall from the pallet and Luke's burn are seen differently by different characters in the book. (Readers, quickly explain to the non-readers what happened.) Have you had incidents in your own lives where your memory of the truth is completely different to that held by other family members?
When Tara studied at Cambridge she comments how photographs taken at the time show her looking very similar to other students. This perhaps illustrates a desperate need to fit in and seem 'normal'? To what extent do we all need to 'fit in' to our chosen worlds? Look around the room - how does the need to fit in show itself in this bookclub environment?
As a memoir Educated will surely become a modern classic. What other memoirs have you enjoyed reading and why?
Towards the end of the memoir Tara makes tentative steps towards developing a relationship with her mother's family. Would you like to share any personal stories about family dynamics, and perhaps getting to know estranged family members later in life?
Tara states that her father would probably like to reinstate polygamy as part of Mormonism. Disuss polygamy a a concept.
When Tara Westover went to University she had never heard of the holocaust. Have you ever found yourself feeling very ignorant about something? Discuss how this made you feel.
Tara Westover's father felt that you can teach yourself something better than anyone else can teach you it. Do you agree?
Tara Westover used her journals as a source for her writing. Do you keep a journal? Why or why not? What are the benefits of diary writing?
Summing up of Tara Westover's Educated
Tara Westover states in the clip above that she doesn't know what is next for her. She seems sympathetic to Mormonism as a religion, yet doesn't practise it herself. In writing the book she has shown enormous courage, empathy and compassion for that which she has rejected and takes pain to never mock or undermine the people living around her. She is still a young woman finding her place in the world and. having finished the book. I am left intrigued to know what she will do and write next. I highly recommend this memoir as a leveller and inspirational, thought provoking text. I thin it even surpasses Girl, Woman, Other as a new favourite!