Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Japanese Lover, by Isabel Allende

NOTE:  This was an interesting book with a lot of story lines, so my discussion guide it quite long.  I think it will lead to great discussions!
Characters
Lark House
Families and others
Irina Bazili (Elisabeta) - aide

Hans Voigt – director

Lupita Farias - head of cleaning staff

Dr. Catherine Hope – 2nd level resident

Alma Mendel Belasco – 1st level resident, silk screen artist, Belasco Foundation, parents killed in WWII

Jacques Devine “Frenchie” - died and left estate to Irina

Lenny Beal – 1st level new resident

Kristen
Belasco
Larry (Alma’s son) and Doris
Seth – lawyer, author, Alma’s grandson
Pauline – lawyer, granddaughter

Lillian and Isaac Belasco – took in Alma during WWII
Daughters – Martha, Sarah
Son - Nathanial - married Alma

Samuel Mendel – Alma’s brother

Fukuda
Takao – gardener for Isaac Belasco, family interned during WWII
Heideko – wife, blossomed in internment camp
Charles – killed in war
James – arrested in camp
Megumi
Ichimei – Alma’s life-long love

Delphine – Ichimei’s wife

Others
Boyd Anderson – guard in internment camp, married Megumi

Ron Wilkin – FBI Agent, rescued Irina

Radmila and Jim Robyns – Irina’s mother and step-father


For discussion:
NOTE: Page numbers are from the paperback edition of the book.

  1. The author made many observations about the elderly.   Do you think she was correct?  For example:
    1. On page 31 she wrote “We want our loved ones to be safe, Seth.  But what they want for themselves is autonomy.”
    2. On page 7 and 8, Dr. Hope observed that, “The elderly are the most entertaining people in the world…They have lived a lot, say whatever they like, and couldn’t care less about other people’s opinion.”
    3. Page 13: “ …in itself age doesn’t make anyone better or wiser, but only accentuates what they have always been.”
    4. Page 60: Dr. Hope said she was content, “Because I have time to spare, and for the first time in my life nobody expects anything of me.  I don’t have to prove anything, I’m not rushing everywhere; each day is a gift I enjoy to the fullest.”
    5. Page 65: “However old one is, we need a goal in our lives.  It’s the best cure for many ills.”
  2. Do you think a place like Lark House exists?  Would you be willing to move there?
  3. One of the projects of the Belasco Foundation was to create green spaces in at-risk neighborhoods.  The Foundation felt that the green spaces transformed the neighborhood (page 23).  Is this realistic?
  4. Isaac Belasco felt that doing good deeds was important and said that, “there is only one aristocracy, that of decency, and that this was not inherited or bought with money or titles, but was only gained through good deeds” (page 71).
  5. When Alma first moved in with the Belasco’s she was very unhappy and cried every night.  Isaac stated that, “Childhood is a naturally unhappy period of our existence, Lillian.  It was Walt Disney who invented the notion that it has to be happy, simply to make money” (page 44).   Do you agree?
  6. On page 31, the story said that Alma’s personality changed in a matter of two hours after a nap.  What do you think happened to change Alma?
  7. Did you learn any facts or new insights about the Japanese internment during WWII?
  8. Discuss Irina.   Did you pick up any hints early in the novel that all was not as it seemed with her?  How did you think she should respond to Seth’s offers of marriage?
  9. On page 199, Irina starts a “Letting Go Group” because she saw that those with lots of possessions were more anxious than those with few possessions.  What did you think about this?
  10. Discuss Alma regarding the following descriptions and information.  Did any of them change your thinking about Alma? 
    1. Were you surprised when she did not want to marry Ichimei when she became pregnant?
    2. In self-reflection on page 232, Alma realized that, “her greatest prejudice was that of social class.”
    3. On page 252 she reflected that, “She never sacrificed herself for another person or an ideal: self-denial was not one of her virtues.”  How would Isaac react to this? (See #4)
  11. Was it realistic that both Nathaniel and Delphine both ignored or supported the love affair between their spouses?
  12. Were you surprised by the revelation of Nathaniel’s affair with Lenny?  Were you suspicious that there was more to Nathaniel’s story from the beginning?
  13. When Seth told Alma about his father’s observations of Ichimei, he said that he had a kind of an aura (202) and that he could control his pulse and temperature (202).  What did you make of these observations?
  14. What did Samuel’s story add to the novel?
  15. Discuss your reading experience.   What were you thinking and anticipating as you were reading?
*****
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and  Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassociation.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Click on the upper right link.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wildflower Hill, by Kimberly Freeman


