The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – Book Review

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random Houseox

For as long as he can remember, Will Schwalbe’s mother has been almost a super-human figure. She was Harvard’s first female director of admissions, then later the founding director of International Rescue Committee’s Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Nothing could slow Mary Anne Schwalbe down, except stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Even cancer didn’t slow Will’s mother down as much as it would most people. Still, though, there were those periods of enforced rest, the doctor appointments, the chemotherapy treatments. Will is lucky enough to have the flexibility and proximity to attend many of his mother’s appointments with her. When they are together, the conversation frequently defaults to the same thing it has throughout their lives: books.

The End of Your Life Book Club is as much – or more – about Mary Anne’s life with and death from cancer than about the books that the two read together. It is a chronicle of the last months of her life, a testament to her strength, and Will’s coming to terms with the way his family’s life will be forever changed.

This is an emotional book, and yet I personally failed to connect to it emotionally. I believe that this has more to do with the circumstances – I started it immediately on the heels of another extremely emotional book which also dealt with hospitals and death and I believe I was just wrung out.  Honestly, I also thought that the books themselves would be a bigger and more integrated part of Schwalbe’s story.

Although each chapter is given the title of the book they read at that point in time, the books themselves are discussed to varying degrees and do not always seem particularly important to what they are going through. I do appreciate that Schwalbe is trying to be faithful to what actually happened and it would be disingenuous at best to make individual books seem more important to this process than they were. I suppose the difference is that I was expecting more about how the specific books helped the Schwalbe family cope and The End of Your Life Book Club is more about how the process of reading brought comfort to Will and Mary Anne during Mary Anne’s illness.

People who have dealt with the terminal illness of a loved one will likely find much to connect with in The End of Your Life Book Club, even though I personally did not.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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With My Body by Nikki Gemmell – Book Review

With My Body by Nikki Gemmell
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins

From the publisher:

A wife, a mother of three, she has everything a woman should want—and yet she has gone numb inside. Locked in a never-ending cycle of chores, errands, and mealtimes, she cannot find a way to live her life with the honesty and passion that once drove her. Even her husband, whom she loves, has never truly touched the core of her being. Only one person has ever come close. In desperation, she returns to the memory of an old love affair—a transformative relationship with consequences she has never fully resolved. Revisiting her past, she will begin an exhilarating journey into her sexuality while finally confronting the hidden truths of her heart.

With My Body would have worked much better had it been written in first or third person. Instead, the entire novel was second person, which takes quite awhile to get used to. It seems that Gemmell is trying to make her unnamed character into every woman, or at least many women, reminiscing about a love affair of the past. This could have been a very successful tact, but there are some strangely specific details, such as her stepmother calling her father Ted instead of Eddie. These details keep our main character from truly becoming every woman, which just makes the second person narration and lack of ever naming the protagonist an occasionally distracting choice. ‘

I also had serious issues with the romanticizing of the protagonist’s great, life-changing affair. This on-going affair happened when she was only 16, and he an adult. This simple detail makes me incredibly suspicious of her claim that he actually cares for her and just adds a general ick factor to the entire thing, making their affair seem that much less sensual.

All this being said, the further I got into With My Body, the more I became caught up in Gemmell’s writing. By the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the book she had put together. I respected the way that the protagonist grew and became more self-aware after reminiscing about the affair of her youth, even if the affair itself bothered me at points. With My Body is not for everyone, but it is a well-written and well-constructed book.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

 

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BOOK CLUB – Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye, which was released on March 15th by Amy Einhorn/Putnam Books (twitter | facebook). For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion is likely to contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book I wrote for my review:

In 1845, New York is already full of Irish immigrants;. the Catholicism of most of the Irish did not sit well with the majority Protestant New Yorkers, so when the Great Potato Famine hits and an influx of immigrants promises to pour into the city, tensions rise to an all time high. On the surface, this would seem to be a good time for the city to add a police force, but such a move is not without controversy itself. New York’s new police force is very much a part of the Democratic machine, which in turn relies on votes from the Irish, making many in the city – not least the powerful thugs and criminals – its natural enemies.

