The Giant’s House: a romance

  3W, 3H

McCracken, Elizabeth, (c. 1996).  The Giant’s House.  Dial Press. 259 pages , $19.95.

ISBN: 9780385314336

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, NY Times

Annotation:

Unattached twenty-six year old Peggy Cort,  the town librarian, is inexplicably drawn to the 6’ 2” 11-year old boy who befriends her.

Summary:  

Peggy Cort is 26 years old and unattached, the librarian in a small Cape Cod town.  She is drawn to 11 year old, James who even at this young age is notably different from everyone else at 6′ 2″.  She finds herself thinking about this young boy who comes into her library every day and eventually becomes a part of his life by getting to know his family and spending time with them.  Peggy seems to be the only one who truly understands the physical difficulties that James faces and works with his family to create a living space that will accommodate his eventual 8 foot height.  Always loved and supported by his community, James is approached by the local shoe store to help market their products into a side effect of his size creates problems.  When he accepts the offer from the Circus, Peggy accompanies him to New York where he is given a boost of confidence that unfortunately comes too late.  The doctors had always told James that he would not live a long life but it isn’t until his final days that realizes what love really means.

Evaluation:

This is a different kind of love-story that seems so unrealistic at first glance but becomes plausible as the story unfolds and the characters take shape.  Peggy is herself an outsider who does not easily conform to the community in a “normal” way.   Her attraction to someone that physically stands out seems a natural fit since James, although a child is the more balanced of the two.  McCracken successfully creates an environment where something as shocking as a 26 year old woman and an 11 year old boy almost seems normal. She downplays the age by having Peggy openly ponder her intentions and then dismissing them for her concern for James’ well-being.  A unique and interesting take on a romantic journey that is surprisingly satisfying.

Author’s Website:

Elizabeth McCraken

Genre/Subgenre:

Romance

Awards:

New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Salon Book Award Finalist for the National Book Award

Readalikes:

Up Island by Ann Rivers Siddons.

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Why do think “a romance” is included in the title?  Is this a romance?

2. How did this book make you feel?  Is the relationship plausible?

3. How does McCracken justify Peggy’s choices?

4. Discuss the impact of James’ father throughout the story.

Reasons for selection:

I was stuck in a “mystery” mode and had stumbled across this title in search of a “different kind” or romance.  And yes, I was intrigued by the cover.  After picking it up, I couldn’t put it down so intrigued by the characters and the predicaments that were addressed.  Although far from being a traditional love story I found it very satisfying and thought provoking.

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.

Cold Hearted

Book Jacket  3W, 3H – Audio

Barton, Beverly, (c. 2008). Cold Hearted.  Read by Lisa York.  Phoenix Audio. 10 discs (11 hrs, 30 mins) , $35.95.

ISBN:  978-1-5977-7212-9

Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, The Book Bag

Annotation:

Everyone loves Jordan Price.  Including Rick, the investigator hired to find her husband’s killer.  But while he’s protecting Jordan, could he be her next victim?

Summary:  

When Rick is hired to investigate the State Senator’s death, he is drawn to his widow, Jordan Price, who does not seem as affected by the death as he would have thought.  As a matter of fact, upon further investigation, several men in her life have unexpectedly met their end by accident or suicide.  A coincidence?  Rick isn’t willing to bet on it.  But as he gets to know Jordan better, it is harder to see her as a Black Widow, especially as he starts falling in love with her.  Is loving Jordan worth the risk?  Could Rick be the next victim?

Evaluation:

I listened to this selection and looked forward to every time I had to jump in my car.  I’m the reader that was guessing all the way to the end.  I realized I was gracefully led into every theory Barton laid out  only to be thwarted about the same time Rick figured it out.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves some romance with their mystery.  Lisa York, the reader, deftly handled both male and female characters using her southern accent aptly to distinguish between the players.  I could easily follow who was talking.  No fault of York’s and probably part of the appeal of the suspense tactic, it usually took me a few lines to figure out when the story switched to the viewpoint of the killer.  But I think that was intended since there were so many suspects.

Genre/Subgenre:

Romance/Suspense

Readalikes:

Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockman.

Deadline by Sandra Brown

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you like Jordan Price?  Has she created the world around her and if so, how?

2.  If this were made into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

3.  Of all Jordan’s family members, which one has the most redeeming qualities?

4.  When did you figure out who the killer is?  What gave them away?

Reasons for selection:

I used to read romance all the time and now I’m more into a mystery mode.  Romantic Suspense is the perfect combination for a fun read.  I had read Barton a few years back and remember the plot and characters being thoroughly entertaining.  This selection did not disappoint.  I look forward to listening to more from this author.

Dream Boy

Book Jacket 3W, 3H  (audio)

Grimsley, Jim, (c. 1995).  Dream Boy.  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 195 pages, $15.49

ISBN  9780684829920

Reviews:
NPR – You must read this, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

A tale of first love between two teenage boys in the rural south encompassing the pain, confusion and joy of a budding, yet forbidden romance.

