Category: Book Reviews

Sweet T Book Reviews

Review: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As my friend Carol said, just because this book is short doesn’t mean it isn’t deep. This is a beautiful, funny, powerful book. An honest letter from friend who has been there from childhood through adulthood. It’s one I’m sure I will read again and one I will give as a gift to friends who have baby girls.

I am something of an old-fashioned traditionalist AND I am a feminist. These things are not mutually exclusive. I have always believed that women can do anything they want and that we are equal to men. I have not felt less than or excluded but this may be more from my outlook on life. It may be that I have never wanted to excel in an area that is traditionally male and been denied.

I’ve always been uncomfortable calling myself a feminist because of some of the bra-burning man-hating connotations. Sometimes I feel like calling myself is getting up on a high horse, on a soapbox and ranting about how the world should be. But I’M JUST GOING TO HAVE TO GET OVER THAT. I am a feminist. I believe women are equal to men. I believe there is change that needs to happen.

I appreciate being taken care of and having roles in my family but I believe Stephen appreciates being taken care of, too. Our roles tend toward the traditional – I usually prepare meals and he usually takes out the trash and does the lawn – but we have both done all of these things and more and neither of us has to do them because of our gender.

My amazing Granmama was a quietly strong feminist in the 50s and 60s as a working woman moving up in corporate America. When she was first promoted to treasurer of a large corporation in the South, she signed every employee’s check with her initials so they wouldn’t know she was a woman. Then she didn’t. That and other actions she took surprised me when I was a teenager and she told me about how she had to be tough and work harder as a woman. I always knew her as the incredibly giving, humble woman who cooked and cleaned and doted on me. It wasn’t until later that I realized how much she did these things because she wanted to show love through them not because she had to. She is an amazing woman and my hero.

There were a few things Chimamanda said that I don’t think I agree with. I don’t believe holding doors open for ladies is wrong. It is not done because a woman is weak but out of respect. I also hold doors for men because I don’t want doors slamming in someone’s face! I understand where she’s coming from though and respect her opinion.

She also said that men shouldn’t be thanked for taking care of their children, nor should women because it is their job to do so. While that is true, I think you should thank your partner for taking care of your children, for cooking, for being there because gratitude is important. Just because someone is supposed to do something doesn’t mean they always do it. Saying thank you, being grateful just makes the world a better place. Doesn’t it feel good to be thanked?

This was the second book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My book club read Purple Hibiscus. I also heard her speak a few months ago at the Baltimore Book Festival as the One Maryland One Book author. She is AMAZING!! AMAZING! I can’t wait to read more of her books.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: American Wife

American Wife
By Curtis Sittenfeld

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Do you ever see someone famous and think about what it’s like to be them or what it would be like to live their life? Or do you ever wonder what your life would be like if it took some incredibly different turn? If you married into vast, ridiculous wealth and privilege?

That’s what American Wife is, an imagining of a life inspired by the life and personality of first lady, Laura Bush. It is not a book based on her life but sparked by public situations and personalities and imagined empathy. It’s not just about politics and her marriage to the President. That comes later, much later. There is a whole beautiful story, a whole lifetime before that happens.

I found it fascinating. I saw myself in the main character, Alice. I do that with many books I read. I interpret a character by how similar she is to me, how much I can personally relate. But I don’t always do that and I don’t have to relate to a character to understand a story. Some books aren’t like that. Some characters I fall in love with or I dislike or I feel sisterhood with or learn from or just watch them live on the page.

I related so completely to Curtis Sittenfeld’s main character, Alice Lindgren Blackwell. Her actions and emotional life are so complex but also simple. Her life is incredibly sheltered and incredibly blessed. She does for others but feels like she should be doing more, especially when she is given the power to do more.

As first lady she chooses issues that are not controversial, Issues that are self-evident and do not require her to make an argument about whether they are right or wrong. Like me, she is not a fighter or a protester but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel or doesn’t act in other ways.

There are also complex relationships with others in her life, her fascinating grandmother, her childhood best friend, her high school love, her husband. Relationships are complex. You can love the people in your life so deeply and completely yet disagree with them strongly but choose to let it go. I regularly choose to let it go. Everyone has flaws. I certainly do.

I wonder if others feel the same connection to this character. I wonder if these are common thoughts women have or only a few of us. I feel certain it is generational but is it generational to people born before 1975 or generational to women who are in the middle of life? I wonder if other people would agree that I’m like Alice or if my perception of myself are not the same as my outward persona.

I know there are some people, some of my friends who really won’t like this book. For one thing, it’s very long. The audio was over 23 hours! It addresses issues like homosexuality, abortion, race issues, class issues, the war in Iraq, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, born-again Christianity, agnosticism.

Alice’s husband, Charlie Blackwell is so much like my perception of George Bush – I would love to have a few beers with him but have him leading the free world, not so much.  And there’s a little too much graphic sex with this guy who is so much like the former President…I feel grossed out.

