Tuesday, July 18, 2017

August 2017: The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Susan's first book pick for us in August 2017 is "The Nest" by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.

A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.
Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs' joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

An Amazon Best Book of March 2016: The Nest is a debut novel about a dysfunctional New York family. That’s a pretty common subject for a novel and not very interesting in itself. But there’s magic that happens when you pick up a book, start reading and realize that what the author has chosen to write about—the places, the characters, the dialogue, the set pieces—they’re all just right. That’s how I felt reading this book. The Nest is not populated with characters who are entirely lovable, but I felt each was uniquely human and identifiable, and I especially wanted to know where life would take the four 40-something Plumb family siblings (particularly that rapscallion Leo). Some will take issue with the Plumbs and their upper middle class problems. Some will detest Leo and his family and find harsher descriptions than “rapscallion.” But for my money, The Nest is a great read. This book will be among my favorites of 2016, as I suspect it will be for many readers. --Chris Schluep

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is the New York Times bestselling author of The Nest, which has been translated into more than 25 languages and optioned for film by Amazon Studios with Sweeney writing the adaptation. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ready Player One book discussion questions

From LitLovers.com

Discussion Questions
1. The OASIS becomes a part of daily life for users around the globe. What virtual realms (Google, Facebook, iCloud) do you depend on? What is at stake in the war against IOI, the internet service provider that wants to overturn Halliday’s affordable, open-source approach? Is it dangerous to mix profit and dependence on technology?

2. Explore the question of identity raised in the novel. What do the characters’ avatars tell us about their desires and their insecurities? In reality, does our physical appearance give false clues about who we really are? How does Parzival, transformed into a celebrity gunter, become Wade’s true self?

3. With a narrator who vividly captures the human experience, Ready Player One delivers a world that is easy for us to imagine. In the novel, what was at the root of the grim downturn for Earth’s inhabitants? Could your community start looking like the stacks by the year 2044?

4. How does love affect Wade’s rational mind? Would you have given Art3mis the tip about playing on the left side to defeat the lich (page 99, chapter ten)? Did you predict that she would turn out to be a friend or a foe?

5. How does public school in the OASIS compare to your experience in school? Has author Ernest Cline created a solution to classroom overcrowding, student apathy, and school violence?

6. In his Columbus bunker, Wade puts on so many pounds that he can no longer fit comfortably in his haptic chair. How would you fare in his weight-loss program, described in chapter nineteen, featuring a simulation gym, coaching from Max, and a lockout system that restricts his diet and forces him to exercise?

7. Wade’s OASIS pass phrase is revealed on page 199, at the end of chapter nineteen: “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.” What does this philosophy mean to him at that point in his life?

8. How is the novel shaped by the 1980s backdrop, featuring John Hughes films, suburban shows like Family Ties, a techno-beat soundtrack, and of course, a slew of early video games? Did Halliday grow up in a utopia?

9. Discuss Bryce Lynch’s financial situation, rigged so that Wade could infiltrate IOI. When does Wade become willing to “die trying”? How did you react to the image of debtors being forced into indentured servitude?

10. Wade doesn’t depend on religion to make moral decisions or overcome life-threatening challenges. What does the novel say about humanity’s relationship to religion? What sort of god is Halliday, creator of the OASIS universe?

11. Despite their introverted nature, the book’s characters thrive on friendship. Discuss the level of trust enjoyed by Halliday and Og, and among Wade, Aech, Art3mis, Daito, and Shoto. How is true power achieved in Ready Player One?

12. In the closing scenes, Halliday’s reward proves to be greater than mere wealth. What is Halliday’s ultimate prize? How did the rules of Halliday’s game help him determine the type of player who would likely win?

13. In his quest for the three keys, Wade is required to inhabit many imaginary worlds, including movies, video games, and a simulation of Halliday’s childhood home. Which of these virtual realities appealed to you the most? What sort of virtual reality is provided by a novel?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

September 2017: Ready Player One

Kevira's first book choice for us is "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline.

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

   But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.


ERNEST CLINE has worked as a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk, and tech support drone. His primary occupation, however, has always been geeking out, and he eventually threw aside those other promising career paths to express his love of pop culture fulltime as a spoken word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film" Fanboys," much to his surprise, became a cult phenomenon. These days Ernie lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, their daughter, and a large collection of classic video games. READY PLAYER ONEis his first novel." 

July 2017: Strangers Drowning

Liz's pick for July 2017 is "Strangers Drowning: Impossible idealism, drastic choices,  and the urge to help" by Larissa MacFarquhar. It was released in September 2016.


What does it mean to devote yourself wholly to helping others? In Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar seeks out people living lives of extreme ethical commitment and tells their deeply intimate stories; their stubborn integrity and their compromises; their bravery and their recklessness; their joys and defeats and wrenching dilemmas.

A couple adopts two children in distress. But then they think: If they can change two lives, why not four? Or ten? They adopt twenty. But how do they weigh the needs of unknown children in distress against the needs of the children they already have?

Another couple founds a leprosy colony in the wilderness in India, living in huts with no walls, knowing that their two small children may contract leprosy or be eaten by panthers. The children survive. But what if they hadn’t? How would their parents’ risk have been judged?