Characters
1920s – 1960s
2009
Beattie Blaxtant-Hunter
Henry MacConnell – lover, common-law husband
Lucy – daughter

Cora - friend

Molly – Henry’s wife

Beattie’s father – fired professor of natural philosophy
Mother – ill

Margaret Day

Doris Penny – neighbor

Tilly and Frank Harrow – general store owners

Wildflower Hill:
Charlie Harris – Aborigine
Mikhail – driver, married Catherine
Alice – housekeeper
Raphel Blanchard – original owner
Terry – farm manager
Leo Sampson - lawyer
Emma Blaxtant-Hunter
Nana Beattie
Ray – grandfather, Beattie’s husband
Louise Blaxtant – Hunter – mother
Dad
Uncle Mike

Adelaide – personal assistant

Wildflower Hill:
Monica Taylor
Patrick
Penelope Sykes – Historical Society

Jimmy Farquhar – owned adjacent farm

Hollyhocks – dance troupe
Mina Carter
Raymond Carter – Mina’s father

 For discussion:
Note: Page numbers are from the paperback 2011 edition.

  1. When Beattie left Henry and escaped to Tasmania, was Margaret Day’s immediate kindness realistic?
  2. What motivation drove the various characters?  Margaret?  Molly? 
  3. Discuss Beattie’s and Molly’s relationship concerning Lucy.   Was there anything that could be done to make it better?
  4. Later in her life, do you think Beattie should have told Ray about Lucy and her previous life?
  5. Discuss the choices the different characters made.  Did they really have a choice?  Is there anything they could have done differently?  Consider Henry and Beattie moving with Lucy, Beattie leaving Henry, Henry reuniting with Molly and taking Lucy, Lucy telling Beattie not to contact her, the townspeople’s reaction to Beattie?
  6. Given the historical time period, were people’s actions regarding Charlie and Beattie understandable? 
  7. Could you understand Mina’s father’s actions and his resistance to attending the ballet performance?
  8. The cover of my edition showed a picture of a young girl from the shoulders down and wildflowers at the bottom.   What do you think an appropriate cover for this book would be?
  9. My edition included an interview with the author.  The final question was about what happened to Emma and Lucy after the story ends.  The author responded that she had no plans for a sequel and wrote the following in a reader’s book who was upset that the ending was open-ended, “And Lucy took Emma inside and loved her to pieces.”   Do you think this is what happened?  Why or why not?
*****
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassociation.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Click on the upper right link.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Beautiful Animals, by Lawrence Osborne


REVIEW:  I am not actually sure how I feel about this book.  It was interesting and compelled me to continue reading, but I didn’t really care about most of the characters.   It also seemed a bit far-fetched – I was not sure if the story could really happen.  While I understand this is fiction, I did not think it was meant to be total fantasy.  The positives were that it gave an interesting description of the lives of the very wealthy, although not a positive depiction.  I also have no frame of reference to know if it was accurate.  For me the ending was not satisfying.   Given each author’s purpose the ending does not necessarily have to neatly tie everything up, but this one did not make me think or reflect on what I had read.  My review does not seem very positive, but I did read the whole book and enjoyed the reading experience.  I think it would be a good for a book group – it will certainly lead to a lively discussion.   I received a complimentary copy of the book for this review.  

