Read With Us

Read With Us: Now In Its 2nd Year!

It was last September, almost exactly a year ago now, that Bonny, Carole, and I asked you to come on along on a "bloggy-book-group" adventure with us. We invited you to . . . 

Read With Us

Like any new book group, we're figuring things out as we go along. How to enourage people to  . . . read with us. What type of books to select. How often we should "meet." And - most challenging for us - how to host a meaningful and interesting book discussion via our blogs. We thank all of you for reading with us and supporting us as we work out the kinks and figure out how to make this work!

Today is a special day for us . . . as we announce our next Read With Us book selection.

The Women of Brewster Place

Earlier this summer, I discovered this list - the Zora Canon - of the 100 best books by black women authors, and we decided to choose our next Read With Us book from the list. It was not an easy choice! There are so many excellent books on the list, but the The Women of Brewster Place rose to the top for us. It was a book none of us had heard of before, but all three of us immediately wanted to read -- and we thought you might enjoy it, too. Published in 1982, it's now considered a "contemporary classic," and is often taught in literature classes. The author, Gloria Naylor, won the National Book Award for First Novel in 1983 -- and the book has even been made into a television series. Twice.

I'm half-way through the book now, and I think it will be a good selection for us to read together. It's a series of interconnected stories about 7 women who live in Brewster Place, an inner city housing complex. There is much depth to the stories and the characters, and I think you'll really enjoy reading this one. I had no trouble getting the book from my library (your mileage may vary), but it's also available for Kindle for $2.99 right now (limited time offer, so don't delay if you're interested).

We'll be talking more about the book next month, and then we'll host the blog-based discussion in November.

I do hope you'll Read With Us!


Read With Us: So, What'd'ja Think?

Read With Us

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . Wild Game. Join the discussion (which you can do even if you didn't read the book, you know).  I'll be answering your posts within the comment section for this discussion -- and you can comment on other people's comments, as well. Y'know . . . like in a real book group. 

We have another "book lovers" surprise package for you (and I promise it's not any surprising "wild game"). Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blogs and your name will be entered in the drawing -- the more you comment and participate in the discussion, the more chances you have to win!

Now, let's get on with our discussion.

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The book begins with an epigraph: Mary Oliver's poem, The Uses of Sorrow

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The Uses of Sorrow
Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

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In the book, the author certainly works her way through the "darkness" of her adolescence over the course of her growing up, although according to this interview, I wouldn't say she thinks it was a "gift," exactly. (The writing process itself sounds like it was very cathartic for her; a chance to understand and forgive her mother.)

Do you think the epigraph - Mary Oliver's poem - was a fitting way for Adrienne Brodeur to begin the book? Do you see the darknesses in your own life as gifts, or would you wish some of them away? Is growth possible without suffering?

I can't wait to hear what you think!

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The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver originally appeared in Thirst, published in 2006, Beacon Press.

 


Get Ready to Talk About It

Read With Us

Y'know, one of the best things about being in a book group . . .  is reading a few books you'd never in a million years read on your own! Book group selections can certainly challenge our reading habits in whole new ways -- and I know our current Read With Us selection did that for many of us.

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Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur was not a book I'd ever have read . . . left to my own devices. I actually enjoy memoirs, and tend to read a few every year. This one, though? I'm gonna admit that it didn't appeal to me at first. Then, I heard the author speak with Gretchen and Liz on the Happier podcast (it was their book club selection last fall), and I was a little more interested. There was more to the story than the book blurb seemed to suggest.

It's . . . uncomfortable reading, subject matter wise. A mother coerces her young teenage daughter to "help" her hide an affair with her stepfather's best friend? Really? So . . . juicy, for sure. But also not something I could relate to (thankfully). I mean . . . my family, one of very modest income living a very modest life and eating casseroles thrown together for dinner with no cocktail hour ever, was about as far-removed from Adrienne Brodeur's complicated life and even more complicated family than I could imagine!

So I read the book like it was fiction. Because it seemed like fiction to me.

But, if I'm really honest about it, there were some very relatable things in this book for me. Not relatable in a lifestyle or family-structure or situational kind of way. But there is something very universal about wanting your parents' attention and affection, about separating from your parents as you grow into adulthood, about letting your children go their own way, about secrets. And I think, in that way, there was more to this book than its rather juicy foundation would imply.

I'm looking forward to delving into this one with you next week.

Join Bonny, Carole, and I next Tuesday to talk about the book together. Each of us will pose a question for discussion on our blogs. We look forward to hearing what you have to say! (As usual, there will be a booklovers prize at the end, so be sure to join the conversation.)

