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.

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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.

Chasing Harry Winston

Book Jacket  2W, 3H

Weisberger, Lauren, (c. 2008). Chasing Harry Winston.  Simon and Schuster. 288 pages, $23.99

ISBN  9781410407306

Reviews:
New York TimesEntertainment Weekly

Annotation:

Experiencing different levels of dissatisfaction in their love lives, three college friends decide to make life-altering changes as their 30th birthdays approach.

Summary:  

Three best friends from college make a bet  to spend the next year going against their instincts in an attempt to find true happiness in their lives.  Emmy, Leigh and Adriana, all living in Manhattan, are completely different from each other and in distinctly different circumstances.  Emmy has been dumped by her no-good boyfriend, Leigh is in  a relationship with the “perfect guy” and Adriana is challenged by the concept of monogamy.  With their 30th birthdays approaching they decide that something must be done to turn things around so a pact is made that changes the course of their lives.

As they stumble from Paris to the Hamptons and ultimately to Los Angeles, the three friends work to figure out what makes life worth living,  culminating in the final celebratory dinner to assess their past year.  Filled with romance, broken hearts and an over-the-top, sassy South American, this book will take you away in laughter if not in plot or character development.

Evaluation:

If you are a fan of Sex in the City, then you will enjoy Chasing Harry Winston as a good way to pass the time while on a flight or better yet, by the pool or beach while on your vacation.  Although the character development is relatively shallow and the plot lines predictable, the appeal is in those very features making it a great chick-lit, no-nonsense read.  For those who prefer steamy romance, this is not going to satisfy in that sense.  But, it will definitely appeal to those who enjoy fashion references, posh lifestyles and women characters who ultimately take control of their circumstances while hanging tight to their sense of self.

Genre/Subgenre:

Chick Lit

Readalikes:

Four Blondes by Candace Bushnell.  Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

 Book Discussion Questions:

Which character made the most/least growth in their year?

How were the men portrayed in this chick-lit feature?

How many of you had to Google “Harry Winston” to understand the title?

Reasons for selection:

This was mentioned in our Chick-Lit discussion group as a fun and light read.  Once an avid fan of romance, I certainly see the appeal here and can recommend it to the right people.  Even in my “romance” days, I probably would not have picked this up because, yes, I did have to Google “Harry Winston” because I’m just not that interested in high-fashion and all that it represents.

The Return Journey

  2W, 2H

Binchy, Maeve, (c. 1998). The Return Journey.  Delacourte Press. 214 pages , $18.65.

ISBN:  0385315066

Reviews:
Publishers Weekly  Vulpes Libris blog

Annotation:

In fourteen short stories, relationships unfold around what can or cannot be during different journeys.  The characters are realistically flawed yet always redeemable

Summary:  

This compilation of short stories moves between Ireland, Europe and the United States, introducing characters with different backgrounds, situations and motivations.  All the stories revolve around some aspect of travel where relationships and discoveries can either be built up or destroyed.  There is the young couple, secure in their knowledge that they are in a perfect relationship until they shop for suitcases for an upcoming journey, discovering how different they really are.  One story tells of the dedication of a property manager whose life gets happier as others’ lives spiral into slumps.

Maeve Binchy, known for her heartwarming stories, manages to fold fourteen separate scenarios into one volume.  The characters’ motivations develop quickly moving the each story quickly to its end.  And not all the endings are completely predictable, just as life is never completely predictable.

Evaluation:

This is a quick and light read for those that enjoy short stories and leisurely paced writing.  Although some of the scenarios are dated and admittedly, slightly annoying, Binchy has produced an enjoyable series of stories where women and men must question their motivations and ultimately live with the consequences.

Genre/Sub genre:

Mainstream Fiction/Short stories

Readalikes:

Snow Angels by Fern Michaels. Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver.

Book Discussion Questions:

Which was your favorite story and why?

Besides travel, did you notice any other common themes throughout the stories?

Why do you think the action of taking a journey can be symptomatic of the health of a relationship?

Reasons for selection:

I found this book by just browsing through the stacks at one of the library branches where I was killing time  in between meetings.  I hadn’t read much of Maeve Binchy and I normally do not seek out short stories so I thought I’d give the compilation a try.  I found myself enjoying the vignettes of life portrayed in each scenario and the endings that always left the reader wondering about the character’s next steps.

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.