Some reviewers were outraged at this seeming invasion of privacy of a public figure.  They think fictionalizing the life of Laura Bush was a cowardly way to push a personal agenda.  I don’t think so.  I just think it was inspiration.

This is the third book I’ve read by Curtis Sittenfeld. They’re all different.   She’s definitely well-educated and well-read. I read Prep years ago, in 2005, when it was first published. I liked it but it made me uncomfortable… very angsty.  I read Eligible a few months ago. It’s a fun, silly, sassy modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I read Sisterland a few months ago, also, and it’s an odd book that I liked but didn’t.

Her writing is good. She is very in tune with people, how complicated we are, how we don’t always want what’s best for us and we don’t understand why. She’s very good at capturing moments between people, those moments where you know exactly what they’re feeling and your heart is breaking with them.  But sometimes the writing gets slow, bogged down in the intimacies of detail and character instead of moving forward.  The sex seems gratuitius, and did I mention it’s with George Bush, oh wait, only inspired by him.  ew.

So anyway, did I mention Alice is an avid reader, like me. My friends, if you decide to read this book, let’s have lunch or a drink and have a two person book club. I have a lot to talk about!

10 Things to Know about Hygge AKA How to Get Your Hygge On!

10 Things to Know about Hygge aka How to Get Your Hygge On

I’ve been hearing a lot about this Danish thing called Hygge.  So on my recent little get-away to Florida to escape the cold, I checked out a book from the library called The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking and read it on the plane. Yep, in one little two-hour flight.  Here are 10 things I learned.

My picture with bare feet and sunshine are not common to the Danish environment for the majority of the year but you’ll soon see it is very hyggelig!. Here are 10 things I learned about hygge.

1. Books are very hygge.

And this one ‘s size and feel are super awesome!  It made me happy just to hold this small, pretty book – and that is hyggelig (hygge-like).  It’s the same size as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo‎. Both have such a pleasant feel and spark joy when you hold them!  The cover is pretty and the inside art is cute.

2. It’s pronounced Hue gah.

It kindof rhymes with cougar without the r, if you’re from Boston. Kindof.

Here’s a  jazzy guy spending way too much time explaining it with a French lesson thrown in.


And here is an adorable Danish couple pronouncing it, many times, so you get it.

3. So what the heck is hygge?

It’s a feeling of coziness and friendship and happiness when things are warm and slow and natural – casual.  It’s wearing a thick, soft sweater in front of a fire while wearing cozy socks, drinking a warm beverage and spending time with friends or family or reading a book while a stew is simmering on the stove.  It’s about switching off – less cell phone and tv, more conversation and reading.

I would like to think book club is hygge but we may need to spend more time in socks.

Here is a some hygge from Gaff Interiors, who interviewed the author for design inspiration.  Don’t you want to spend a lot of time there?!

4. Soft light is an essential element of hygge

Whether it is candlelight, firelight, or soft diffused lamplight, the right lighting is a very important part of the ambiance of hygge.  Fireplaces are very important. The soft glow of the setting sun in my Florida picture with the book is just perfect!

Danes are apparently crazy about candles.  I found these survey results really interesting.

5. Texture is key

Soft cozy blankets and cushions, animal skins, rugs, natural wood, ceramics and a warm drink, tactile elements make a hyggelig setting.

A Hyggekrog, which roughly translates as ‘a nook’, is the place in the room where you love to snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea. Then bring in nature. Danes feel the need to bring the entire forest inside. Any piece of nature you might find is likely to get the Hygge greenlight. Leaves, nuts, twigs etc. Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel furnish a living room? Then think tactile. A Hyggelig interior is not just about how things look, it is just as much about how things feel. Letting your fingers run across a wooden table, a warm ceramic cup is a distinctly different feeling from being in contact with something made from steel, glass or plastic.”

6. Dressing hygge is all about casual, minimalism and warmth,like soft, bulky sweaters and warm wool socks,

Oversized sweaters, cardigans, pajamas, and slippers. Wiking says Danes wear lots of black, and scarves.  The Sarah Lund sweater from the Danish tv series The Killing (Forbrydelsen) is a great example of casual even at work; she’s a police detective. I have never seen The Killing but I like the sweater. It does look comfy cozy! The British call it a jumper. I don’t get it.

7. You need a warm beverage.

Live today like there is no coffee tomorrow.”

Tea, coffee, hot chocolate – the book has recipes for grogg and mulled wine – a hot drink is the number one thing Danes associate with Hygge.

8.  Food

Sweets make people happy and Danes love them. Pastries and baking are very hygge. I mean, come on, they have the Danish.  Things that take a long time to cook are very hygge.  The book has recipes for skibberlabskovs (skip-er-lap-scows) or skipper stew, boller karry (ball-r e cari) or Danish meatballs in curry and Snobrod (sno-broed) or twistbread.  I’m telling you, this would make a great book club menu!

