Read With Us

Read With Us . . . Right On Through the Holidays

Read With Us Fall

It's a Big Day!

The Read With Us "reveal!"
(Drumroll, please!)

After MUCH discussion and a lot of back-and-forth, Bonny and Carole and I finally settled on Matrix by Lauren Groff for our next Read With Us book selection.

Matrix

For the first time in Read With Us history, I've already read the book we chose . . . so I am confident it'll make for a GREAT book group discussion. (In fact, I can't wait to talk about this one with you.) 

First of all, separate this title from the movie franchise with the same name (almost - the book title does not include "the"). You won't find Neo, Trinity, or Morpheus in these pages. But you will find . . . witchy feminist medieval nuns! When you first read the description of this quite marvelous book, you may be turned off by phrases like . . . "12th century," "impoverished abbey," "convent," and "French poetry." But I encourage you to Read On! 

I wasn't sold on this book myself when I first heard about it, but my ears perked right up when it made the National Book Award long list. And then I read a reader-review on Goodreads that described Matrix as “medieval girlboss fantasia” -- and I couldn't resist. In fact, now that I've read the book, I can’t get that phrase out of my head. Because, yeah. That’s it exactly. Author Lauren Groff creates a fictional history for Marie de France (a real-life figure) that treats her as a superhero (as much as 12th century nuns can be superheroes ), able to battle hunger, poverty, and disease in male-dominated medieval society. And - let me tell you - it totally works.

There is no doubt that Groff’s imaginative and creative invention of a history -- for an actual woman-of-history with no history -- makes for an excellent read. Beautiful prose, a brilliant sense of place and time, and fascinating characters put this novel in the well-worth-reading category. It’s original and thought-provoking with layers of complexity -- and it will make an excellent book group selection.

We'll be talking more about the book and providing some background information throughout November. Then . . . mark your calendars now for our blog book discussions AND a Zoom discussion on Tuesday, January 11 (7:00 pm Eastern time; Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel). That gives you plenty of time to get your hands on the book -- and Read With Us . . . right on through the holidays!

(Besides, who doesn’t like to imagine a small society of like-minded individuals walling themselves off from the flames of the world outside? "Medieval girlboss fantasia" indeed!)

==

Previous Read With Us book selections:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

 


Read With Us: The Wrap-Up

Usually, after we've read our latest Read With Us book selection and finished up the discussion, Bonny, Carole, or I will write up a wrap-up post to share. A way to kind of . . . bring closure to that book; to put it to bed, so to speak.

Well.
It's my turn this go-round.
And I wrote the post.
And then, somehow, it got "lost" in the blogosphere.

And I'll be damned if I'm going to write it again.

RWU Summer Logo

So consider this . . . a different kind of Read With Us wrap-up post!

After our Zoom book discussion last week, I got to thinking about . . . just that: Our Zoom book discussion. Because back when we launched Read With us -- in the fall of 2019(!) - that phrase, even the concept of some sort of online discussion, was never part of the plan.

But, of course, along came Covid . . . and now most of us are completely accustomed to and comfortable with Zoom gatherings and meetings. (I would say that being able to meet up with people across any distance is actually one of the silver linings of the pandemic.)

What's happened with Read With Us . . . is that the Zoom book discussion has evolved to become a "real" book group (without the wine). We come together to discuss a book we've all read . . . and we sign off with a deeper understanding about that book. Sometimes we see things a little differently after the discussion. Sometimes we like the book even more -- and sometimes we like it less. Things make sense in new ways. We ask questions. We share thoughts. It's a communal experience, for sure. (And that's something we can all use more of these days.) Our discussions - about the book and about life - are engaging and interesting. And becoming more so with each meet-up.

We also laugh a lot. 

And while we do have a core group of Read With Us stalwarts regularly participating in the Zooms, the group is fluid and accessible and welcoming. If you have felt hesitant or somewhat intimidated about joining our Zoom discussions, or if you're not sure what it might be like to be part of a book group, I'm here to encourage you to give it a try! We don't have intellectual, literary discussions. We don't put anyone on the spot. We just speak from our hearts . . . and listen to each other.