Characters
Naomi Codrington
Jimmie – father
Phaine – step-mother
Carissa – maid

Samantha “Sam” Haldane
Amy and Jeffrey – parents
Brother – 15

Toby Carhargan – American boy Sam met on island

Faound – Arab, castaway

Benedetta – Met Faound in Italy, stole money

Rockhold – friend of Jimmie’s
Susan – assistant in London

Girls selling drugs from row boat

For Discussion:

Note: All page numbers are from hardback edition of book.


  1. On page 79 (chapter 7) Naomi reflected back on the mistake (“ineptitude and cowardice”) she made during her brief law career and wanted to do something good.  She thought, “Morality was nothing more than paying attention to the chain reaction while not causing another one.”   Should she have foreseen the chain reaction of her good deed to Faound?
  2. At times Naomi was very reflective.   Could she have used this trait to focus her life and feel that she was doing something meaningful?  Was saving Faound filling this need?
  3. On the second page of chapter 8, Naomi was surprised that she “…felt quite at ease confessing everything to him (Faound), it if was even a confession.”  Why did she feel that she could be so open with him?
  4. Were you surprised Naomi and Faound had sex?  Why or why not?
  5. Naomi thought it was “reprehensible – no, a vile – thing” (page 96, chapter 8) that Jimmie and Phaine had so many material possessions while so many people had nothing.  Do you think they should feel guilty about what they had?
  6. On page 106 (chapter 9) Naomi reflected that, “She wanted to be a Samaritan: the easiest job in the world, and perfect for the useless European middle classes.”  What did you think when you read this sentence?
  7. Were you surprised how involved Carissa was willing to be in the break-in and cover-up?  Why?
  8. When Faound was in Italy he purchased a pair of very expensive shoes.  The author wrote about shoes, “Shoes - so banal and yet so magnificently significant” (page 170, chapter 16).  What did you think about this sentence?  Do you pay attention to people’s shoes?  What information do they give?
  9. On pages 194-195 (chapter 17), Carissa says to Naomi, “You’re just selfish…It wasn’t about helping the migrant, it was about you and your father and Phaine.  I know, they were cruel to you.  It’s not entirely your fault.”   Do you agree?
  10. Also on page 195 Naomi says to Carissa, “But I understand.  It’s nothing personal, is it?”  and Carissa replies, “It’s very personal.  I wasted seven years of my life here slaving for you.  I’m not letting it go to waste.”   Were you surprised that Carissa held this resentment for seven years?  Did Jimmie, Phaine and Naomi think Carissa was happy and that they were treating her well?
  11. What parts did Sam and the girl in the row boat selling drugs play in the narrative?  Were they necessary to move the story along?  Why or why not?
  12. Discuss the various characters.  Who did you feel were sympathetic characters?  Who did you not like?  Why?
*****
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassociation.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Click on the upper right link.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Three Pastiches Related to Sherlock Holmes Novels


NOTE: Our local library group is having a “Summer of Sherlock.”  In June, we read Arthur and Sherlock, by Michael Sims.  (This book is about how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and who were the models for the detective.)  In July, we discussed the four Sherlock novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.   In August, we will discuss three current Sherlock Holmes novels authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate: Moriarty and The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz, and The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr.  The following posting is long, but it contains discussion guides for the three novels as well as a few general questions.