9. Danes are not the only ones who practice it.

Meik Wiking, the author, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute based in Copenhagen, Denmark.  He has spent years studying Danish life and what makes people happy.  According to many studies, Denmark is the happiest country in the world.

Other countries have similar traditions and expressions. The word hygge originally came from a Norweigian word.  Canadians call it hominess, The Dutch call it gezelligheid, and Germans talk of Gemutlichkeit.  According to Wiking, it is different in Denmark because of its importance in culture and national identity.  They talk about it often and the lanugage is rich when it comes to talking about it.

10. There are many books about it.

I created a list on Goodread’s Listopia with 55 books that have Hygge in the title.  Here are a few I’m thinking of reading. They have pretty covers.

  


The Little Book of
Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well
by Meik Wiking

Sweet T’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
It was an interesting concept to learn about and a super cute book!

 

Book Club: The 13th Tale

Book Club Ideas for The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield from www.sweettnbooks.comThe 13th Tale 
By Diane Setterfield

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for August 2016 (originally July 2016)

The mysterious story of world-renowned, reclusive author Vida Winter, who has grown ill and needs to tell someone the story of her life. At least the version she wants told.

She chooses Margaret Lea, the daughter of a rare bookseller, to write it.  But Margaret has never read any of Vida Winter’s books and she has only written a quaint biography of a little-known author. Why has this woman chosen her when she can have anyone write her story.

As Ms. Winter tells the strange story of her family and growing up on the estate, Angelfield, I found myself drawn in along with Margaret.  These people were so strange – the beautiful Isabella, her doting father and her cruel brother, the red-headed twins who were left to their own devices to roam and live as they pleased, a ghost, a governess, strange experiments, and a fire.

Vida Winter’s story makes Margaret confront her own troubled past.

I love this photoshoot by palewinterrose inspired by the story.

And this one from Wickedmistress777.

I feel like this book may have been a little cursed.  Originally we were supposed to read this in July, but almost everyone had a conflict on our original date so I postponed it for a week, then the day before our gathering, I fell in a cycling accident and broke my wrist. I’ll spare you the beautiful X-rays and gory details.  But it was a doozy!

We finally met to discuss it in August.  It was a good book.  The writing is eloquent and elegant and so gothic and creepy and beautiful.

Here is a quote …
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

This was the first time we got a Book Club to Go kit from the library. It’s a ginormous canvas bag with10 paperback copies of the book and a discussion guide. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ruthie Henshall and Lynn Redgrave.

One of our funny ladies likes to read and float in the pool. Unfortunately, her book didn’t survive very well, at least not to the library’s standard! lol!  Our book club now owns this lovely book and we’re getting some mileage out of it!  One member who moved to California took it with her to read by the pool there!

There is also a BBC movie out starring Vanessa Redgrave, Olivia Colman, and Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones. But it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.  Boo!!

My favorite book club blog, Delicious Reads had a lot of fun with this book.  Read about their quotes quiz and cool bibliotherapy prescriptions!

Book Club Ideas: These Is My Words

Book Club Ideas for These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 from www.sweettnbooks.com

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

by Nancy Turner

Goodreads

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for September 2016

This is s a love story with a strong female protagonist set in the wild west. Our book club loved this book (most of us). It was a great book to discuss and I highly recommend it for book clubs.

We liked this book because it made us wonder what we would do in the same situation, in such a different surrounding than our own. We thought about whether we would want to be pioneer women, leading a life of adventure and terror! We loved it because it was a funny, sweet, heartbreaking and heartwarming story about love and family.

Told from the point of view of Sarah Agnes Prine over twenty years of her life from a girlhood traveling with her family on covered wagons through working a ranch in the Arizona Territories to forming her own family, it is a story of physical and emotional hardships. Life in that time was rough and short for many, especially children.

But it’s also a story of family, friendships, and love filled with humor and sweetness.

The beginning was CRAZY and confusing. You were hit with the chaos of traveling in wagons and Indian attacks and people moving around and dying before you really got to know any of the characters. I think that was a taste of what life was like as a settler in the territories back then. It certainly wasn’t quiet and routine. They were trying to survive and create a new home.

Sarah is everything. We were impressed by her general badassedness. She did everything the boys could do – and she did it better. She saved her friends from a terrible assault. She won a shootout with a bunch of grown men. She shot a rattlesnake that was inches from her tiny daughter. And the only thing that made all of this even better was that she was so modest, even a little embarrassed about all of these things. She was strong and fierce and skilled and tough and smart and resilient and sensitive and hopeful and scared and vain and real.

Sarah began unschooled and rough but she really wanted an education.  When she found an abandoned cart of books, it was a great treasure. Throughout the book strove to learn through reading. She built a shed to house and protect her treasured books. Her personal learning is reflected by the building of a school then university in town, the community’s learning institutions mirror her progression. Her language and writing improved and became more mature and educated

We set the scene with delicious settler themed victuals – chicken white chili and vegetarian chili,  jalapeno cornbread, a beautiful salad with make-your-own add-ins, trail mix, flaky apple pie, homemade apple berry cobbler, and banana bread. It was delish!

