The Expats

Book Jacket  4W, 4H  Audio

Pavone, Chris., (c. 2012).  The Expats.  Read by Mozhan Marno.  Books on Tape. 10 discs (12 hrs, 24 mins), $32.95.

ISBN: 9780307990310

Reviews

NY Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Ex CIA agent Kate Moore becomes the picture perfect ex-pat in Luxembourg until a new couple activates her well-honed instincts and she knows their survival is at risk.

Summary:  

Kate Moore is a typical expat mom with two kids supporting her husband in his new job in Luxembourg.  She left her job, her life in Washington D.C. knowing that it was a good move for her family, hoping that her past would finally be behind her.  But she can’t ignore her CIA training when questionable behavior starts coming to her notice.  Who is this couple that has suddenly popped into their lives and what exactly does her husband do and why has he become so evasive?  Soon Kate is traveling around the European continent hoping to find answers through her CIA contacts.  Is she over reacting or is she protecting her family?  This taught tale of intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat, uncertain as to anyone’s intentions.

Evaluation:

Although the audio book was entertaining, this type of story in audio format can get confusing with all the characters coming in and out of the scenes along with the clandestine behavior that may be easier to follow in print.  Regardless, Pavone has created a wonderful heroine who is more chameleon than mom when it comes down to survival.  The plot is full of twists and turns reminding me of vintage Robert Ludlum.  Taking the reader on a tour of modern Europe, this is a great read for anyone who loves international intrigue along with a heroine who does not just sit by and let the world determine her place in it.  She is definitely a take-action kind of girl.

Author’s Website:

Chris Pavone

Genre/Subgenre:

Fiction/International espionage

Awards:

New York Times Bestseller

Edgar Award Winner

Anthony Award Winner

Readalikes:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Kate’s character is constantly evolving.  Which role seems to fit her best or does she successfully incorporate them all?

2. Kate had led a double life and now is faced with the fact that her husband might be too. Is she setting a double standard or just responding to her well-honed skills?

3. Dexter sites human gullibility as a weakness yet he becomes ultimately gullible.  What makes him gullible?  Is he ultimately blameless?

4. What does this novel say about trust?  What does this novel say about marriage?

Reasons for selection:

I wanted to read something with international intrigue so I found this while on NoveList as a read-a-like for Steig Larsson’s “Dragon Series” and thought I would give it a try.  I’m glad I did.  Pavone definitely packs a punch and has the talent to intertwine multiple plots and characters for a very satisfying read.

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Eleven Days

Book Jacket   4W, 3H

Carpenter, Lee, (c. 2013). Eleven Days.  Alfred A. Knopf. 288 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  9780307960702

Reviews:

The NY Times, Kirkus Review

Annotation:

Learning that her Navy Seal son has gone missing, Sara tries to obtain information through former contacts while reliving the choices they made leading up to this situation.

Summary:  

After losing her husband on an overseas mission, single-mother Sara is devastated when she hears that her only son has gone missing from his Navy Seals’ unit while involved in a covert mission.  The story takes place over the eleven days of waiting that Sara endures.  Her story and that of her son, Jason, unfolds in a sparse, clear text told through Sara’s memories and Jason’s letters home.  The letters show his rise into leadership and the decisions made allowing him to join such an elite military unit.  With great emotion and succinct prose, Carpenter successfully takes the reader through an intricate narrative that depicts yet another side-effect of war.

Evaluation:

Eleven Days is an intense debut novel that realistically shows the stress of having a son at war, not knowing what he is doing, where he is or if he is even still alive.  Told from both Sara’s and Jason’s perspectives, the story deals with far more than grief; it shows the development of a warrior, the ramifications of an absent parent and the overwhelming influence of a war-torn world.  In its sparse and intense prose, Carpenter pulls the reader further into the story by not only fully developing the key players but also having support characters that are rich and interesting and successfully play into the emotion.  This novel is not full of defiance or anti-war rhetoric but it does not need to be for the realism of the full impact of war to be clearly seen.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction/Psychological

Readalikes:

The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt.