Summary:  

Nathan, an intelligent sophomore, begins his school year in a new town at a new school.  This is nothing new for him since his family moves around the rural south a lot.  This time they get to live in the country next to a family whose son, Roy, is two years older than Nathan, plays baseball and drives the school bus.  Roy and Nathan discover that their attraction for each other is both beautiful and exciting yet they know they must keep it a secret.

Through the overhanging cloud of Nathan’s abusive father and Roy’s misunderstandings and denial, Grimsley captures the awe of first love and the natural relationship that grows from those feelings.  Yet society doesn’t see things so clearly and  both Nathan and Roy must figure out if they can hold on to each other.

Evaluation:

Grimsley writes beautifully and pulls the reader into the story immediately.  The tone of the work is lyrical and skillfully portrays the intimate thoughts and actions of a sensitive boy that has to deal with a lot of ugliness in his world.  Roy’s character clearly exemplifies the typical high school boy who fears the feelings that come so naturally to him when he meets Nathan.  The story has two definite settings with pacing to match.  The first 100 pages exemplifies the title and seems almost dream-like in its telling.  The second half of the novel, which takes place during a camping trip, becomes taught with tension, mystery and violence leaving the reader a bit befuddled by the ending.

Genre/Subgenre:

GLBTQ/Romance

Awards:

Stonewall Book Awards:  Barbara Gittings Literature Award

Readalikes:

 A House Is Not A Home by James Earl Hardy Mark by Lonnie Coleman.

Book Discussion Questions:

How does the title capture the tone of the story?

Do you think the characters are believable in their actions and reactions?

There’s a definite split in the narrative.  Was this essential for the story’s outcome?

Reasons for selection:

I am new to the GLBTQ genre so need to catch up to understand what is good and not-so-good in these stories and the issues that appeal to the genre’s fans.  Grimsley’s novel struck me as a good place to start.  It is beautifully written and deals with two social situations that are polar opposites of each other but that many tend to be view in the same light; a tragic display of society’s fear of differences.

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.

The Good Lord Bird

GLB  4W, 4H  —  Audio Book

McBride, James. (p.2014, c.2013). The Good Lord Bird. Penguin Audio. 12 audio discs (14 hr., 36 min.). $59.99.  Read by Michael Boatman.

ISBN #: 9781624067105

Reviews:    New York Times Book Review    NPR article

Annotation:  

This fictional memoir tells the adventures of a slave boy, mistaken for a girl, who runs with Abolitionist John Brown, from Kansas to Harper’s Ferry.

Summary:  

Henry Shackleford narrates the tale of his days in 1857 Kansas Territory when he was kidnapped by the notorious Abolitionist John Brown, mistaken for a girl and unintentionally became John Brown’s good luck charm nicknamed Little Onion.  Realizing that he had better chances of survival maintaining his identity as a girl, Little Onion’s adventures with John Brown’s army spans 2 years, taking him from Kansas to Missouri to Canada and ultimately to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.  And although the horror of slavery is apparent, McBride relates it through the eyes of an older Henry Shackleford who was caught up in the adventure while growing up midst all the chaos and uncertainty that plagued the country at that time.

Evaluation:

Michael Boatman skillfully brings to life the characters that James McBride created to tell the story of John Brown’s notorious army and bloody drive to eradicate freedom for the slaves.  Humor and a wide-eyed,  naive outlook, as only a 12 year old slave boy could have, bring this story to life and captures the brutality, turmoil and confusion in these pre-Civil War days.  Reminiscent of Mark Twain, McBride’s writing allows Boatman to use the diction and vocabulary of the 1850’s to effectively represent each character.  John Brown’s affinity for prayer and quoting the bible are well represented in this presentation leaving the listener with a clear picture of the Abolitionist and the mission on which he believed God had sent him.  Little Onion’s forays into saloon life, gathering up an army, avoiding romantic interludes and learning about life as a girl through a boy’s eyes keeps the reader engaged and eager for more.  A definite addition to any collection.

Genre/Subgenre:

Historical Fiction/Western

Readalikes:

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, Flash for Freedom by George MacDonald Fraser

Awards/Lists:

National Book Award for Fiction – 2013

New York Times Bestseller List

A Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Oprah Magazine Top 10 Book of the Year

Book Discussion Questions:

What is your favorite “Onionism” when he/she describes John Brown?

How did you react to the language/colloquialism of the book?  Was it difficult to follow, believable, kept you entertained?

How does the Prologue set the tone for the book?

Why do you think James McBride chose this title for the story?

Reasons for selection:

This was part of Nancy Pearl’s 2013 “Books That Make Great Gifts” ALA presentation.  She described it as being a western, a genre I hadn’t picked up in a while.  I was intrigued with the idea of learning more about John Brown and I’m so glad that I chose it.