Cobbler and photo credit Sherry LaRose-Cooke.

We loved the Jack. He had a perfect blend of cockiness and gentleness. Sarah and Jack had such a strong relationship, but it didn’t change who they were as individuals. They needed each other, but they also still needed to be the people they were before they met each other. I love that Sarah took care of the ranch and her soap business by herself while Jack did his thing with the army. I appreciated that they weren’t willing to sacrifice the things that were important to them. They were fiercely in love but their relationship had its difficulties and trying circumstances.

This book made me feel the power of women. A member of an online book club I admire, The Life of Bon, said this.

“Feminism is multi-faceted. Sarah is tough and skilled like a man, and most of the men in her life treat her much like an equal. Savannah embodies more of your generally “feminine” characteristics with her mild temperament, “genteel” behavior, naturally nurturing inclinations and even dignified submissiveness. I loved both of these women. They were both strong, humble, good people, not to mention excellent mothers. Sarah wanted to emulate Savannah, thinking that she was somehow lacking what she needed to be a “real” woman and Savannah looks the same way at Sarah. She admires her strength and resiliency. She loves her so dearly, and she needs her.

There’s no “right” way to woman. Woman how you wanna woman, women! Sarah is amazing. Savannah is amazing. Even Mama with her mental illness is still pretty amazing. Women are amazing and when you see all they’ve gone through (which we usually don’t have the benefit of knowing) they are even MORE amazing.”

Now that’s a quote for you!

The author, Nancy Turner started this book as a community college fiction assignment when she was in her 40s. She decided to keep going, and These Is My Words was published in 1998.

It’s a fictional account of the life of her great-grandmother Sarah Agnes Prine, who died in Texas in the 1960s. The series was inspired by a handwritten 1920s memoir of Sarah’s brother, Henry Prine, who came to Arizona in the 1870s as a teen. I have also read the sequels, Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden and enjoyed them. When Nancy was asked if she would write more, she declined saying, once the story gets into the 1920s it would reference people who are still alive or whose children are still alive.

This was the book club where Sweet T was born! I told the group about a project for my graduate class in emerging media applications where I had to create a web site and social media about me as a brand and as a lifestyle. EEK! I want to make it about my love of reading and sharing books with others and book club. We brainstormed together and Angie burst out, “Sweet T!! You’re sweet, you’re southern, that’s it.”  And it is!  So, that’s me! My Granmama always told me to be sweet!

 

P.S. Here’s a fun Pinterest Board on the Arizona Territory from 1863 to 1912.

 

Book Review: Britt Marie Was Here

Book Review of Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman from SweetTnBooks.comBritt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars (3.5???)

Good for book club? Sure but I would read  A Man Called Ove by Backman instead like we did.

Oh, this book…THIS.BOOK. WTF Fredrik Backman. I spent hundreds of pages frustrated. I almost abandoned it. Several times. I was so irritated by annoying, bland, insipid Britt-Marie. She’s a character from My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry but this is not at all a sequel. It’s barely related.

I’ve been reading this book since January. I’ve listened to seven audiobooks in that same amount of time. SEVEN! Including A Visit From The Goon Squad, Daring Greatly, and The Goldfinch which is over 700 pages! It wasn’t until I was over halfway finished that it caught my interest. It wasn’t until the last hundred pages that it grabbed my heart and twisted it and made me feel so many feelings, like a flood, a flood of feelings.

Backman’s style is flowy (yes, that’s a technical term), thoughts are often incomplete. The story is told from the black and white, stodgy point of view of sixty-something, Britt-Marie, who has lived an orderly, mostly eventful life. One day she suddenly, uncharacteristically leaves her cheating husband, Kent. She just walks out the door and drives away.

Her car breaks down in a broken-down town that could be any small town in the world affected by recession. She meets Somebody, who spends the whole book as Somebody. She meets the children, the men with beards and hats, the women with walkers, and a whole cast of characters.

Britt-Marie believes everything can be cleaned up with baking soda and Faxin. And who knows, maybe it can. Backman’s books shed light on characters who are not charming or outgoing. They are not easy to be around and are hard to get to know. He wants you to know they are worthy of being known. They are valuable even though they are different. Somehow, he also seems to be applauding those forceful personalities who bully people into friendship.

Part of me wants to give this book 4 stars.  Part of me, that mulish part with its bottom lip stubbornly stuck out still feels resentful about this book being at least 150 pages longer than it needed to be. I’ve gotten so used to audiobooks.  When a book is slow at the beginning or in the middle, they keep barrelling through toward the finish.

Bottom line, Backman has a great sense of humor and a giant heart that won me over in the end.  It honestly should have been a quick read that took me too long.

Book Review: The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

This book, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, has been on my To Read List for a while and I kept putting it off because it’s so long, plus, if you’ve read my blog, you know about previous Pulitzer experiences with Pulitzers and a bad taste they’ve left in my mouth (See A Visit From the Goon Squad and Angela’s Ashes).  I should keep a score somewhere of the Pulitzer likes and dislikes that are kindof becoming a thing for me.