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

Awards/Lists:

NPR Great Read of 2013

Book Discussion Questions:

1. A mother’s grief when her son goes to war is a common theme.  What makes this debut novel different?

2. “A myth is a fiction that matters.” (p. 241)  How do myth’s play into the story?

3. How are Sara and Jason affected by David’s absence?  Separately and together?

4. In the Kill House, Jason makes the decision to go back for the baby.  What are the literal and symbolic consequences of that decision?

Reasons for selection:

This is another selection from Nancy Pearl’s “Books That Make Great Gifts” list presented in December 2013.  I have yet to be disappointed with any selection.  Plus, I always like picking up a recommended debut novel in hopes that I will enjoy it and it will be the first of many.  I also chose it because I am a fan of stories about the elite military forces.  I am intrigued by the discipline needed to be part of one of these teams.  I was first introduced to the Navy Seals in Suzanne Brockman’s romance series about Team 16.  Eleven Days is not the same kind of read as Brockman but I was prepared for that and was captivated by the story.

Snapper

  4W, 3H

Kimberling, Brian, (c. 2013). Snapper.  Pantheon Books. 210 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  978-0-307-90805-6

Reviews
NPR, The Boston Globe

Annotation:

Nathan stumbles in and out of his memories as he studies the songbirds of southern Indiana telling the tale of his journey from adolescence to adulthood.

Summary:  

Nathan Lochmuller discovers that he has a gift for tracking songbirds and spends his post-graduate years in southern Indiana as a research assistant doing just that.  The pay is poor but he loves the “office”.  Told in a series of short stories, Nathan exposes his unrequited love for the evasive, yet alluring Lola and shares experiences from his youth that have helped to shape him into the man he is learning to become.  A lyrical and absorbing tale, the past and present fit neatly together as Nathan introduces the characters that have become his world.

Evaluation:

This is the story of a young man’s coming of age, told from the perspective of an older man reminiscing about his days as a birdwatcher in the woods of southern Indiana.  The summary does not do justice to the pull of this novel that takes you from the misadventures of bored teenagers to the random letter writing at the truck stop outside the town of Santa Claus.  Kimberling’s debut novel is beautifully written with engaging characters.   This is one that definitely lingers after reading it knowing that it’s not about getting what you want but about wanting what you get.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice – Best Fiction Books-2013

Readalikes:

An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender.

Lightning by Jean Echenoz

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Animals play an important part in this story, especially birds.  How do you think the animals help define the different characters and situations?  How does Kimberling use them to make the characters more three dimensional?

2.  “I got my job by accident” is the opening line for the novel.  How does this set the tone for the entire book and help initially define the main character, Nathan?

3.  Nathan’s relationships come and go over time.  How would you characterize them?  How do his relationships evolve as the story unfolds?

4.  Would you consider Snapper a series of short stories or a novel?  How do you define a story?  Can you write , as Ernest Hemingway did, a story in just six words?

5.  Why did he call the novel, “Snapper”?

Reasons for selection:

This book is part of Nancy Pearl’s 2013 “Books that make great gifts” list.  Admittedly I was far more intrigued by the cover than I was by the summary and picked it up from the shelf because I had recognized it.  Like many on this list, I’m glad I did.  I enjoyed Kimberling’s take on life in Indiana and his lyrical writing depicting the beauty of the country.

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!

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 Age of Miracles

  4W, 4H

Walker, Karen Thompson, (c. 2012). The Age of Miracles.  Random House.  288 pages , $24.99.

ISBN:  9780812992977

Reviews:

New York Times,  The Washington Post

Annotation:

As the earth’s rotation slows, nothing is as it used to be.   Julia is turning 12, coping with a new world and her new self.

