Amy Falls Down

Book Jacket  3W, 3H

Willett, Jincy, (c. 2013).  Amy Falls Down. Thomas Dunne Books. 324 pages , $24.99.

ISBN:  9781250028273

Reviews:

The NY Times, Publisher’s Weekly

Annotation:

Amy Gallup is satisfied with her life far away from the best-seller list.  But after a hitting her head on a birdbath, she’s got a lot to say.

Summary:  

Amy Gallup has not written anything in 30 years.  She teaches online writing workshops to make ends meet and keeps company with her basset hound, Alphonse.  She scorns the publishing industry and what it has turned into but does so quietly since she enjoys being a bit of a recluse.  After all, things are easier that way.

But then she trips and bangs her head on the side of the birdbath and seems to forget exactly how it happened.  No problem.  She’s up and everything is fine; until she forgets to cancel the interview that afternoon with a reporter from the San Diego Tribune.  But she’s feeling good and quite confident until she forgets why the reporter is even coming and only realizes that she’s waving goodbye to the reporter without any recollection of what transpired between them.  As the interview goes viral with reviewers calling her a “genius”, Amy’s career is taking off again and she reluctantly tries to keep up with it.   Full of satire and wit, Amy learns to deal with her own demons.  But that becomes more difficult as the numbness wears off and she is confronted with the fact that she has become a celebrity.

Evaluation:

I was looking forward to a light read and figured that this was going to be a funny book about an aging writer.  I was happily surprised to find that it had much more depth than I originally anticipated.  Amy Gallup is a character that has all the sarcasm needed to keep most people at bay while still drawing them in with her insights and doggedness.  I immediately took to the character because she is not only self-aware but simultaneously suspicious and intrigued by her increasing celebrity status.

Willett has developed a just-short of cynical character (is it a depiction of herself) who is fed up with the publishing industry while wanting to be a part of it again.  The bump on the head and subsequent interview are just the type of strange occurrence that can propel any career in this strange connected world.

Excerpt from the author’s webpage (I’m not sure that website would be the appropriate term):

“Jincy Willett

…has a life, as, I’m sure, do you. And yet here you are.”

Genre/Sub genre:

Mainstream Fiction/Humorous

Readalikes:

The Last Original Wife  by Dorothea Benton Frank.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

Book Discussion Questions:

1. In a radio interview, Amy Gallup comments that, “There may still be more readers than writers, but surely we’re approaching some kind of catastrophic tipping point.”  How does this exemplify Amy’s feeling about the world of publishing today compared to the past?

2. What seems to be stopping Amy from moving on with her life?

3. After reading this conversation with Jincy and  editor Thomas Dunne, how could this story be seen as autobiographical?

4. How does the role of “accident” play in all of our lives?

Reasons for selection:

This is another selection from Nancy Pearl’s “Books That Make Great Gifts” list presented in December 2013.  I liked that I could read it without having to read the prequel published in 2008 and I was drawn to the unique layout of the book cover.  I can’t help it; I do judge a book by it’s cover…initially.  In my quest to try new authors, Willett seemed to be a great fit.  She successfully combines writing, sarcasm and Southern California.  I was not disappointed.  And after viewing her webpage, I am an immediate fan!

Emma

4W, 1H – Audio

Austin, Jane, (c. 2007). Emma.  Read by Anghard Rees and a full cast.  BBC Radio. 5 discs (5 hrs, 15 mins) , $35.95.

ISBN:  978-1-6028-3281-7

Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, The Book Bag

Annotation:

Bright, young and with no intention of marrying, Emma Watson happily inserts herself in other people’s lives, believing her skills as a matchmaker are needed.

Summary:  

Beautiful, clever, rich and single, Emma Watson has no interested in love or marriage but she delights in playing matchmaker whenever possible.  Her sights are set on her new companion, Harriet Smith who Emma views as the perfect match for the vicar, Mr.Elton.  Unfortunately, Mr. Elton has his eye on Emma and could not bring himself to fall for someone as lowly as Ms. Smith.  The only person who seems to understand Emma even better than she understands herself is their family friend Mr. Knightly who continuously warns Emma to mind her own affairs.

With the appearance of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill who are secretly engaged, the whirlwind of matchmaking blunders continues until even Emma seems satisfied with the outcome.

Evaluation:

Warning – if at all possible, pick another audio book version of Emma.  I am only taking the time to write this up so as to deter those from thinking it might be a good choice.  I listen to many books on CD and yes, the reader matters.  It was suggested to me that I experience an audio book with a full cast, not a single reader in order to compare the performances.  Well, that exercise is complete and I will forever listen to the single narrator audio book.