I listened to The Goldfinch as an audiobook. It was wonderfully narrated by actor and director, David Pittu, who won an Audie award for his voice talent on this book. He voiced foreign accents and different characters so wonderfully.  You could easily tell one from the other and weren’t distracted by the changes. It was 32 hours but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss.

It was 32 hours long (that’s over 800 pages), but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. I started it at 1.2, then ramped it up slowly to 1.5, then 1.8.  After listening to it for a while, it seemed like normal speed to me and normal seemed like molasses dripping on a turtle in a rush hour traffic jam.

It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss. Theo Decker loses his mother in a museum bombing in New York when he is thirteen years old. During the bombing, he meets a man and a girl and steals a painting, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.  This brief encounter has resounding repercussions. It’s a terrible age to lose a parent, especially when his father is a jerk and is nowhere to be found. The story travels through Theo’s adolescence spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful

The story travels through Theo’s adolescence, spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful effect on Theo.

Through the worlds of New York socialites, art dealers, and international criminals, from New York, so important, it’s a character in itself, to Las Vegas, to Amsterdam. The painting really exists.  In fact, many works of art are mentioned in this book.  Here is a wonderful article about the works mentioned in the novel.  There’s also a Pinterest board.

I loved the characters.  Boris is fascinating, the bad boy, bad influence that you love anyway and trust, though you don’t want to. And Hobie, so dear and wise. The story made me cry. It held me in suspense.  I couldn’t stop listening. I was fully immersed.

I think it would make a GREAT movie, which is already in the works from Warner Brothers. It will be directed by John Crowley, the director of  Academy Award nominee Brooklyn, also a great book. It needs the right script, of course.  Someone suggested Nicholas Hoult should play Theo, and, wow, that seems exactly right.  He’s got a good mix of vulnerable, attractive, young yet worldly, naive but addicted.

I don’t know why I think if someone is an addict, they have more world experience… more grittiness. This is a flawed view.  Addicts can be naive emotionally. Addicts can even be wholesome as Theo sometimes seems. In essence, addicts are no different than anyone else except they are controlled by a terrible need. And sometimes that need makes them do terrible things.

So anyway…Nicholas Hoult??

    

PopSugar has some fun suggestions for casting, too. Jeff Bridges as Hobie? I don’t know about that.  I was picturing more tall and skinny but Bridges is a master.  There are some actors who can be anyone. The most interesting suggestion is Ezra Miller as Boris.  While, I’m not sure about that…  He’s definitely got the not dirty/dirty hair thing going on.

Ezra-Miller

This book really made me think. I’m still thinking.  I probably will for a long time. The ending was cathartic in that it wrapped up well for Theo but it wasn’t all roses and puppies.  It was a dark view of life, that we’re just here to suffer through it.  I don’t believe that at all but I respect that someone who has had a different experience than me, someone like Theo, feels that way. It makes me wonder what happened to Donna Tartt.  I will definitely read some of her other books.  Have you read any of them?

A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

This really struck me.  The whole book culminates to this point. We can choose how we act, how we respond, what we show the world, but we can’t choose what we love, what drives us deep down or what we desire. Sometimes those things are not the best thing for us, or the good thing or the right thing.

I’m so lucky and blessed that I’ve had the life I have and, more than anything, have the outlook I have – to always choose to be happy and make the best of everything.  I’m so lucky I never became addicted to anything worse than chocolate and cycling (that should have been the name of my blog).  I have friends and family members who are alcoholics and addicts who make terrible decisions. It’s so frustrating to watch, yet it’s so human of them.  I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m certainly not, but I’ve made a lot of safe choices, taken another path when friends jumped off the cliff. This book made me appreciate those choices for myself and also understand the choices they made.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Book Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly book cover

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

by Brené Brown.

Daring Greatly is our book club selection for February.  I read this book a few months ago and was so inspired.

I am generally an extrovert and don’t have problems with vulnerability and sharing but this book spoke to me on so many levels.Ours is a world filled with situations and messages that make us ashamed of our bodies, our imperfections and of not living up to the expectations of others and of ourselves.

Quite simply this book helps give reasons to believe we are enough. It’s a guide for overcoming fear and living whole-heartedly. It is based on a solid foundation of research by Brown because of her own personal struggles with shame and vulnerability.

For the first few chapters, I was a little skeptictical, as I usually am of self-help books like this. I thought I had read something by Brene Brown years ago – around the same time Oprah was recommending books and world views from authors like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and Sarah Ban Breathnach (Simple Abundance). I soon realized I had not read her work.

At first, I argued that some shame is necessary to know we’re doing something that is at odds with our moral or ethical beliefs. She quickly defined that feeling as guilt, which can be good, and is different from shame.