The Italian Secretary, by Caleb Carr
Characters
Sherlock Holmes
Dr. John Watson

Mycroft Holmes – Sherlock’s brother, confidant of Queen Victoria

David Rizzo – murdered 1566 - private secretary to Mary Queen of Scotts

Sir Alister Sinclair – murdered – architect at Holyroodhouse

Dennis McKay – murdered – foreman

Alex Morton – latest of nine to try to kill Queen Victoria

Lord Francis Hamilton – resident family member at Holyrood, scamming people about ghost in Holyrood

Hackett – butler
Andrew – son – footman
Robert Sadler – park gillies
“Likely Will” Sadler – armourer – partner of Lord Francis in scam
Alison Mackenzie – pregnant by “Likely Will”

 For Discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers are from 2005 paperback edition

  1. Do you think the depiction of Sherlock Holmes in this modern novel agrees with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original character?  In your discussion consider the following:
    1. On page 176 Holmes is very complimentary to Alison Mackenzie and makes similar compliments to Andrew on page 182.
  2. Did you have unanswered questions when you were done with the book?  Where these “red herrings” to throw the reader off?  If so, were they effective?  The two things that I wished had been explained (and maybe I just missed it) were:
    1. The Queen’s toothache – on page 102 Holmes asked which tooth it was and on page 109 he said that the dentist was of great importance.
    2. What was the significance of the lute and sheet music at the end?
  3. Did you like the addition of the ghost?  In the “Afterword” written by Jon Lellenberg, the U.S. Representative of the Conan Doyle Estate, he wrote that, “I am not sure Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would approve…” but cited The Hound of the Baskervilles as “excuse and inspiration” (page 330).

The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz
Characters
Sherlock Holmes
Dr. John Watson

Mycroft – Sherlock’s brother

Inspector Lestrade

Ridgeway House:
Edmund Carstairs
Catherine – wife (Keelan O’Donaghue)
Eliza – sister
Mother – died of gas asphyxiation

Baker Street Irregulars:
Wiggins
Ross Dixon

Sally Dixon – Ross’ sister
Flat Cap Gang:
Keelan O’Donaghue
Rourke O’Donaghue

Chorley Grange:
Reverend Charles Fitzsimmons
Joanna – wife
Mr. Vesper – teacher
Robert Weeks – teacher

House of Silk:
Inspector Harriman
Dr. Thomas Achland
Lord Horace Blackwater
Honorable Alec Ravenshaw


 For Discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers are from paperback edition.

  1. Did you think that the subject matter (pedophilia) was a bit riskier than what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would write?   Was it effective?
  2. How many places did you find that the author paid homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?  Two that I picked out were the mention of the short story, “The Red-headed League” (page 101), and where Sherlock explained to the pawn broker how he deduced so much about him similar to when Sherlock first met Dr. Watson (page 111) in A Study in Scarlet.

Moriarty, by Anthony Horowitz
Main Characters
Good Guys
Bad Guys
Athelney Jones – Scotland Yard
Elspeth – wife
Beatrice – daughter

Robert Lincoln – son of Abraham Lincoln, American Envoy in London

Police:
Lestrade
Gregson
Multiple others

NOTE: Jones, Lestrade and Gregson are characters from The Sign of Four
Frederick Chase – Pinkerton – narrator, a.k.a.
James Moriarty

Jonathan Pilgrim

Colonel Sebastian Moran – sharpshooter

Perry

Clarence Devereux – agoraphobia, a.k.a. Coleman DeVriess
Edgar and Leland Mortlake
Scotchy Lavelle

Highgate:
Scotchy Lavelle – tortured and murdered
Henrietta – Lavelle’s mistress - murdered
Clayton - petty criminal - murdered
Mary Stagg – survived
Cook and Kitchen boy – murdered

Chancery Lane:
Silas Beckett – barber, a.k.a. John Clay
Archie Cooke – hurdy-gurdy man, a.k.a. Duncan Ross


For discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers are from the paperback edition.