In the meantime, this book is a quick read -- so even if you haven't read it yet, there is still time. Yes, the subject matter will be a turn off to many. Just do what I did and pretend it's fiction! (Because most of us read fiction with this kind of storyline all the time now . . . don't we?) The writing is very good, and the story flows quickly from the more uncomfortable child/mother relationship to The Aftermath and the author's struggle to find her self as she grows up.

If you want to delve into the book a bit more - either as reminder for yourself or just because you're interested in the author - here are a few links to check out:

An interview with the author on NPR. (You can read the transcript OR listen to the interview using this link.)

A summary of the discussion from the Happier podcast. (You can link in to the actual podcast episode from this link, too, if you want to listen.) Note: If you scroll down in the link, there is a photograph of The Necklace so talked about in the book. If you've read the book, I'm sure you'll be curious to see what that dang necklace actually looked like -- so this is worth the scroll down to see.

A link to the author's guest appearance on Dani Shapiro's podcast Family Secrets. (I listened to this podcast last night, and it is quite interesting.)

I'm looking forward to discussing this book with you next week.

Happy reading!


Read With Us: Wild Game

Read With Us

Have you started reading the latest Read With Us book selection yet?
(I haven't yet. But I will soon!)

As a reminder, for this go-round, we'll be reading Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur.

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According to the book description on Goodreads:

Wild Game is a brilliant, timeless memoir about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them, and the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s a remarkable story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us. 

The book created a lot of buzz late last year, being named to several "best of 2019" book lists, including NPR, The Washington Post, Slate, Library Review, and others. I first heard about the book when Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft selected it as one of their Happier podcast book club selections. I thought it sounded intriguing . . . and then when I listened to the podcast episode discussing the book, I knew I wanted to read it.

I hope you'll pick up a copy and Read With Us!

You've got several weeks to grab the book and get reading (I hear it's very engaging and a fairly quick read at 256 pages). I noticed yesterday that it's available for Kindle for $2.99 (hurry, though; that price may go up at any moment), and a quick search at my library showed that it's currently available on the shelves (your local library results may vary, but I'm betting it's not currently a "hot read").

We'll be discussing the book on all three blogs (different questions; different discussions) on Tuesday, August 11. 

C'mon along! Read With Us!

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Here's a link to the Happier podcast book group discussion in case you're interested in hearing that before (or after!) you read the book. It's fascinating to hear the "inside scoop" provided by author Adrienne Brodeur, who appears on the podcast with Gretchen and Elizabeth.


Drumroll Please!

Read With Us

I don't know about you, but my reading tastes change a bit during the summer (and, apparently, during a pandemic; who knew). With the summer sunshine and more hours spent outdoors, I look to lighten up my reading with, oh . . . a "beach read." Maybe a Stephen King. A memoir, perhaps. Something quick, compelling, and even a little titillating maybe.

We think our fourth Read With Us book selection may just be a perfect summer read!

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Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me is a memoir written by Adrienne Brodeur.  Although I haven't started reading it yet, Carole devoured it, and Bonny is already deep into it. The book promises to be interesting and compelling -- a memoir that reads like a novel -- and a real page-turner. It also promises to have just what every book group needs in a book selection: many discussable elements.

(I know some of you listen to the Happier podcast and may already be familiar with the book, as Gretchen and Elizabeth chose it for their Happier book group last winter.)

We'll be reading the book in June and July, and hosting our blog discussion in August.  Watch for more information about the book and the author during our promotional posts next month. In the meantime, you can try to find the book at your local library now that many are offering curbside pick-up. The book is also available for Kindle ($12.99), in paperback ($16.99 at Amazon), or at a variety of independent bookstores. 

I hope you'll join in and Read With Us this summer!


Wrapping It Up

Read With Us

It's time for a quick wrap-up of our most recent Read With Us book group selection . . . I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez.  

It's also Thursday . . . which means Three on Thursday over on Carole's blog . . . and I'm challenging myself to see if I can get a 2-fer here. (Can I do it? Can I wrap up our book discussion AND do a Three on Thursday post?  You be the judge!)

First, the housekeeping.

We tried something a little different with the discussion portion of the book this time. Instead of stretching the discussion over three weeks, with each of us hosting the discussion on successive weeks, this time around we opted to discuss the book on one particular day, with each of us posting a different discussion question on our blogs.  Generally, we think this worked pretty well, and we're planning to continue this strategy with our next book.

