Monday, June 6, 2016

Big Reads: The Mother-Daughter Book Club

For Christmas this year, I gifted to my mother something we could do together - a mother daughter book club.  We're six months in (well, almost - we haven't started reading our June pick yet), and so far, it's been super fun!  We take turns choosing the books, and we try to go out somewhere just the two of us to discuss.  Since I gifted it to her, I made the January pick so that I would have something to actually give her instead of just saying, "Hey... Let's start reading together... Merry Christmas."

We started with This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison.

With Bernard, her husband of fifty-five years, now in the grave, seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance impulsively sets sail alone on an Alaskan cruise that her late husband had planned. But what Harriet hoped would be a voyage leading to a new lease on life becomes a wildly surprising and revelatory journey into her past.  
Jonathan Evison has crafted a bighearted novel with an endearing heroine at the helm. Part dysfunctional love story, part poignant exploration of mother-daughter relationships, nothing is what it seems in this bittersweet tale, told with humor and humanity.
This book was quirky and sad and had a very bittersweet ending.  The narrative bounces back and forth between Harriet Chance's present day life and her past.  As the story progresses in the present, following the death of her husband, her life starts to fall apart; as it progresses through her past, you find out why her life is the way it is.  Things just seem to get worse and worse and worse until she finally reconnects with her daughter.  I really enjoyed this book; my mom did not.

In February, we read The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?
I LOVED this book.  The "shocking, public humiliation" is laid out pretty early in the book, and it was so shocking and humiliating that I DID NOT see the big twist coming - her big secret.  The reason she was returning to her hometown.  The reason for the documentary.  The reason she's so messed up.  It seriously shocked the mess out of me.  This book is often compared to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl.  I didn't enjoy either of those book, but I loved this one.

In March, I chose The Dinner by Herman Koch.

An internationally bestselling phenomenon: the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal.

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
I saw this book from one of the #bookstagrammers I follow on Instagram (find me @bigreadslittlereads).  This book was dark, twisty, and everything you thought at the beginning of the book was completely different at the end.  This was another with a twist I did not see coming and I really enjoyed the narrative - slowly spelling out the "night in question" over a very uncomfortable dinner between two couples.  It was also a little bit slow at the beginning, but once it picked up, I couldn't put it down. (Ha! - see what I did there?)

In April, my mom was having a hard time finding a book for us to read, so I sent her a few of the books I has just picked up from the library to choose from.  She chose The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman, and immediately regretted that decision (Ha!)

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
This novel was tragic from the JUMP.  And I LOVED it.  There are really only two words you can use to describe this novel - beautiful and sad.  My mom doesn't like to read sad books, but I do; I LOVE sad books.  So needless to day, I loved this book and she hated it.  There aren't many books that can elicit a visceral emotional reaction from me; in fact I think I can't count the number of books that have made me cry on one hand - and distinctly remember the first time that happened - but this novel definitely did that to me.  This was another that once the story got moving, I couldn't stop reading.

In May, we went much lighter because my mom said she was tired of reading all these depressing books, so I chose The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King.

In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes's past. Full of brilliant deduction, disguises, and danger, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first book of the Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is "remarkably beguiling" 
This shorter novel was delightful!  It kept us on our toes throughout the story and makes you fall in love with the characters.  I really enjoyed how all of the old players were weaved into this story - Watson, Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, and even Lestrade (his son at least.)  It was all lighthearted and fun though - the story got a little dark and tense, and I just loved when they were in Palestine.  After we finished it, we found out that it's the first in a pretty large series.  We debated continuing with the series, but decided to keep trying new books for our club.

So in June, we'll read Still Life by Louise Penny.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter. 

Still Life introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces--and this series--with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.
This novel has appeared several times on my favorite podcast - What Should I Read Next?  Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy frequently blows up my TBR list, and this seems to be a favorite.

Congratulations if you made it to the end of this hella long post.  That's the first 6 months of my Mother-Daughter Book Club.  What about you? Are you a member of a book club?  Is it virtual, like read-alongs on instagram or #oursharedshelf on Goodreads? Is it in person?  I would love to be part of a larger book club, maybe with 10-12 people. Would you like to be?  Let me know!