We'll be announcing our next Read With Us selection soon, so stay tuned!

(And in terms of a wrap-up of Unsettled Ground? We all liked the book quite a lot, some more than others. None of us liked Dot - at all - and we all thought she was a terrible mother with some serious, untreated mental health issues. When it came to the supporting cast of characters, most of us were on "Team Saffron" -- but others were firmly on "Team Bridget." We all agreed that music and gardening elevated the book from the total doldrums of bleakness. And we were generally in agreement that the ending seemed . . . about right.) (Oh . . . and there was great relief that nothing bad happened to Jeanie's dog.)


Read With Us: Let's Talk About It

RWU Summer Logo

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question (or questions) on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . Unsettled Ground. Join the discussion (which you're welcome do even if you didn't read the book).  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. (Please know . . . that because of the limitations of Typepad, I can't "layer" or "stack" the comments in my comment feed. Sorry. Bear with me.)

Let's begin. . . 

55678463

First . . . I'd really like to know what you thought of the book. How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserved to be one of the Women's Prize for Fiction finalists this year?

Next . . . There is a strong connection to the land in book -- from the title, to the gardening work Jeanie does, to the family's way of life. In what ways do you think the gardens and the landscapes in Unsettled Ground make the characters who they are? Did you see the cottage garden as a refuge for Jeanie -- or as a prison? And what about Jeanie's gardening job for Saffron -- refuge or prison?

Last . . . What three words would you use to describe Unsettled Ground to someone who hasn't read the book?

I can't wait to hear what you think!

==

Don't forget: We'll be discussing the book on Zoom tonight - 7:00 pm Eastern Time. There's still time for you to join us! Just let me know of your interest either with a comment or by sending me an email (see sidebar, above) -- and I'll send a Zoom invitation. 

PS - If you have signed up for the Zoom, but you haven't received an invitation from me by noon today, please let me know so I can re-send the invitation to you.

 


Sometimes Mondays

. . . are scrambled.

Sundays . . . have always been my get-it-together day of the week. The day I wrap up the week just ending . . . and plan for the week that's coming. I have Sunday Chores (laundry, for example) and "calendar-ing" (where I get my schedule for the coming week set in my head) and Planning (meals, blog posts, etc.). I like my Sundays to be neat and orderly so I can hit the ground running on Monday.

But. . . that was not to be yesterday.

In fact, I lost the whole Sunday! I was down for the count after getting my 3rd Covid vaccine dose on Saturday (part of a carefully orchestrated plan to be able to get me in a place where I can safely get an infusion treatment for my RA next month) (it's complicated). I didn't have terrible reactions to my first 2 doses, but this 3rd one did knock me out of contention for the whole day.

I'm feeling just fine today. But scrambling.
Because I didn't (at all) get-it-together for the week ahead yesterday.

IMG_6017

“You don’t get explanations in real life. You just get moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd.” 
    — Neil Gaiman

Let's see how well I recover this week! (Because, often, when I miss my Sunday . . . I never quite get-it-together and end up flailing all week long.)

==

55678463

A Reminder:

Tomorrow is our Read With Us book discussion day! Join Bonny, Carole, and I for blog book discussion questions (we'll each be posting questions for you to ponder on our blogs). And then -- tomorrow night we'll have a Zoom meet-up where we can talk about the book together. Please join us -- it's a lot of fun, and always an interesting discussion, too. 7:00 pm Eastern time. If you'd like to join in, please let me know in the comments -- or send me an email (see sidebar) -- and I'll add you to the Zoom invitation list.


A Little Reminder ... With Some Greek Mythology On the Side

So. I had this inspired blog post idea for today. My plan . . . was to get all clever about encouraging you to read the latest Read With Us selection - Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller - during these last dog days of summer.