A woman believes that if she spends money on herself, rather than donate it to buy life-saving medicine, then she’s responsible for the deaths that result. She lives on a fraction of her income, but wonders: when is compromise self-indulgence and when is it essential?

We honor such generosity and high ideals; but when we call people do-gooders there is skepticism in it, even hostility. Why do moral people make us uneasy? Between her stories, MacFarquhar threads a lively history of the literature, philosophy, social science, and self-help that have contributed to a deep suspicion of do-gooders in Western culture.

Through its sympathetic and beautifully vivid storytelling, Strangers Drowning confronts us with fundamental questions about what it means to be human. In a world of strangers drowning in need, how much should we help, and how much can we help? Is it right to care for strangers even at the expense of those we are closest to? Moving and provocative, Strangers Drowning challenges us to think about what we value most, and why.
Larissa MacFarquhar is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. Her profile subjects have included Barack Obama, the novelist Hilary Mantel, the poet John Ashbery, the philosopher Derek Parfit, and the internet icon Aaron Swartz, among many others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. In the spring of 2016 she will be teaching in the creative writing department at Stanford University.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

June 2017: The Letter by Katherine Hughes

Julie has selected "The Letter" by Katherine Hughes as our June 2017 book! The Kindle version is currently only $1.99 on Amazon.

Tina Craig longs to escape her violent husband. She works all the hours God sends to save up enough money to leave him, also volunteering in a charity shop to avoid her unhappy home. Whilst going through the pockets of a second-hand suit, she comes across an old letter, the envelope firmly sealed and unfranked. Tina opens the letter and reads it - a decision that will alter the course of her life for ever...

Billy Stirling knows he has been a fool, but hopes he can put things right. On 4th September 1939 he sits down to write the letter he hopes will change his future. It does - in more ways than he can ever imagine...

The Letter tells the story of two women, born decades apart, whose paths are destined to cross and how one woman's devastation leads to the other's salvation.

Kathryn Hughes was born in Altrincham, near Manchester. After completing a secretarial course, Kathryn met her husband and they married in Canada. For twenty-nine years they ran a business together, raised two children and travelled when they could to places such as India, Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand. Kathryn and her family now make their home in a village near Manchester. The Letter is Kathryn's first novel, and she is busy working on her second, The Secret.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Discussion questions for 'A Monster Calls'

Discussion questions for our May 2017 book.

1.  “You’re a good boy,” Conor’s mother tells him. “I
wish you didn’t have to be quite so good” (page 17). What does she mean by that? Why does Conor have to be so good?

2.  How does the monster describe itself to Conor?
Where does the monster come from? What does
it want? Do you think that the monster is real, or
is it a product of Conor’s imagination? What does
Conor think?

3.  Lily was once Conor’s closest friend, but now he
can’t forgive her. Why? Is he right to feel betrayed?
How do most people behave around Conor once
they learn about his mother’s illness? What would
you have done in Lily’s situation?

4.  “Stories are wild creatures,” the monster says.
“When you let them loose, who knows what havoc
they might wreak?” (page 51). What does the
monster mean by this? In what ways does the rest of
novel prove the monster’s point?

5.  Discuss the role that humor plays in this novel. 
Where are the best comic moments? Describe the
monster’s sense of humor. Would you enjoy the
monster’s company?

6.  “Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most
of all,” the monster tells Conor (page 62). Is Conor
lying to himself about his mother’s illness? Is his
mother lying to herself? What does each of them
need to believe? Why?

7.  Look closely at the illustrations. How do they
capture the tone of the novel? How do they
express the range of Conor’s emotions?

8.  Who is the hero of the monster’s first tale? Who
is the villain? How does the story keep surprising
Conor? What does Conor hope to learn from the
story? What does he actually learn?

9.  Discuss Conor’s relationship with his father.
What have they shared over the years? Why does
Conor want to live with his father now? Why
does his father say no?

10.  In the monster’s second tale, whose home is
destroyed? Why? What does the story inspire
Conor to do? Why does he enjoy doing it? How
does Conor’s grandmother respond to his actions?

11.  Conor’s monster appears to him in the form of
a giant yew tree. What is the medicinal value of
the tree? How effective is it as a treatment for his
mother’s illness? Why does she want to believe it
will help?

12.  Harry, the school bully, looks straight into
Conor’s eyes and says, “I no longer see you” (page
145). Why is this such a cruel thing to say? How
does Conor make himself impossible to miss?

13.  Describe Conor’s recurring nightmare. How does
it usually end? What changes when the monster
demands the truth? What is more painful to
Conor than the death of his mother? Why does
he need to be honest?

14.  At the very end of the novel, what does Conor say
to his mother? Why must he say it? Why must
she hear it?

15.  The authors’ note explains that Patrick Ness
wrote this novel based on an idea from Siobhan
Dowd. Why was Patrick Ness initially reluctant
to take on the project? What persuaded him to
change his mind? Even though it’s impossible
to know for sure, do you believe Siobhan Dowd
would have liked the finished book? Why or why

From http://www.candlewick.com/book_files/0763655597.bdg.1.pdf