The Pleasure of Re-Reading Books

March 20, 2009

bonesetter1 sensibility

I’ve already read each of the books chosen for April in my two mother-daughter book clubs. I remember liking The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen when I read them, but it’s been years since I finished those books. I usually have so many titles to read (you know the old adage, so many books, so little time) that I rarely pick up something that I’ve read before. But sometimes it’s worth revisiting the gems of the past. Each time I do, I learn something or notice a detail I didn’t get before. And, because this time I’m reading each of the books to discuss with one of my daughters, I will think about things that may have meaning for them as well. I look forward to finding out what that may be.

After today, I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next two weeks. My kitchen remodel is almost finished, but the last bits are either forcing me from my home (refinishing the wood floors) or have me running around moving things all day long (replacing carpets). I plan to have time to read, though, and I’ll be back in April with another batch of book reviews in addition to the ones I’m reading for book club and news from other groups with fresh ideas for you.

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

March 18, 2009


Catherine and I recently finished Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones for our mother-daughter book club. We had not read a fantasy tale for a few years, and it was fun to set off into another world for a change. We had a great discussion when we got together with everyone from our group. Some of had seen the movie before, but reading the book gave us a whole new idea of what Howl’s world was like. Here’s an official review:

Sophie is sure that her life is meant to come to nothing, because where she lives the eldest child is always ill-fated. So when times get tough for her family she is content to stay home and work in the family hat shop while her two younger sisters go off to bright futures working in a bakery and learning magic. But when the Witch of the Waste comes into her shop one day and casts a spell on Sophie, making her appear old, she decides to set off into the wider world where she knows no one.

When her old bones become tired at the end of her first day of wandering, she finds herself at the edge of the wizard Howl’s castle. The castle is enchanted; it moves and blows puffs of smoke constantly. Although Sophie is afraid of Howl because she heard he eats young girls’ souls, in the guise of an old woman she thinks she will be safe. With thoughts of finding a warm fireside and a comfy chair, Sophie goes into the castle.

She finds Howl’s assistant Michael, and his fire demon, Calcifer, but Howl is not in. As Sophie makes herself useful and becomes a part of the castle life, she begins to learn more and more about Howl, Calcifer and Michael. Gradually, as she gets to know them, they become like a second family to her. But can she keep Howl from being taken by the Witch of the Waste? And can she break a magical spell that binds Calcifer to Howl, so the spell on her can be broken as well?

Howl’s Moving Castle brings up issues of creating family for yourself and seeing people for who they truly are, despite the masks they put up to keep others at a distance. It’s about finding love and acceptance, and not being afraid to look for the magic in small moments. The castle itself is fascinating, with its door leading to different villages depending on which colored-button is facing down, its ability to move its location and its permanent window looking onto a sunny port town. Our mother-daughter book club members thought the ending felt a bit rushed, but otherwise we all enjoyed reading it and talking about Sophie, Howl and all the characters. I recommend it for book clubs with daughters aged 13 and up.

Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

March 16, 2009


Madeleine and I read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates for our book club in March. We thought it would be a good idea to read the book and then see the movie, but once we finished the book no one was up for the film. We didn’t expect it to be happy, but we also didn’t expect it to be so depressing either.

We believed Revolutionary Road would give us insight into suburban life in the 1950s, and we would be able to talk about the roles men and women felt compelled to assume in that era. We looked forward to a discussion and comparison of how those roles differed today as well as ways they may still be the same.

Reading the book, however, we were each struck by how the story was more about a lack of maturity, morality, and inner fortitude of the characters themselves than it was about the time they lived in. From the beginning April and Frank seemed to have no interest in putting work into forming a lasting relationship and marriage with children. It was as though they never transformed from thinking only of themselves when they were single, to thinking of the needs of each other and especially of their children. The children in the story were mostly forgotten and emotionally neglected.

Frank deciding to have an affair summed up so many of the character flaws we saw in both of them. He had an affair because he could. Why not, he reasoned. And that’s where we see a difference with someone who is more mature and committed to a marriage.

While we did have a great discussion about character, we thought Frank and April would have made the similar poor choices whichever era they lived in, because they were both very self-focsed. Maybe our error was assuming it was a story more about the times the characters lived in than the characters themselves. Either way, we won’t be seeing the movie.