RWU Summer Logo

Well.
Color me Put In My Place.

It's a good thing I looked up the dog days of summer before writing this post. . . because, my friends? They ended last Wednesday!

Turns out . . . The dog days of summer have a specific time slot on the calendar, and this year, the dog days were July 3 through August 11. I did not know that. I did know that the dog days are so named because of Sirius - the dog constellation - and his appearance in the summer sky, alongside the sun. But I never knew there were specific days lined up to match - and that those days change from year to year (although it makes perfet sense) (duh).

So.

Never mind.

Because if you haven't already done so, you will not be able to read Unsettled Ground during the dog days of summer. But you WILL still be able to read it during these lingering, no-name days of summer . . . or even over the Labor Day weekend.

And I hope you will.
Because . . . 

55678463

Unsettled Ground is a very good book, and totally worth some of your reading time this summer, dog days or not.

The book is available in hardback or paperback online or in most local bookstores. You can get a digital version through Kindle or iBooks. Most libraries have copies available these days without too long a wait. And there is an audio version available as well.

Book discussion day is Tuesday, September 14. As usual, there will be discussion questions posted on our blogs that day . . . and then in the evening (7:00 pm Eastern Time), we'll be hosting our book discussion Zoom meet-up (which is really fun). I hope you'll join us!

C'mon along and Read With Us.
(Even if those dog days are long gone . . . )


Clear Your Calendar . . .

and prepare to be . . . UNSETTLED!

RWU Summer Logo

Yes, friends. Our most recent Read With Us book selection - Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller - is very compelling and highly readable.

Unsettled Ground

I was up north last week, and it rained . . . a lot. I spent one day inside reading this book. Actually, let's clarify that . . . I spent one day inside glued to this book. Is it among my favorite reads of all time? No. Is it the best book I've read this year? No. But . . . it's very good! And it's totally . . . un-put-down-able. Author Claire Fuller is a master storyteller. She paints a beautiful landscape for us, populates it with believable characters, and tells her story in a way that just hooks us right in and keeps us reading (and reading and reading). I found this book to be frustrating and bleak, but also a bit hopeful by the end. It's one of those stories that may change your perspective a bit; that might open your eyes to different ways of living (or surviving). It will probably . . . unsettle . . . you a little. And it will surely make you want to talk about it with other readers. (It's perfect for a book group.)

I hope you'll grab a copy and read along with us this summer.
(Although you may want to make sure your schedule is clear for a day or so before you begin.) (Just sayin.)

The book is currently available on Amazon in hardback ($19.33), Kindle ($12.99) or Audible versions. I imagine your local bookstore (should you be fortunate enough to have one) would offer the book at similar prices. I got a copy from my library with a short wait.

Our Read With Us book discussion day is Tuesday, September 14. Bonny, Carole, and I will each post a discussion question (or two) on our blogs that day, and then - later in the evening (7:00 pm Eastern time zone) - we'll be hosting a live book discussion/meet-up on Zoom. 

C'mon along!
Unsettle yourself.

Read With Us!

==

PS - A couple of weeks ago, Bonny discovered - and shared - a Spotify playlist put together by the author to accompany the book. I'm sharing the link again here . . . because it really is a nice companion to the book, and you may want to give it a listen.

PSS - Slight spoiler alert. (Only slight.) When I read books that feature animals and beloved pets, I worry a lot about . . . bad things happening to the animals. I just want to assure others that feel the same way . . . well, don't worry about the dog.

 


Read With Us . . . This Summer

RWU Summer Logo

Every year for many, many years I've followed the Women's Prize for Fiction (through several sponsorship and name changes) with great interest. Born of frustration over the lack of recognition for women writers among the top fiction prizes, the Women's Prize was established in the early 1990s, and has since become one of the most prestigious literary prizes out there. It is awarded annually to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English and published in the UK in the preceding year.