  1. When Beatrice was being held captive and Devereux was using her as a bargaining tool to get Jones and Chase to meet with him, there were two lines of thinking about Devereux’s motivation.  Which did you think was correct?  Did your opinion change when you finished the book?
    1. On page 271 Jones felt that Elspeth did not need to worry, that Devereux had nothing to gain by hurting them,
    2. On page 272 Chase thought that Devereux had a more sinister plot than just wanting to talk with them, Devereux might kill them simply because it was his nature.
  2. When Jones and Chase were held captive, Jones still had his walking stick.   Did you think this was logical or did you question this?  Why?
  3. What did you think when you finished the book?  How was it different from what you expected?
  4. If there is a sequel what do you think it will be about?
  5. Moriarty thought he had left clues for the reader to figure out who he was – see page 346.   Did you pick up any clues?  Were you at any time suspicious that there was a twist coming?
  6. Discuss your reading experience?   Did you start the book with any preconceived ideas that were not correct?

General Discussion

  1. How true were these three novels to the Conan Doyle canon?  Would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle approve?
  2. If you read more than one, which did you enjoy the most?  The least?  Why?
  3. Why do you think Sherlock Holmes continues to be so popular?
*****
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies  and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassociation.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Click on the upper right  link.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


Characters
Plumb Family
Others
Leonard – father
Francie – 2nd wife

Leo
Victoria – wife, divorced

Beatrice
Tuck – husband, deceased

Jack
Walker – husband

Melody
Walter – husband
Nora and Louisa – twin daughters

Stephanie – close family friend, had baby with Leo

Matilda Rodriguez -waitress, in accident

Vinnie Massaro – amputee, married Matilda

Paul Underwood – editor, Paper Fibres, Bea’s boss

Nathan Chowdhury – Leo’s business partner at SpeakEasyMedia

Tommy O’Toole – Stephanie’s renter
Ronnie – wife, died in Twin Towers

Simone – skipped SAT classes with Nora and Louise, Nora’s girlfriend





For discussion:

NOTE: The page numbers are from the hardback edition.

  1. Was it fair to give Matilda a lump sum when she would have no idea how to manage it?  Was it Leo or George’s responsibility to help her?
  2. In chapter one, both Melody and Jack looked at the same woman wearing red flats in the rain with different perspectives.  Melody saw "a delicate pair of shoes” (page 10) that she wished she owned and Jack saw “a cheap ballet flat in a tacky shade of red” (page 17).  What do you think Bea and Leo would think about the shoes?
  3. In chapter 20 Simone told Nora that everyone wants to see a positive reflection of them self in others but that she did not need to be other’s mirror, that she should be who she wanted to be.  What do you think Simone meant?  Was this a good illustration?
  4. When Leo was telling Stephanie about the accident he said that because Matilda was nineteen “she was old enough” (chapter 28, page 236).  Why did this statement have such an effect on Stephanie?  What did the statement tell Stephanie (and the reader) about Leo?
  5. Did you think it was okay for Bea to write a story about Leo’s accident?  Why did she not follow through with the idea?  Did you agree with that decision?
  6. Have you ever had an experience (or been the cause of one) like Bea had at the party where she overhead two others talking about her?
  7. In chapter 40, the author described some common pregnancy experiences that happened to Stephanie such as the intrusiveness of questions and people freely giving their opinion when they asked about potential names.   Were the descriptions accurate?  Were they any in particular that you related to?
  8. Were you able to sympathize with Tommy regarding his theft of the Rodin sculpture from the World Trade Center rubble?  What do you think he should have done?
  9. What characters did you like or not like?  Which were you able to sympathize with?  Why?
  10. What were Leo’s redeeming qualities?
  11. What were some of your favorite scenes from the novel?  For example, I really liked where Bea dumped the entire cookie tray into her purse before leaving.
*****
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassociation.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Click on the upper right link.

Friday, July 14, 2017

THe Four Sherlock Holmes Novels, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


NOTE: Our local library group is having a “Summer of Sherlock.”  In June, we read Arthur and Sherlock, by Michael Sims.  (This book is about how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and who were the models for the detective.)  In July, we will discuss the four novels listed below.  In August, we will discuss three current Sherlock Holmes novels authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate: Moriarty and The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz, and The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr.