Having several voices at once without the visual help of a play, is confusing and at times annoying.  This selection includes music and background noise.  For example, as Emma and Harriet are walking from one place to another, there are birds chirping in the background and the constant sound of grass swooshing either from a breeze of from their walking through the fields.  I was so baffled by the additional sounds that I lost some of the dialogue, or could not hear it.  In addition, the producer decided that it would be a great idea to lower the volume at the end of every scene or chapter ultimately eliminating the last few sentences of the dialogue.

I know that Emma is a widely popular story so this is not to discourage anyone from reading or listening to it, just don’t listen to this version.

Genre/Subgenre:

Classic/Romance

Readalikes:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Surrender by Amanda Quick

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe the friendship between Emma and Harriet.  Would you say that Emma is a good friend?  Are her intentions altruistic or more selfish?

2. Mr. Knightly and Emma are described as intimate friends at the beginning of the story.  How does their relationship change as the story progresses?  What causes them to change?

3. Matchmaking is an important element in the story with some successes and some definitely not.  Which couples are good matches, which are bad and why do you think they either will or won’t last?

4. Is Emma a sympathetic character?  Does she have good intentions or is she ultimately thoughtless and unconcerned with the effects she has on people’s lives?

Reasons for selection:

I admit that I have never been a Jane Austin fan.  I don’t say that lightly because I am surrounded by fans and I try to keep that under wraps.  But I wanted to give the stories another whirl instead of just dismissing them as “classic” and “boring”.  (Yes, I am slightly uncultured that way, despite my parents best efforts.)  I picked up this Audio Book with the best of intentions, eager to hear the wonderful sounds of a British accent caught up in the ever-so-uninteresting lives of the 19th century England.  As you can see from my evaluation, my experience was less than pleasing.  However, knowing that the version was at fault, not the story, I plan on finding a better audio book and will joyously listen to that and hopefully appreciate Ms. Austin’s widely acclaimed talents.

Lamb

https://i0.wp.com/contentcafe2.btol.com/ContentCafe/jacket.aspx 4W, 4H

Moore, Christopher (c. 2002).  Lamb.  William Morrow. 417 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  9780380978403

Reviews
Examiner.com,  Christianity Today – an interview

Annotation:

How did Jesus become the Messiah?  Biff, Jesus’ childhood pal, has been resurrected to retell the story of the Messiah’s teenage years, farts and all.

Summary:  

There is no history of Jesus’s life outside of his much celebrated birth and the years leading up to his much celebrated death (and re-birth).  Thankfully, satirist Christopher Moore decided to pen his version for the history books.  Biff, Jesus’ (Joshua’s) childhood friend is resurrected to come back and write the story in order to clear up any confusion.  He tells the story of young Joshua’s journey, much like any Jewish boy during the first century, who struggles to find his way in the world, learn his trade and figure out the opposite sex.  But as a burgeoning Messiah, Joshua has a few things working against him; namely that in a world of sin and lies, he is vulnerable in his honesty and generosity.  That’s where Biff comes in.  Biff is not susceptible to such personality traits and helps Joshua navigate his way through the mores of the culture.  However, when the beautiful Mary the Magdalene (Maggie) marries Jaken the jerk, Joshua and Biff leave on a journey to find the three magi present at Joshua’s birth.

Evaluation:

Moore’s blend of wit and historical content make this the over-the-top read that will thrill those that question the legitimacy of the Bible stories as well as those that live by the New Testament.   Taking such a revered subject as Jesus Christ and creating a life story for him is nothing short of crazy.  Even Moore states that he was ready to move in with Solomon Rushdie when the book hit the stands.  But the opposite happened and Moore was instead asked to speak on the topic at various seminary schools.  Biff is the perfect id to Josh’s ego with Maggie playing the unwitting role of the femme-fatale.  And if you don’t laugh at Josh’s attempt at honing his trade as the Messiah, then you may not be prepared to enjoy the rest of the book.

Genre/Subgenre:

Sattire

Awards:

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults – 2003

Readalikes:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Unholy Night  by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Did you learn something from this book that surprised you?

2. Would Joshua have made it to maturity without Biff?  Do you think Jesus had any human – not divine – help in becoming who he was?

3.  As an “equal opportunity offender” what do you think Moore’s purpose was in writing this book?  Were you offended?

4. Biff asks, “Are all women better and stronger than me?” to which Joshua answers “Yes”.  Do you think Moore believes this? Do you think Christianity teaches this?  How are women viewed in various world religions?

Reasons for selection:

A friend of mine, with similar tastes, suggested this book to me.  I do enjoy satire and found Moore’s interpretations laugh-out-loud funny.  I thought that this might be offensive to the truly religious but in further research, it seems that many seminary schools use this book in their classrooms.  I mean, why not?  No one else has documented the history of Jesus’ teenage years so why not leave it someone who is known for holding nothing sacred :).