I mark my calendar every year with with announcement dates for the Women's Prize - the Longlist, the Shortlist, the Winner. . . and then I get to reading as many of the books as I can get my hands on. By the time they've narrowed it down to the Shortlist, I'm never disappointed! (Last year's winner was Hamnet, a favorite of mine -- and I know a fave for many of you, too.)

Bonny, Carole, and I are really excited to announce that our summer Read With Us book selection . . . is lifted directly from the 2021 Women's Prize Shortlist!

Unsettled Ground

We'll be reading Unsettled Ground by British author Claire Fuller. NPR has this to say in its review:

'Unsettled Ground' is a terribly beautiful book, and although its premise may seem quiet, it is full of dramatic twists and turns right up until its moving, beautiful end.
            --- Ilana Masad, NPR

Although I haven't had a chance to read it yet, I've been waiting to pick it up since the Women's Prize Longlist announcement back in March! Unsettled Ground was only released in the US about a month ago, but I've seen on Goodreads that a couple of you have already had a chance to read it (lucky you!). My library hasn't got its copy yet, apparently, but I am #1 on the hold list, so I'm sure it won't be long. The book is available in hardback and Kindle on Amazon, and I'm sure you can pick up a copy at your local bookstore as well.

We'll be talking more about the book and providing some background information later in July and August. Then . . . mark your calendars now for our blog book discussions AND a Zoom discussion on Tuesday, September 14 (7:00 pm Eastern time; Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel).

I see (on Goodreads) that many of you have this book on your "to read" lists, so I'm hoping you'll be eager to join in and . . . Read With Us!

==

Previous Read With Us book selections:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

 


Read With Us: Let's Talk About It

Read With Us

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question (or questions) on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . Shuggie Bain. Join the discussion (which you're welcome do even if you didn't read the book).  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. (Please know . . . that because of the limitations of Typepad, I can't "layer" or "stack" the comments in my comment feed. Sorry. Bear with me.)

Let's begin. . . 

52741293._SY475_

First . . . I'd really like to know what you thought of the book. How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserved to win the 2020 Booker Prize?

Next . . . The author uses Scottish dialect throughout the novel. What does this add to the narrative, and how did you find reading it if you weren't familiar with some of the words?

Last . . . Shuggie has two older siblings who eventually escape their dysfunctional mother. How do you feel about them leaving Shuggie behind? Was it their responsibility to protect him? Or were they right to try to save themselves?

I can't wait to hear what you think!

==

Don't forget: We'll be discussing the book on Zoom tonight - 7:00 pm Eastern Time. There's still time for you to join us! Just let me know of your interest either with a comment or by sending me an email (see sidebar, above) -- and I'll send a Zoom invitation. 

PS - If you have signed up for the Zoom, but you haven't received an invitation from me by noon today, please let me know so I can re-send the invitation to you.

 


Sliding Into June With a Reminder

I hope you all enjoyed a pleasant extended weekend.

I'm welcoming June with a quick reminder: Our next Read With Us book discussion is coming right up!

Read With Us

First, the book . . . 

52741293._SY475_

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, you still have time. Although it's a longer book, it's quite compelling and doesn't take as long to read as you think it might. (You'll want to get started soon, though.) You can probably pick it up at your local library or bookstore (it's out in paperback now), and it's available on Kindle for $8.67 right now if you like to read on an e-reader. (And I'm sure it would fit quite nicely into one of your Summer Book Bingo squares!)

Then, the discussion.

We'll be talking about the book on Tuesday, June 8 -- both on our blogs and with a Zoom meet-up. 

  • Bonny, Carole, and I will each post a different discussion question on our blogs next Tuesday -- June 8. Feel free to post your thoughts about the book by commenting throughout the discussion week.
  • Later that same evening, we'll be hosting a Zoom meet-up at 7:00 pm to discuss the book "live" and in person. If you want to join us (and we hope you will; we've really enjoyed the previous two Read With Us Zooms), all you need to do is . . . let us know! Just RSVP by leaving a comment on any of our blogs beginning today -- or you can send us an email. I'll be sending out the Zoom information prior to the meet-up -- AND I'll be sending out some background information about the book and the author to deepen our understanding of the book prior to the discussion.