I recommend this book to everyone. I think there is some nugget that will speak to every point of view. Her early research only involved women because she thought shame was more of a female issue, then she realized the differences between male and female shame. Women’s is multifaceted, shame over weight and appearance and not being a good mother. Men’s shame tends to come down to one thing – not being a p#ssy.

I thought about skipping the chapter on parenting because I have no children, then found myself weeping as I realized what a wonderful job my mother did – even in the things she did wrong. She had me at 17, how did she know how to do it all so right when she was so young? She gave so much love and support and allowed me room to fail and take risks and be creative. Things Brown says are key.

I will definitely reread this. If you haven’t already, at the very least, watch this Ted Talk she did in 2010 about vulnerability.

Our book club has never read nonfiction, other than biographies, as a group. It can touch on deeply personal issues, something some will be uncomfortable with but as Brown says,

Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

Read more on her web site brenebrown.com. I can’t wait to read this book with my book club and discuss it with my friends.  Join us virtually on social media and share your thoughts!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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The Night Circus Book Club Ideas

The Night Circus Book Club Ideas from sweettnbooks.com

 Book Club Recipes

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was an inspiring book for book club!  Our lovely hostess, Angela, was amazing. The whimsical food and decor were so much fun! Of course, everyone dressed in the Reveur’s black and white with a splash of red! The food was inspired by the circus concessions and the black and white and red theme.  We had caramel corn and chocolate covered popcorn, black and white cookies, brownies with icing, apples with salted caramel dip and the highlight of the night, Heather’s homemade chocolate mice!!!  Squeeee!!!  She made them with Hershey’s kisses, cherries and almond slivers for ears!

Note to authors, when you write a book, include something unique and fun like chocolate mice in your story so readers can squeal in delight when someone brings them to book club! You can special order them from L. A. Burdick’s Gourmet but I like Heather’s better!  I spent way too much time looking at #chocolatemice on Instagram.  Click on that link if you have a little time to kill….a lot of time to kill?  There are a couple of entertaining mouse fails (really disturbing!) and a hilarious derp mouse with big ol’ crazy eyes! So funny!

There were also delicious pulled pork sandwiches with two kinds of cole slaw, kale and brussels sprouts salad with bacon and pecorino (here’s the recipe),  a center ring of brie and french bread, veggies and dip, cookies, guacamole, an herb and cheese baked bread amazement, and sauteed beet noodles with goat cheese and cranberries – for the touch of red!

Magic Tricks

Our hostess’s ten-year-old son performed magic tricks for us with assistance from Bebe, the dog (though I failed miserably at catching them on video!)

Quotes

Another of our book club rituals is Quotes!  Each person selects a quote (or two) from the book and attaches it to her wine glass.  Near the end of our discussion, we read them, and talk about what it means to us or why it was important in the book. I usually prepare them by going to the quotes section for a book on GoodReads.com.

Here are a few quotes from The Night Circus

Wine is bottled poetry, he thinks.”

 

The past stays on you the way powdered sugar stays on your fingers. Some people can get rid of it but it’s still there, the events and things that pushed you to where you are now.”

What a fun book club discussion!

I got a Book Clubs to Go kit from our Harford County Public Library.  It’s a set of ten paperback books and discussion guide in a canvas bag. The library also had it on audiobook apps and a Playaway device.  (Here’s my post on free audiobook apps, in case you missed it.) When I returned the Book Clubs To Go bag to the library, the canvas bag had a little wine stain on it.  Whoops!  Maybe every book club should add a different vintage of wine to give it book club authenticity and flavor!

Thumbs

The Night Circus was a great book for Sweet T’s ladies to talk about. Although I loved it and four others loved it, the feeling wasn’t universal. We have a book club ritual of giving the book thumbs up or thumbs down.  The majority of the thumbs were at 3 pm!  It made for great book club discussion, though. Sometimes when everyone loves a book, there’s a lot less to talk about. It’s more like, “Oh, I loved it.” “Yes! I loved it, too!” “You want more wine?”

Everyone agreed that the writing was magnificent, Erin Morgenstern captures moments with rich writing and amazing imagery. You feel like you’re there, breathing the air, smelling the scents, living in that world. And what an amazing, wondrous world! Wow!  It’s a circus that’s more like cirque de soleil than Ringling Brothers.  There are not elephant smells and philosophical animal cruelty questions to ponder.  But there are mysteries behind the scenes.  Mysteries and wonder and magic!

We talked about all the tents and which one we would most want to visit.  I think the Ice Garden and Widget’s scented jars of memory were the most popular. I found the cutest little light up trees at Michael’s to make our own wishing tree!

The Author

Erin Morgenstern is a painter and visual artist as well as a writer, that’s why the writing style is so visual. She studied studio art and theater at Smith College in Massachusetts. She wrote the book as part of three NaNoWriMos – National Novel Writing Month in November. NaNoWriMo is an annual writing contest where participants write 50,000 words in a month. Almost all of the 100,000 words written in Morgenstern’s first two years were rewritten. The first drafts didn’t even include Celia. It was more about the descriptions than a plot.