The Art of Racing in the Rain

4W, 4H

Stein, Garth, (c. 2008). The Art of Racing in the Rain.  Harper Audio. 6 CD’s (7 hours) , $34.95.  Read by Christopher Evan Welch.

ISBN:  978-0-06-156540-3

Reviews
Powell’s Books, Book Reporter

Annotation:

Narrated by the family dog, Enzo looks back on his life with Denny, the aspiring race car driver and the lengths to which Enzo goes to protect their family.

Summary:  

Enzo has the soul of a human but is stuck with the paws of a dog.  He would much rather have the ever-so-useful opposable thumbs so that he could be more helpful to his family.  On the eve of his death, Enzo reflects back on the life that he has led with Denny; from the day Denny chose him from the large litter and brought him back to the apartment in Seattle to the the past few days leading up to this moment.  It has been an exciting life with Denny’s race car driving career, his beautiful wife and their wonderful child.  But when tragedy hits, Enzo knows that it is up to him to keep the family together and ultimately protect Denny from those that want to do him wrong.

Evaluation:

Stein skillfully brings to life each character with insights that only a dog could have.  It is a beautifully written story about family, devotion and the willpower needed to do the right thing.  And although the subject can be difficult and frustrating, Welch’s voice is perfect for personifying Enzo who is restricted by doing more because of his inability to speak and grab things.  Humorous, insightful, tragic and restorative, this book is a wonderful read/listen showing  the magical relationship between a man and his dog while life races along as ever-increasing speeds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults – 2008

Readalikes:

 Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Book Discussion Questions:

What is “the art of racing in the rain”?

Using a dog as the narrator puts a unique spin on the story?  What would have been some of the major changes if the narrator had been a human?  And which human would have had the most unique perspective?

“No race has ever been won on the first corner; many races have been lost there.”  How does this observation carry through the story?

Did you learn more about race car driving from this book?  Do you agree with the parallels set forth between racing and living?

Do you look at your dog (or other dogs) differently after reading the book?

What exactly does the Zebra represent?

Reasons for selection:

At Sacramento Public Library, most librarians have “What I’m reading now” as part of their email signature.  This book came up on a message from one of the Branch Supervisors and as a dog lover, I was immediately intrigued.  She explained that they had just read it for their monthly Book Club and all members unanimously loved it.  With that, I picked it up.

The Quilt

   3W, 3H

Bunn, T. Davis, (c. 1993). The Quilt.  Bethany House. 125 pages , $12.99.

ISBN:  1556613458

Reviews
Blogger Review, Bookloons

Annotation:

Mary’s arthritis grew worse yet she needed to make one last quilt.  With guidance and prayer, the quilt helps the town rediscover life’s true gifts.

Summary:  

Mary is like everyone’s grandmother, a sweet, elderly woman who was known not just for her kindness but also for her amazing quilts.  One day, while twisting her arthritic hands, she tells her son that she needs to make one last quilt.  Although the task is physically impossible for Mary, she is determined to make it happen.  With assistance from her daughter in laws, friends and fellow church go-ers, Mary instructs them on how to make the quilt emphasizing the importance of saying a prayer of thanks with every stitch made.  Soon all the women in the town are pitching in to make Mary’s quilt.  They are drawn to the serene and spiritual atmosphere surrounding the project.

All involved in the creation of Mary’s quilt, walk away from the project knowing more about their lives and the importance of His divine guidance.  With this increased understanding of God’s presence the quilt takes on new meaning and brings light to the those surrounded by Mary’s kindness.

Evaluation:

This is a quick read with writing that is leisurely and reflective.  For those who enjoy Christian Fiction, this book could bring comfort and reassurance to those that may have forgotten the power of prayer.  With pleasant characters and little if any angst, this story is peaceful and may be just the thing for someone who wants to be reminded of how important faith is in everyday life.

Genre/Subgenre:

Christian Fiction

Readalikes:

Katy’s Way by Marta Perry

Homecoming at Hickory Ridge by Dana Corbit

One Shenandoah Winter by T. Davis Bunn

Book Discussion Questions:

How does Mary draw people into the project?

What does the quilt represent?

What impact does this project have on the community?

The author never states a time or place for the story.  When do you think it takes place and where?

Do you think something like this could happen in today’s world?

Reasons for selection:

I am unfamiliar with Christian Fiction so found the selection by searching the genre in NoveList.  T. Davis Bunn has written many novels in this genre so I am pleased to have read one of them.  It was a short and pleasant read which should satisfy my initial knowledge of this subject.