If you've read the book - or if you're still planning to - we hope you'll join us for the discussion on June 8.

And . . . welcome June!

 


Throwing Caution To The Wind

Read With Us

Generally speaking, I'm cautious when it comes to recommending books to other people. I actually don't do it very often, and only if I really, really understand someone else's reading tastes and can match my recommendation to what they may enjoy.

I mean, I'm notorious among people who know me . . . for liking books others don't find appealing. You see, I'm a big fan of the gritty, messy, "hard" books. The ones with ambigous endings. Or books that feature characters without names. Or books with weird punctuation. I tend to appreciate authors that stab you in the heart, and then twist the knife around a bit. Sometimes more than a bit. That kind of thing. (Although I absolutely draw the line at books where animals die or come to harm.)  

So I've learned to be careful about making recommendations.
Because not everyone likes that kind of book.
I often say . . . I loved it. Your mileage may vary.
And people generally get what I'm saying.

Our most recent Read With Us pick . . . 

52741293._SY475_

ummm . . . well. It might fit into that category of books I'm cautious about recommending. It's gritty, and definitely messy. Some people might say it's "hard," (but I'd just say it's life.) The ending is kinda-sorta ambiguous (spoiler alert: everything is not tied into a pretty bow, neat as you please, by the final page). All the characters do have names, and the author uses standard punctuation -- but there is a lot of dialect (which can be somewhat challenging until you get the hang of it). And, yeah. The author definitely stabs you in the heart and twists it around - real good - a few times.

I loved it.
Your mileage may vary.
But I'm going to throw caution to the wind . . . and recommend it to you anyway.
I really do hope you'll pick up a copy and give it a try!

Because Shuggie Bain . . . is definitely a book worth reading. The writing is brilliant, the story compelling. It's completely "readable" . . . despite the dark subject matter. And that . . . is a testament to the mastery of author Douglas Stuart. He writes so tenderly about hurt and damaged people who are just trying to make their way in a world that isn’t helping them at all. You'll care about his characters so much and so deeply, despite their ugliness and all their flaws. It's Powerful Stuff, I tell you.

While not a memoir, author Douglas Stuart did draw upon his own experience as a queer boy growing up in Glasgow with a single mother who struggled with addiction in writing the novel (his first, by the way). NPR's Scott Simon did an excellent interview with Douglas Stuart in November 2020, just days before Shuggie Bain won the Man Booker prize. It's worth a listen -- and at only 6 minutes long, it's quick and easy, too. (Plus, Douglas Stuart's accent is absolutely charming.)

Speaking of accents . . . Much of the book is written in Glaswegian dialect (also known as Glasgow patter) (and I'm not making that up). It doesn't make it impossible to read or understand the book -- I had no trouble getting the meaning through context, but this little Glaswegian Dictionary would have been a helpful reference. I started out reading the hardback version of the book, but before long, I found I really wanted to hear the voices and the dialect, so I grabbed the audiobook version and alternated between reading with my eyes and my ears. I highly recommend this approach, as it added depth to my reading experience.

Although our turnaround time from announcement to discussion is a bit shorter than usual for this book, you've still got plenty of time to read along. We'll be posting our blog book discussion questions on Tuesday, June 8 -- and then we'll be hosting another Zoom book discussion later that same evening at 7:00 pm Eastern time. (I know that makes it early if you're in the Mountain or Pacific time zones, but Bonny, Carole, and I all live in Eastern time -- and we turn into pumpkins if it gets to be too late.) I hope you can make plans to join us for the Zoom. We've had a couple of great discussions now. It's a lot of fun to get together and talk books with blog friends. 

I do hope you'll join us!

I highly recommend this one. . . 
I really do.