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Category Archive for 'Book Club Suggestions'

Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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Great fun to read, the primary purpose of the novel is to entertain while considering the role of plot in the success of any fiction. Because the plot within this novel, which is responsible for Jake’s astounding success, is the same story which makes this book by Jean Hanff Korelitz so successful, any attempt to summarize that plot would spoil the whole reason for reading it. It is a meticulously constructed novel which has a love story, several murders, intense relationships, shifts of focus among various characters and generations, and changes of location, and it is hard to imagine any reader becoming bored or tired of the action. The author is careful to keep the two plot lines from becoming confused. The story of Jake Bonner, nervous author of the bestseller “CRIB,” and the story within the story which originated with Evan Parker, will, of course, eventually merge, but that merger happens gradually and with plenty of foreshadowing. Fun to read and filled with real surprises, this is a pop novel which well deserves its popularity.

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Watching the arrival of Violet, a young, three-year-old elephant from Ceylon, purchased for the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast in 1940, Hettie Quin looks forward to getting to know this new star of the zoo. She “had never seen so many people at the docks: it was as if British royalty or a famous screen actress were among the steamer’s passengers arriving that morning.” A twenty-year-old with no interest in pursuing any of the traditional roles for women in 1940, Hettie has set her sights on becoming a zookeeper, and she quickly focuses in on Violet with her attentions. The elephant, who is relatively untrained and tense after her long voyage, will need some special help settling in. Not long after the elephant’s arrival, Belfast is bombed, and Hettie Quin takes it upon herself to save Violet by hiding her somewhere in Belfast where she cannot be found. In 2009, the zoo discovers the name of a real woman who took care of a real young elephant at the Zoo during nights of bombings in WW2. Links are also provided to the story of the real elephant and her savior.

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When her husband Sam dies alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a favorite restaurant in Vermont, devoted wife Antonia makes it her primary focus to create an afterlife for him. She needs something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him while she lives her everyday life. When Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on the nearest farm, comes to clean her gutters, he eventually asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him in Vermont? Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis. Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on the farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US. The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend are becoming critical. Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, and anger lead to personal growth, further develop the original themes, and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

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With two main characters who have little to suggest that their stories will become the charming, funny, insightful, and un-put-down-able chronicles that eventually evolve, Irish author Rónán Hession demonstrates his own creativity and his own ideas regarding communication and its importance or lack of it in our lives. He ignores the generations-old traditions of boisterous Irish writing and non-stop action in favor of a quiet, kindly, and highly original analysis of his characters and their unpretentious and self-contained lives. Leonard and Hungry Paul, both in their early thirties, are serious introverts with few friends, but events occur which inspire each of them to become just a bit more social. For Leonard, it is a young woman; for Hungry Paul, it is the realization that a new job comes with the possibility that he may have his own apartment, not live at home. I cannot remember when I have read a book which so thoroughly and honestly touched my heart. The writing is intelligent, memorable, real, and very funny, and I am already impatient for Rónán Hession’s next novel.

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