We also planned to host a Zoom book discussion - and we even contacted the author to see if she'd be interested in joining us. You'll notice that I'm using the past tense here: planned. We think a Zoom book discussion would be great - and a lot of fun - and I'm sure we'll try it in the future. We decided to let it go this time, though. (One of us really doesn't need One. More. Thing. to deal with right now.)  We haven't heard back from the author yet (and it's been awhile, so we're thinking we won't). If we do, though, and if she's willing to join us, we may just host a "pop-up" Zoom discussion for this book at some future date. 

Second, the book itself.

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

While we didn't all love the book, most of us ended up liking it . . . more than we expected to. Generally, we found it to be a well-written coming-of-age story. Yes, the main character and narrator (Julia) was angry and abrasive, which made it hard for many of us to be completely sympathetic, but she also had to straddle two very different cultures and manage competing sets of expectations. There was an excellent discussion over on Bonny's blog about whether or not Julia's parents had realistic expectations of their daughters.  I think Becky summed it up perfectly when she pointed out that "fears of immigrant families attempting to raise children in what must seem a thoroughly alien and permissive society" drove Julia's mother's actions.  You can follow the Bonny's discussion here.

Carole's blog featured a good discussion of the book's setting (the book is mostly set in Chicago, but there is a segment set in a Mexican village when Julia returns for a visit), which most of us felt was well done and believable. Many readers felt Julia's visit to Mexico was unrealistic and they questioned that aspect of the storyline. For me, I'm just going to say that Julia's trip to visit her family in Mexico was vital for her personal growth, and a necessary vehicle for her to understand herself and her family better. Sure. It was perhaps a little unrealistic, but this is YA, and as Margene pointed out: "It’s part of a YA coming of age story. The reader needs to know Julia’s family roots and why there were expectations for her to be a perfect Mexican daughter, not an American. Her parents were not fully realized and this was a good device to share their stories." You can follow Carole's discussion here.

We talked issues in my blog discussion, where we were all in agreement that there were a LOT of serious social issues packed into this book. Some readers felt it was maybe too much - and maybe too dark - for the intended audience, while others felt it was appropriate. Sarah made an excellent point: "Something I've noticed about YA fiction now compared to the YA fiction I read when I was a young adult is that it's much more realistic. Some may say there were too many social issues in Julia's life, but the reality is that young adults today are dealing with those issues. I remember many of the books I read as a teenager glossing over those issues, as if they didn't exist. While I didn't love this book, it rang very true for me in this respect." Most of us agreed with Sarah -- that the issues Julia was dealing with were likely representative of what a young, smart, grieving first generation immigrant teen might be struggling with in her day-to-day life. You can follow my discussion here.

Overall, most of us thought the book was a good representation of YA literature -- that it was YA done well, with universal themes, an authentic voice, and a well-written story.  Many of us didn’t expect to like the book -- but ended up thinking it was . . . pretty good.  If you didn't have a chance to read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter with us, you may want to check it out.  It's a critically-acclaimed YA selection filled with family conflicts, long-held secrets, surprising discoveries, rebellion, and - ultimately - reconciliation.

Third, the drumroll! 

Congratulations to Allison (otherwise known as @kwizgiver over on Instagram, and blogging at What If This Is As Good As It Gets), the winner of this round's exciting prize package!  

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Thanks so much to all of you for reading with us! 

And STAY TUNED for the big announcement of our next Read With Us book selection . . . coming to a blog near you on Tuesday! (Hint: It's perfect for summer reading!)


Read With Us: Discussion Time

Read With Us

When Bonny and Carole and I were selecting the next Read With Us book, we were interested in finding something about the Mexican immigrant experience written by a Latinx author.  

Several lists pointed us to our eventual pick . . . 

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

But you know what I didn't know when we chose this book?

That it is Young Adult (YA) fiction!  A category I generally . . . don't enjoy.  But.  Here we were.  A YA title . . . that we asked you all to Read With Us!

I decided to keep an open mind about our selection. After all, this book is good YA fiction . . . being a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and all.  So I decided to read it while channeling my 13-year-old self.  Here she is, by the way . . . just to keep things in perspective.  (7th grade.  Is it a good age for anybody???  Just wondering.)

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Before we begin the discussion, though, let's have a little review.  What IS YA fiction anyway?  And how is it different from adult fiction?  

There are 3 main differences:

First, there is the age of the protagonist.  Most YA fiction features a protagonist in the 15-19 year-old age group, while protagonists in adult fiction are typically fully-formed adults (at least in their 20s, but often older).