That makes sense to me because the plot does sometimes seem like an afterthought to the confection that is the circus and the characters. Though I found the story of the young enchanters’ challenge fascinating but slower to develop.  Some of our group didn’t feel like there was much of a plot at all.  But another said the author did a good job of building the characters as pawns in the game

Jen described it was a mix between Romeo and Juliet and X Men’s secret society!  We were not sure what genre to classify it as – fantasy? romance? mystery? literary?

I read the book twice, actually, I listened to the audiobook twice.  I read it last year and wanted to brush up on the finer details.  And quite, frankly, it’s a book that definitely gives you more the second time around (though Elizabeth wouldn’t agree).

My ears were buzzing that night because I listened to the audiobook on the Playaway device with headphones all day long –  literally all day long. I went to the grocery store listening to it. I was at work listening to it. I went to the bathroom listening to it. I fixed lunch listening to it. I ate lunch listening to it. Driving home listening to it, with probably, probably, 15 minutes to go, the battery died. OMG!!!

OMG!! If I hadn’t read it already and if I hadn’t read a synopsis online and prepared the questions I would be so mad.  Actually I was mad.  Fortunately the library was on the way home and I rushed in gasping, “Help me!  I’ve got 15 minutes and book club is in 2 hours and it’s dead!”  The librarian was such a dear, he said, “That’s why we’re here, to heal the books so don’t worry!”  He reached into a drawer and pulled out new batteries (I didn’t realize they ran on AAA’s – der.)  So yay Mr. Librarian! And Thank you!

The Night Circus Discussion Questions

I prepared discussion questions from the publisher’s web site, other book groups online, and my own little head.  Here are some of my favorite questions and some of our (mostly my) thoughts on them.

  1. Who are your favorite characters?
  2. What are your favorite parts of the circus? What tent would you most want to visit?How many tents can you name?
  3. Marco asserts that Alexander H. is a father figure to him (though his paternal instincts aren’t readily noticeable). In what ways does Alexander provide for Marco and in what ways has he failed him? Hector Bowen IS Celia’s father. What do you think of his fatherly prowess and shortcomings?
    1. We felt like Alexander was at least up front with Marco.  He never misrepresented himself.  When Marco asked, “What’s my name. ” He said it doesn’t matter.   And at the end, he seemed more fond of Marco and of the circus in general. He felt more human. Hector Bowen was abusive, self-centered, and obsessive, as it showed in his disappearing himself.
  4. What are the differences between Marco and Celia? Between Marco’s magic and Celia’s magic?
    1. Celia makes true transformations. Marco creates illusions that exist only in the mind of the beholder. Celia has innate talent where Marco has learned skill. Celia is on the inside of the circus, Marco is outside, in London.
  5. Listen to this quote and think about how it applies to both the circus and the competition?“Chandresh relishes reactions. Genuine reactions, not mere polite applause. He often values the reactions over the show itself. A show without an audience is nothing, after all. In the response of the audience, that is where the power of performance lives.” Which audience is more valuable: one that is complicit or one that is unknowing?
  6. Celia emphasizes that keeping the circus controlled is a matter of “balance.” And Marco suggests that the competition is not a chess game, but rather, a balancing of scales. However, both the circus and the competition get disordered at times—leaving both physical and emotional casualties in their wake. Is the circus ever really in “balance,” or is it a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the next?
  7. What do you think of the competition? Do you think it’s fair that they didn’t know the rules? Being bound to it as children?
  8. What do you think of Friedrick Thiessen? He says he thinks of himself “not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to the circus.” He is a voice for those unable to attend the circus and suggests that the circus is bigger than itself. What role do the reveurs play in keeping the spirit of the circus alive outside of the confines of the circus tents?
  9. Is it feasible for the rêveurs to be so obsessed with the circus that they’d define their lives by it? What kinds of groups are there like that? Have you ever been part of a group like that?
    1. We came up with real-life groups of people who are the same: Trekies, Groupies, Whovians, Rennies, Parrot heads, Deadheads, Cyclists.
  10. From the outside, the circus is full of enchantments and delights, but behind the scenes, the delicate push and pull of the competition results in some sinister events: i.e. Tara Burgess and Friedrick Thiessen’s deaths. How much is the competition at fault for these losses and how much is it the individual’s doing?
  11. How do you view the morality of the circus in regards to the performers and developers being unknowing pawns in Celia and Marco’s competition? Do Celia and Marco owe an explanation to their peers about their unwitting involvement? Discuss themes of good and evil. Free will versus being “bound” Why do you think some people, like Mr. Barris, don’t mind being trapped by the circus while it drives others, like Tara Burgess, mad?
  12. Isobel is a silent, yet integral, partner in both the circus and the competition. She has an ally in Tsukiko, but seemingly no one else, especially not Marco. How much does Marco’s underestimation of Isobel affect the outcome of the competition? Was she good? Bad?  A victim?  A perpetrator?
    1. I think she finally understood it in the end.  How many young people think they’re in love when they’re not. I certainly did.  Or really, they may be in love but it’s more of an infatuation than true lasting commitment.  I don’t like to belittle anyone’s feelings.
  13. Tsukiko is aware of Isobel’s “tempering of the circus” from the outset and when Isobel worries that it is having no effect, Tsukiko suggests: “perhaps it is controlling the chaos within more than the chaos without.” What, and whose, chaos is Tsukiko alluding to here?
  14. Were you surprised at Tsukiko’s identity?
  15. What did you think of the ending?
    1. I really don’t think you can say it was a predictable story.