Summary:  

Julia lives in San Diego, California and is on the brink of becoming a teenager when something out of the ordinary starts taking place.  The earth’s rotation has started to slow down significantly.  The scientists are at a loss as to its cause and can not predict if or when the slowing will stop.  So like everyone else, they watch their days and nights get longer affecting every aspect of the human.  But Julia’s world continues to be that of an average pre-teen where she is surrounded by uncertainty with friends, family, popularity and boys.  Her environment which is changing around her just adds to the weirdness of it all.

This beautifully written coming-of-age story will capture your imagination and leave you wondering about an existence with bright nights and dark days and living life with the overriding knowledge that the future is not a guarantee.

Evaluation:

Walker defines the pre-teen part of our lives as “The Age of Miracles” and her story is a celebration of the human instinct to focus on self at this time of change even in a world that is slowly coming to an end.  The story will capture your interest from the first page and keep you hooked the entire time.  A beautifully written tale of relationships, uncertainty and inevitability as the characters cope with an ever-changing landscape while trying to keep their lives as normal as possible.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction/Science Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice: Adult Fiction for Young Adults 2012

School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens 2012

Readalikes:

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters.   Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.

Book Discussion Questions:

Why are “real-timers” seen as a threat?

What makes this story and premise believable/not-believable to you?

What is the rest of Seth’s story?

Reasons for selection:

This is a selection for our class book discussion groups.  I found the novel to be very thought provoking and believable as to what would take place if our world did start slowing down.

The Reader

  4W, 3H

Schlink, Bernhard. (p.1995). The Reader. New York; Vintage Books. 218 pages. $13.95 pbk.

ISBN #: 978-0-307-45489-8

Reviews:

New York Times, Bestsellers

Annotation:  

Young Michael Berg has a passionate affair with Hanna, an older woman, only realizing her true past when she is charged with a heinous crime.

Summary:  

Fifteen year old Michael Berg meets Hanna, a woman twice his age, when he gets sick outside her tenement building on his way home from school.  When he returns months later to thank her for her kindness, a love affair begins.  For reasons known only to Hanna, she disappears.  Michael does not cross paths with her again until ten years later when she is in court on charges of war crimes committed as an SS Officer.

Part I of the story is a sexual feast as experienced by a 15 year old young man who has captured the interest of an older woman.  The guilt and confusion that inevitably build from the relationship affects Michael throughout the novel.  Part II, ten years later, takes the story through the trial where Michael is faced with the truth of Hannah.  Part III allows for the adult Michael to dissect his experiences and attempt to find meaning and justification not just for his actions but also for the actions of those Germans who are still dealing with the horrors of the previous generation.

Evaluation:

Narrated in the first person, The Reader is a complex, beautifully written story that explores German society post World War II through the eyes of a young man.  Michael’s character is simultaneously questioning and accepting of the events surrounding him ultimately shaped by his affair with Hanna, a woman he really never knew.  Although some may find the subject and situations objectionable (i.e. the affair of a fifteen year old boy with a 35 year old woman), the characters portrayed are dealing with issues pertinent to the era that many may not have even considered.   The writing is compelling and almost lyrical.  It enhances the narrator’s inner turmoil as the story unfolds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Adult Fiction

Readalikes:

 Beatrice and Virgil by Yan Martel

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

 Awards/Lists:

New York Times Notable Books-Fiction and Poetry – 1997

Oprah’s Book Club – 1999

Book Discussion Questions

Do you think The Reader is a love story? How would you describe Michael and Hanna’s relationship?

“So what would you have done?” (p. 111)  How would you respond to this question posed by Hanna to the judge?

Do you think their is a connection between literacy and morality? Do you think Schlink is suggesting such a connection?

Reasons for selection:

The Reader is a well-known novel later made into a movie starring Kate Winslet.  When I told a librarian about my RA project and need for a variety of literature, she recommended this book to me.  I’m glad she did.  It was not something I would have normally picked up but I was drawn into the story from the start.