Book Review: The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde

March 13, 2009


Thirteen-year-old Cynnie can take care of herself, which is a good thing since her mom is usually drunk and often passed out on the couch. Cynnie can take care of her three-year-old brother, Bill, too. Bill has Down Syndrome, and Cynnie knows he loves her because her name is the only word he can say. But when Cynnie’s mom, Rita, asks her parents to come and take Bill, life starts to spiral out of control for Cynnie. Even though she has vowed that she would never be like her mother, without Bill keeping her grounded she starts to drink as well. Her choices lead to trouble in school and in the courts. Can she find a way to work herself out of her troubles and into a future with greater possibilities?

The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a touching story that takes the reader inside the life of addiction from the unusual perspective of a teen girl. It shows how addiction affects everyone in a family, but it also shows what it takes to work your way out of the downward spiral, one step at a time. Cynnie is vulnerable, courageous, tenacious, and resourceful. From the outside, she looks and acts like many teens, while she hides her reality from friends and teachers. The choices she makes, and their consequences, should provide great discussion for a mother-daughter book club with girls in middle school and older.

New York Mother-Daughter Book Club Enriches Reading with Other Activities

March 12, 2009

Looking for an idea to liven up your mother-daughter book club meetings? Here’s a bit of inspiration from Kate Levin, who is in a book club with her teen daughter in New York. Kate says:

“We found out that a professional production of Our Town is opening here, so we read the play and got tickets to see it (using a group discount). Although we have lots of theater possibilities here in New York, this kind of opportunity is certainly possible elsewhere, since there’s lots of great professional theaters all over the country (this production of Our Town originated in Chicago, actually).  People could also see what’s being performed at the local colleges as well.  Usually schedules are published in advance, so people could see what’s coming up and plan ahead (which is what we did).”

To Kate’s comments I’ll add a few of my own. Some of our most memorable mother-daughter book club meetings have been the times we have tied our book into another activity: seeing a play, going to a movie, visiting a museum. The extra event helped us get another perspective on what we read and enriched the discussion we had afterward. No matter the age of your girls, you can probably find something that fits just right for them. Theater is good for younger girls too, and you can check local children’s theater productions up to a year in advance to see what they may have in store for a season.

Special Opportunity to Speak with Author Kenn Nesbitt

March 11, 2009

Kenn Nesbitt is the author of many beloved books of poetry for children. They’re also fun for adults too. If your mother-daughter book club is considering a poetry meeting soon, you may want to look at this special offer from Nesbitt to celebrate the launch of his new book. Here’s what he has to say:

“I am offering a free 30-minute ‘online author visit’-meaning that kids can see, hear, and chat with me right on their computers-to any group that buys 10 or more copies of my new book, My Hippo Has the Hiccups. Just purchase the books through my website, and we’ll set up the visit at that time.

These free visits will be available on a first-come basis, during the weeks of April 6-10, April 20-24, May 11-15, June 1-5, and June 8-12. Programs will start at 9am PST, and run on-the-hour, and there will be no more than 2 participating groups (or classes for school groups) in each online session. Kids will be allowed to ask me questions through an online chat, which will be controlled by the moderator.

Technical requirements are:
* A computer with a high-speed Internet connection
* Windows, Mac, or Linux
* A Flash-enabled browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari
* Speakers!
* Projector (optional)

For more information, or to sign up online, please go to Once your time-slot is scheduled and the book order has been confirmed, we will send you a link to the online meeting room, as well as a link where you can run a test to ensure that your software (Flash-enabled browser, etc.) is compatible. ”

April is National Poetry Month, and it may be fun for you to schedule a meeting around reading and writing poetry. Reading Nesbitt’s new book and chatting with him online would make a great combination meeting.

Congratulations to another winner for The Writer Mama Blog Tour Giveaway

March 10, 2009

We have a winner in The Writer Mama Blog Tour Giveaway Day #9.

Mary Jo Campbell of the Writers Inspired blog had this to say:

I have a seedling of a book idea floating around, but I’d like to get more “real world” hands-on experience on the subject to broaden my understanding of the reader’s needs. Maybe another full year or year and half and I believe I’ll have made enough cotacts and gained enough experience to put the ideas and tips for this particular book idea into a proposal.
My novel? Hmm, on the back burner once more…

The signed and numbered copy of the book will soon be on its way from Christina Katz. Congratulations to Mary Jo and thanks to everyone who read the post and commented.

Continue to enter and read about The Writer Mama story by following Christina’s guest blogs all month. Find out where she’s a guest today at The Writer Mama Riffs.