 Want more ideas for your The Night Circus themed book club party?

Check out my Pinterest board and some of my blogger friends.

Check out this beautiful table setting for a midnight dinner party from Home is Where the Boat Is.

The Night Circus

I think Delicious Reads always has the most spectacular book club ideas!

Vacuuming in high heels and pearls had some great ideas too!

The Circus Setting

Here’s a list the circus tents and acts in The Night Circus.

Tents

The Ticket Booth
The Elaborate Iron Gate: Opens at nightfall. Closes at dawn. Trespassers will be exanguinated.
The Tunnel: Directly beyond the ticket booth and the only public entrance to the circle. A black and white, twisting tunnel with black velvet curtains either end.
The Central Cauldron: contains a white, constantly burning fire. This is also the source of the spell that binds the performers and Marco to the circus and protects them.
Friedrick Thiessen’s Clock
The Menagerie
The Carousel
The Hanged Man Acrobatic Display
The Illusionist’s Tent: Celia’s tent
The Wishing Tree
The Fortune Teller: Isobel’s tent
The Labyrinth: Marco and Celia’s collaborative work
The Ice Garden
The Stargazer: A slow roller-coaster allowing visitors to look up at the stars
The Cloud Maze
The Scented Jars: Widget’s tent
The Drawing Room: a tent surrounded by blackboards and with buckets of chalk provided for guests to draw
Creatures of Mist and Paper: an exhibit of animated paper creatures inside a misty tent
The Pool of Tears: a silent pool of water surrounded by black stones, which visitors can toss into the pool.
The Hall of Mirrors: contains small individual mirrors which are not full-length, some of which show reflections of people who are not there, and finishes with a gaslight surrounded by mirrors
The Fire Tent: Includes a fire eater, fire stick twirler, and a fire sculptor who turns fire into shapes.

Freestanding Circus Acts

The Kittens: Poppet and Widget’s performance of somersaulting kittens
The Juggler
The Sword Dancers
The Contortionist: Tsukiko’s performance
The Living Statues: The Empress of the Night, the Black Pirate, the Lovers, the Paramour, and the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen bears an unnamed memorial, actually to Tara Burgess

Concessions

Cocoa, optionally with spice or cream topping
Popcorn, optionally with caramel or chocolate topping
Caramel apples
Sugar flowers
Cider and eiswein and tea, in the Drinkery tent
“Delicious little cinnamon things”. Cinnamon twists with icing
Chocolate mice with almond ears and licorice tails
Chocolate bats with delicate wings
Dumplings
Edible paper with illustrations matching the flavors
and that was just in the circus, it doesn’t cover the midnight dinners!

You’re still reading!?

WOW!!  Thank you!  I’m very flattered. I hope you enjoy this book and book club ideas. Did your book club do something interesting?  I want to know!  Send me an email or connect with me on social media and tell me what you did!  Here’s me, with my clipboard, leading the discussion, talking and drinking, drinking and talking.  I always seem to be a little tipsy when they take these pictures of me and my big ol’ smile!  Happy Reading!  Tarah

Book Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I would give this only one star because I really didn’t like it. I only gave it 2 stars because the writing is good, there are moments of beautiful imagery and insight and the last chapter was an intriguing satire of the near future. There were concepts to ponder but it’s not my cup of tea.

I’m not into that New York rock and roll drugged-up burn-out scene filled with angst-ridden, pretentious aging unhappy characters. It was a bunch of short stories loosely linked to each other.

It’s another big thumbs down for the Pulitzer board.  Sure, I know sweet, wholesome books and escapist fantasy are not going to be awarded by a committee of writers, publishers, and academics who are looking for innovative and ground-breaking. But there is a point when new and different becomes so much drivel.

Seriously, part of this book is catalogs of songs listed by length of song and length of the pauses in songs. This part is supposedly innovative because it is telling a story in powerpoint slides. Powerpoint slides are a weak way to get a point across for a presentation, much less a novel. Blech! I almost gave up on this book. I hate not finishing a book. I should have let it go, like a bad relationship. I keep believing these books are going to redeem themselves in the end and they rarely do.

This book is part of my #PulitzerChallenge.  Read more about my what led me to read more Pulitzer novels this year in an earlier post I wrote after reading Angela’s Ashes..

Sweet T’s rating 2 out of 5 stars

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