Next, there is voice.  While most YA fiction is written by adults, the voice still feels authentic to its younger target audience.  The concerns, motivations, and inner thoughts of YA protagonists tend to reflect "teen issues" -- friendships, self-discovery, and separation from parents, for example.  The YA narrative voice will usually be more in-the-moment -- more a play-by-play than the retrospective approach we typically see in adult fiction.

Last, we've got themes.  This can really blur, because the same themes often occur in both YA and adult fiction.  It's just that in YA, those themes (sex, violence, etc.) are not described as explicitly as they might be in adult fiction.

Personally, I tend to find YA kind of dull and predictable.  But 13-year-old Kym?  She really ate it up!  While 13-year-old Kym would have been scandalized by many of the topics and issues in this book (because the 1972 world she lived in was so very different from the modern-day world Julia was navigating), I know that 13-year-old Kym would've loved reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter!

So.

Let's get to discussing, shall we?  Here's my discussion question:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was written to follow Julia’s day to day life. Along the way, the book touches on a multitude of social issues. Which was the most natural to you? Did you enjoy the slice of life nature to Julia’s narrative? Do you think there were too many social issues crammed into this book?  Or did it showcase how these issues permeate society?

Please consider this bonus question as well:

Do you think this book was a good representation of the YA fiction genre?  And did you judge this book differently than you might if it were adult fiction? Would you have liked this book when YOU were part of the target YA audience?

Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments directly IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Please feel free to respond to other commenters as well.  

Be sure to check out the questions posed by Bonny and Carole today, too!  It's our first-ever-three-blog-book-discussion-extravaganza!

Like we did last time, we've got a little bonus for you to participating in the book discussion. We have another “book lovers' surprise package” to be given to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blog posts. Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment — so the more you share, express your opinions, and comment, the more chances you have to win the prize. The winner will be revealed as part of our wrap-up post later this month.

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And one more thing . . . We'd like to try to organize a Zoom book discussion sometime next week.  It's tricky to find the best time, though.  Please let us know in the comments if you'd be interested in taking part in a Zoom discussion, any time preferences (morning, afternoon, evening, for example), and if there are any specific days you CAN'T do (Carole can't do Monday evenings, for example, and I can't do Tuesday evenings).

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As always, thanks for reading with us!

 

 

 

 

 


Read With Us: Announcing Our Next Book Pick

Read With Us

Back in January, my computer was inundated with promotional ads and posts about a highly anticipated new book . . . "American Dirt."  And before I could even put it on my "want to read" list on Goodreads . . . well.  There was controversy.

I don't want to turn this post into a forum for what you think of all that, but I do want to say that . . . initially, the controversy made me want to read the book to see for myself what all the hub-bub was about.  But it also made me want to look deeper into why there was controversy in the first place (because when it comes to Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies. . . I'm a Questioner).

I read a lot of articles and essays and opinion pieces about the book and surrounding controversy . . . and then I read this one, which did a great job explaining the issue (it's long, but worth reading if you want to learn more).  And I decided I didn't actually want to read that book after all.   But I was more interested in the topic of immigration than ever, and particularly in border crossings into the US from Mexico.  And I was most interested in reading authentic fiction about the immigration experience.  

I happened upon this list of 17 great books to read on the border instead of American Dirt, and when I shared the list with Bonny and Carole, we discovered there . . . our next Read With Us title!

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I hope you'll join us in reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Ericka L. Sánchez.  I think you'll find it an interesting and timely read -- with so much for us to discuss.  

We'll be giving you more background on the book in April, and we'll begin our discussion posts in May.  So you have plenty of time to find the book and start reading!  The book should be readily available at most libraries, and because it came out in 2017, there may not be much of a wait for it (fingers crossed).  The paperback version is available from Amazon for $7.99 right now -- even less than the price of the Kindle version.  However you choose to read, I hope you'll choose to . . . 

Read With Us!

 


Fever: Week 3 Discussion

Read With Us

Welcome to the final Read With Us book discussion for Fever!

Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments directly IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Please feel free to respond to other commenters as well.

As Carole and Bonny have already explained, this time around we've got an added bonus to participating in the book discussion. We have put together a “book lovers' surprise package” to be given to one lucky Fever reader! Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blog posts. Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment — so the more you share, express your opinions, and comment, the more chances you have to win the prize. The winner will be revealed as part of our wrap-up post on February 25!

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Now.  On with our discussion!