Although Timothy Wilde wants nothing to do with the Democratic party, he finds himself appointed to the police force by his older brother after a terrible fire takes both his home and his place of work. Although being a copper star doesn’t really appeal to Tim, it seems that he is in the right profession when he literally stumbles across a case involving a murdered little Irish boy, a case Tim is determined to solve.

Before we get started, here are some of the reviews of readers who will be participating today:

4ever overhead
Beachreader

Between the Covers
CaribousMom
Devourer of Books
Karen White Audiobooks
Linus’s Blanket
Must Read Faster

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page (please use the TOP subscription option). I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • How much did you know about mid-19th century New York and the Irish Potato Famine before beginning Gods of Gotham? What new things did you learn? What surprised you?
  • What do you think the title The Gods of Gotham refers to? Do you think it is a good title for the book?
  • Do you agree with the ways that Tim defines justice at the end of the book? Would you have made different decisions? Why do you think he took the routes he takes?
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Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung – Book Review

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

In every generation of Janie’s family, one sister is lost. Her aunt, for instance, was ostensibly kidnapped from her college dorm by North Koreans, never to be heard from again. Even worse, the family could not attempt to look for her, because the insinuation that one had dealings with North Korea could ruin a Korean family. Janie, at least, has the freedom to look for her sister Hannah. For one thing, their family now lives in America, having moved there when the girls were young for fear of repercussions from Janie’s father’s politics.

When Hannah disappears without a trace – although clearly voluntarily – it would certainly be possible for Janie to track her down and, initially, she contemplates doing so. After their father is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, though, Janie begins to feel increasingly frustrated with and betrayed by her sister. Hannah is not their for their father, their family, so why should Janie expend energy on trying to draw her back into the fold? When the girls’ parents return to Korea in hopes finding a doctor who can cure their father – or at least prolong his life – Janie is forced to track Hannah down, whether or not she actually wants her sister to return.

With Forgotten Country Chung has created a beautifully sad portrait of a family. That they are Korean and have immigrated to the United States and return to their native land is in some ways incidental to the universal story of family love, jealousy, and betrayal. At the same time, it is their cultural heritage and immigration status and the authentic ways that these aspects of who they are inform their lives that brings Chung’s characters so vividly to life.

Chung’s writing is beautiful and her characters are alive, so I can recommend Forgotten Country without reservation.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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BOOK CLUB – The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp, which is being released in paperback by Picador on October 25th (website | twitter | facebook). For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion is likely to contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book I wrote for my review:

Little K was a prima ballerina, the lover of the last Russian tsar. A woman whose determination brought her into the beds of many members of the imperial family, but whose brilliant future was derailed when Russia as she knew it began to disappear, along with her beloved Tsar Nicholas II, and something where the concubine of the Romanovs was a dangerous thing to be. But perhaps it would be best to let Little K introduce herself in her own words, as this is a story she has been endlessly remembering for the past 50 years:

My name is Mathilde Kschessinska, and I was the greatest Russian ballerina on the imperial stages. But the world I was born to, the world I was bred for, is gone, and all the players in it are also gone – dead, murdered, exiled, walking ghosts. -p. 3

Before we get started, here are some of the reviews of readers who will be participating today:

Beachreader
Devourer of Books

Reviews by Lola

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page (please use the TOP subscription option, the second option will subscribe you only to replies of your own comments). I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Near the beginning of the book, Little K makes this somewhat provocative statement  about Nicki’s marriage to Alix. Do you think, based on the events of the book, that she was correct about this?
    And what kind of wife would I have made him? Could I have stood his future – imprisonment and

    a martyr’s death? I can assure you this: if I had been his wife, that would not have been his future. -p. 23
  • What do you think was the root of Little K’s determination to be part of the tsar’s life? How did you feel about the way she positioned her son?
  • Do you think that Little K fully understood the causes of the revolution? What helped or hindered her in this?
  • Do you think that Sharp made the causes of the revolution clear to the reader?

12 review copies of The True Memoirs of Little K were provided by Picador in order to facilitate this discussion. Thank you!

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