Characters
Sherlock Holmes
Dr. John Watson
A Study in Scarlet
The Sign of the Four
The Hound of the  Baskervilles
The Valley of Fear
John Rance – constable

Lestrade – detective
Tobias Gregson – detective

Victims:
Enoch J. Drebber
Joseph Stangerson

John Ferrier
Lucy – adopted daughter

Jefferson Hope




For discussion:
How were the warning signs placed in the Ferrier’s home?
Gregson
Lestrade
Athelney Jones – police

Mary Morstan
Captain Morstan - father

Mrs. Cecil Forrester – Mary’s employer

Mrs. Hudson – housekeeper

Major John Sholto
Thaddeus – son
Bartholomew – son

The sign of the four:
Jonathan Small
Mahomet Singh
Abdullah Khan
Dost Akbar

Tonga – with Small

Baker Street irregulars
Wiggins – leader

For discussion: In this book in particular the police detectives were more prominent and took the credit for solving the crime.  Why did this not bother Sherlock more?
Sir Charles Baskerville -descendent of Hugo, murdered

Mr.  Henry Baskerville – son of Charles’ 2nd brother

Stapleton – son of Rodger, Charles’ 3rd brother
Beryl – wife

John Barrymore – butler
Eliza – wife
Selden – Notting Hill murderer, escaped, Eliza’s brother

John Mortimer

Mr. Frankland – neighbor, always filing law suits

Hound – phosphorus on mouth to mimic flames
Dr. Moriarty

Inspector MacDonald
White Mason – local officer
Sergeant Wilson – Sussex police

John Douglas – Birlstone Manor
a.k.a. Birdy Edwards – Pinkerton, also John McMurdo
Ivy - 2nd wife

Cecil Barker

Ames – butler
Mrs. Allen – housekeeper

Ted Baldwin – bicyclist

In America:
Ancient Order of Freemasons #341 (Scowrers)
Councillor Jack McGinty
John McMurdo
Brother Morris
Ted Baldwin - rival for Ettie
Mike Scanlon – McMurdo’s roommate

Shafter – boarding house
Ettie - daughter


For Discussion:

  1. Sherlock felt that his skill as a detective was because he could reason backwards (analytically).  On the other hand, being able to reason forward (synthetically) was more useful in everyday life (A Study in Scarlet, Part 2, Chapter 7).   Do you agree?  When would each type of thinking be useful?
  2. In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock listed skills necessary for a good detective.  How did he exhibit these skills?
    1. Never guess.  “It is a shocking habit – destructive to the logical faculty” (chapter 1).
    2. Never overlook the simple things.  “It is just these very simple things which are extremely liable to be overlooked” (chapter 10).
    3. Eliminate all wrong answers to determine correct one. “Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth” (chapter 1).
    4. Examine objects used every day to learn about the person. (chapter 1)
    5. Also, in The Valley of Fear, Sherlock said he liked to be in the place where the crime happened to see if he could learn anything from the atmosphere.  “I’m a believer in the genius loci” (Part 1, chapter 6). 
  3. Referring back to learning about a person by examining what they use every day, what would the things you use and touch every day tell Sherlock about you?
  4. Many mystery writers include a red herring, false clue, to throw off the reader.  Were there any red herrings in the novel you read?
  5. Three of the four stories (nor Hound of the Baskervilles) almost had two separate stories, one about the crime and Sherlock Holmes’ detective work and the second the back story of the crime.  Did you like this approach?
  6. In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock restated a premise by Winwood Reade that “as an individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty” (chapter 10).   Do you agree?  Were there examples in this novel or the other three?  What about in our current world?
  7. If you read Arthur and Sherlock, by Michael Sims, how did that information influence your reading of the four novels?
  8. If the novels were published today would they be any different?
*****
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies  and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassocciattion.com and barnesandnoble.com.  Click on the upper right link.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Heirs, by Susan Rieger