Fever

It's kind of interesting to host the final discussion.  I'm already privy to many of your thoughts and insights about the book, based on your comments in our earlier discussions hosted by Carole and Bonny.  I know, for example, that many of you felt that the book would have been stronger with more attention paid to Dr. Soper, and with perhaps more focus on the factors that led to the link between Mary Mallon and her identification as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever.  I also know that while most of us agree that it's critical to protect public health, we also feel that Mary Mallon was treated unfairly because she was a poor immigrant -- and a woman, to boot.

What else can I even ask . . . in this 3rd and final discussion?

Well.

First, let's talk about Alfred, shall we?

The character of Mary's long-time partner, Alfred Briehof - a German immigrant with addiction problems, a spotty work ethic, and commitment issues - was not based on an actual person in Mary's life (according to the available historical records and details). While it is nice to think that Mary had a "special someone" to share her life with, it seems to me that the author gave the character Alfred a lot of "space" in the story (even allowing him his own "point of view" for a few rather confusing chapters there in the middle of the book).

What did you think of Alfred?  Did the relationship between Mary and Alfred help you understand Mary's life choices better?  Did their life together ring true in this particular historical setting and context?  Did you think Mary's behavior toward Alfred was consistent with the rest of her character?  What do you think of the author's choice to focus attention so heavily on Alfred?

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Next, let's talk about Fever as a work of historical fiction.

The book is classified as historical fiction. It is factually based on a real-life, historical person (Mary Mallon) and features many key events in her history.  It is also fictional -- bringing the past to life for readers by embellishing Mary's life with fabricated details.  Many people in the story were historical figures:  Dr. Soper, the Warren family of Oyster Bay, Dr. Biggs, Josephine Baker, and Ernst Lederle, for example.  And the book tied in some real-life events to help cement the setting and timeline:  the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the sinking of the Titanic, for example.  Yet the majority of characters, situations, and conversations are fictional.

How do you think this worked in Fever?  Did you notice any things in the book that seemed out of place or time, given the historical setting?  Did the characters speak and act like people would have done in that period of time/in that situation?  Did the book feel authentic to you?  Why or why not?

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And, finally, let's talk about Mary herself.  

Many of us, in our comments in the earlier discussions, mentioned that we didn't feel that we really got to know Mary Mallon.  She seemed enigmatic to us -- sometimes independent, confident, and stubborn, but other times . . .  well, not so much . . . taking on work that would get her in trouble, for example, just so she could feed her boyfriend's addiction.

Do you think this was the author's intent -- to keep us at arm's length from Mary?  Are there things the author might have done differently to draw us closer to Mary?  Were you surprised at how Mary reacted/responded to Alfred's drug addiction given how she handled other situations in her life?  Do you think you may have enjoyed the book more if you could understand (and maybe even cheer for) Mary?  

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Would you recommend this book to others?

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Be sure to join us next Tuesday over at Bonny's . . . as we wrap up this go 'round of Read With Us and announce the winner of our "book lovers' surprise package!"

 


Read With Us: A New Book

Read With Us

Bonny and Carole and I are pleased to share our next Read With Us book selection today.  After much discussion and careful consideration, we've chosen Fever by Mary Beth Keane.

Fever

What's it about?  

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she'd aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined medical engineer noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.

The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary, proud of her former status and passionate about cooking, the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.

Bringing early-twentieth-century New York alive, the neighborhoods, the bars, the park carved out of upper Manhattan, the boat traffic, the mansions and sweatshops and emerging skyscrapers, Fever is an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the imagination of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes a fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable heroine.

Why did we choose it?

We really did put a lot of thought into our second book selection.  We wanted to choose a fiction book for this go-round, and we wanted it to be obscure enough that most of you haven't already read it, interesting - and full of discussable issues and topics, highly regarded, old enough to be available through most libraries, and short enough to be readable during the holiday months.

That's a lot of shoes for a mere book to fill . . . but we think we've done it with Fever!  (Besides . . .it's historical fiction about a woman most of us have heard about by reputation -- but really don't know much about.  And that's always interesting.)

What's the timeline?

Let's just say . . . you have plenty of time to get your hands on a copy of Fever!  We'll be starting our background/promotional posts in January, with discussion posts to follow in February.

Where can I get a copy of the book?

I see that Fever is available for download on Kindle or iBooks ($12.99), as a paperback ($10.99 on Amazon; I also saw it on the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble for the same price), or through your local library.  (The book was written in 2014, so there shouldn't be a big rush to read it.)

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So.  There you have it.  All the details on our new book selection.  
I hope you'll . . . Read With Us this winter!