REVIEW:  This was a great read!  I enjoyed every minute of it and, when not reading, was longing to get back into the book.  The author created very interesting and complex characters who I wanted to learn more about.  At times, the story line jumped over a several years span in a chapter and, in one case, on one page, but due to the skill of the author I was always able to follow and never got lost.  There was only one instance where I was confused and that was when wives changed from the beginning of the story to the obituary without any explanation that I found, but this did not impact my enjoyment at all.  The author did an amazing job of tying all of the various story lines together.  Sometimes starting a new chapter (all of the chapter titles are the characters’ names) I would wonder how this was all going to fit together, but it always did and masterfully so.  I highly recommend this book, especially for book groups.  It will lead to interesting and meaningful discussions.  I received a complimentary copy of the book for this review.  

Characters
Falkes
Others
Rupert
Eleanor

Harry – law professor, Columbia, “the blurter”, affair with colleague
Lea – wife


Will – Editor, Random House; talent agent
Francine – wife
Mary - daughter

Sam – scientist, MD/ PhD
Andrew – partner, separated
Gemma – daughter with Susanna

Jack – jazz trumpeter, music always came first, could not play when not happy
Katherine – wife
Ingrid - daughter

Tom, federal prosecutor
Caroline – wife
Lila – daughter, adopted age three
Edward and Virginia Phipps – Eleanor’s parents

Marina Cantwell – affair with Edward
Louisa - daughter

Susanna Goffe – Sam’s best friend since childhood

Eleanor’s previous boyfriends:
Carlo Benedetti – lawyer
Dr. Jim Cardozo

Anne Lehman – married Jim Cardozo
Ethel – mother

Vera Wolinski
Hugh and Iain – sons

Hannah Bigelow – Looking for lost brother, Anders, four years after Rupert’s death
Helen Sonnegaard – late mother

Dominic Byrne – Will’s tutor at Cambridge

 For discussion:

NOTE: The page numbers are from the hardback edition.

  1. Would you be charmed or annoyed with Ethel Lehman’s endless use of quotes?  Why?
  2. On pages 98 and 99 Eleanor told Will that when husbands buy gifts for their wives they are either really buying what they think their mothers would like or what they themselves would like.   She called this “The old spousal gift fallacy.”   Do you agree?  What about wives buying gifts for their husbands gifts?
  3. Why did Eleanor set up a trust for Vera?   Do you think Hugh and Iain are Rupert’s sons?
  4. Discuss the benefits and negatives of being rude:
    1. Rupert was rude all of his life and people did not take offense.
    2. On page 222, Eleanor said that she was going to be sixty and that she was going to stop being so accommodating and start being rude because, “Rudeness is sometimes the only proper response.”
    3. On page 229, when Rupert was dying Eleanor decided to temporarily give up her “budding rudeness” because they needed the kindness of so many people.
    4. Also on page 229 Eleanor reflected that rudeness grows “exponentially with each eruption.”
  5. Do you think Louisa was Eleanor’s half-sister by Marina Cantwell and Edward?  Why?
  6. What were your thoughts about Eleanor as the story unfolded?  On the one hand, she was a dedicated wife and mother but on the other she was secretly meeting Jim at the movies.
  7. Discuss the five sons and their differences.   For example, Harry was called “the blurter” because he said what he thought without any filters. Do you think he should have been able to control these impulses?
  8. What do you think your reaction would have been to Vera’s letter about her two sons being Rupert’s children?  
  9. It seemed like most of the men in the novel were either in love with or entranced by Eleanor.  Why?
  10. What part did Dominic Byrne play in the story?  He only appeared twice, once when Will was at Cambridge (page 108) and at the end when he wrote a letter to Eleanor telling her he was getting married and implying that he was always in love with her but she would not have him (page 244).
  11. What did you think about the ending?  What will happen next?
*****
First Semester  Success: Learning  Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at amazon.com, wordassociation.com and barnesannoble.com   Click on the upper right  link.