Archive for December, 2007

Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

This evening the Joppa Evening Discussion Group will be discussing Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer. Joppa Group, I would love for you to leave a comment on this blog on how your discussion went and what you thought of the book!

Sons of Fortune was published in 2003

Find this book in our catalog.

This is what Publisher’s Weekly 01/13/2003 said about it:
“Veteran novelist and British politician Archer (Kane and Abel) is currently serving a prison sentence for perjury, so readers can perhaps forgive him if this latest effort falls short of his usual standard. The implausibly plotted novel follows fraternal twin boys separated at birth by a bizarre set of circumstances. Nat Cartwright and Fletcher Davenport are born in Hartford, Conn., in the early 1950s. A meddlesome nurse sends them home with different families. Nat is raised in a lower-middle-class household, attends the University of Connecticut, serves heroically in Vietnam and goes into banking. Fletcher, the wealthy Yalie, becomes a lawyer and a politician. The men are repeatedly thrown into competition with each other, whether for admission to college or in their professional lives, their rivalry culminating when they both run for governor of their home state. The characters are too thin, and their respective worlds too littered with cliches, to offer a satisfying portrait of the baby boomer generation. Contrived plot twists offer little distraction, while the dialogue sometimes reads like a set of photo captions-information without emotion. “When you think about it, they are the obvious predator,” says Nat about a takeover threat. “Fairchild’s is the largest bank in the state; seventy-one branches with almost no serious rivals.” Archer is usually a skillful storyteller, but he drops the ball here. Forecast: Archer, who has had to resign from political office three times because of financial and sexual scandals, usually draws reliable sales, but this weak offering may break the mold.”
Conversation Starters:

“Much of Archer’s popularity stems from his skill as a storyteller.”

Would you agree that Archer drops the ball on this one?

Was the story weak? Were you, perhaps, drawn in by the rivalry of the twins, despite what the reviewer said?

“Though plot trumps characterization, Archer has created compelling and memorable characters..”

“Details fill all his novels.”

What do you think of the portrait of the baby boomer generation that Archer draws?

“Complex tales, filled with plot twists galore, fuel his novels.”

Is there an element of inevitability in the story despite the plot twists. Do you think this is deliberate or just weak storytelling?

“…action-packed tales of good versus evil, in which virtue is inevitably rewarded.”

About Jeffrey Archer: Official website, Preview the book

Other books about twins:

Blood Lies by Daniel Kalla Find this book in our catalog.

When drug addict Emily Kenmore is found with her neck slashed in her Seattle condo, Ben Dafoe, a doctor at a local hospital who’s worked as a police consultant, chooses not to tell the cops that he was once secretly engaged to Emily or that he had threatened the unidentified dead man found with her for supplying her habit. The discovery of Dafoe’s rare blood type at the scene of the double homicide prompts him to flee to Canada, in search of his twin brother, Aaron, a chronic drug user who shares the same blood type. Dafoe had believed Aaron had been dead for two years, but now suspects he’s still alive.

Twice Kissed by Lisa Jackson Find this book in our catalog.

The thrilling tale of a woman plunged into a world of scandal and shocking secrets as she searches for her missing twin sister.

Envy, a Novel by Kathryn Harrison Find this book in our catalog.

William Moreland, the 47-year-old New York psychoanalyst at the center of Harrison’s sixth novel, has a family that’s awash in betrayals. Will’s father, a retired veterinarian turned photographer, is having an affair with the owner of his gallery. Will’s brother, Mitchell, a long-distance swimmer with “a name as recognizable as that of, say, Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods,” is estranged from the family. And ever since Will’s 12-year-old son died three years ago in a boating accident, his wife, Carole, has been emotionally and sexually distant. All these wounds pucker open when Will attends his college reunion and runs into a statuesque ex-girlfriend who left him 25 years ago when she may or may not have been pregnant with his child. That past betrayal becomes entangled with the others in Will’s life and leads to further transgressions and revelations.

Shoe Addicts Anonymous by Beth Harbison

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

This is my new winter avatar, wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a Great New Year. Before I go into the review of Shoe Addicts Anonymous, the Abingdon Book Group pick for December, I want to remind you of the fantastic Winter Reading Program for Adults and High School Teens that begins in all branches on January 2nd. Register to take part and you will receive a small gift, if you complete the reading you will receive another gift. Do what you already love to do and get a reward! “Let your Imagination Run Wild, Read”. Details are available online or at your local branch.

Beth Harbison lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and 3 dogs.

Shoe Addicts came out as a summer beach read in 2007, but is more than just another chick lit book. Although it is light reading, it covers some serious ground as it deals with the loneliness, fears, and dissatisfactions of four very different women. It gets 4 out of 5 stars in and many 5 star ratings from readers.

Publishers Weekly had this to say:
Arriving just in time for beach-read season, the effervescent hardcover fiction debut of cookbook author and romance novelist Harbison features four D.C.-area women who meet weekly to swap and chat about… shoes. Trying to get a handle on her massive consumer debt, Lorna Rafferty posts an Internet ad looking to trade footwear with women who have good taste and wear size seven-and-a-half. A senator’s trophy wife, Helene Zaharis, is dreaming of escaping her loveless marriage when she stumbles upon Lorna’s post. Overweight phone sex operator Sandra Vanderslice struggles to overcome her agoraphobia long enough to attend the shoe meetings. After a few funny missteps, the threesome finds a fourth member, Joss Bowen, the nanny of a shrewish socialite’s hellion boys. Joss couldn’t care less about shoes, but uses the group as a reason to get out of the house. Harbison does a fine job of showcasing how each woman is trapped—Lorna by her debt, Helene by her marriage, Sandra by her self-image, Joss by her employment contract—and how the fresh eyes of the group allow them to see themselves in a new light. Harbison creates vivid, convincing characters and handles them well. Reading this novel is like eating a slice of cake. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The book group really enjoyed this book, and all said they would read other books by this author, so they will be pleased to note that Secrets of a Shoe Addict by Beth Harbison is due to be published Jun 10, 2008. They thought the characters were realistic and their problems a true reflection of the difficulties women face, from adulterous husbands to out of control finances. The book ends a little too neatly but very pleasantly with all ends nicely tied. For entertainment with feeling this is a humorous and endearing read.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

On December 7 the film Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s Booker prize winning novel, with Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy in the lead roles, opened on limited release. The novel, first published in 2001 and nominated for a Booker Prize, was called by PW a “haunting novel.” On The Bob Edwards Show of December 7, director Joe Wright discussed the movie. Click here for the website of the film

About Atonement – From the hardcover jacket notes:
“On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her older sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching Cecilia is their housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner, a childhood friend who, along with Briony’s sister, has recently graduated from Cambridge. By the end of that day the lives of all three will have been changed forever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had never before dared to approach and will have become victims of the younger girl’s scheming imagination. And Briony will have committed a dreadful crime, the guilt for which will color her entire life. ”
About the Author – from Ian McEwan’s website :
“Ian McEwan was born on 21 June 1948 in Aldershot, England. He studied at the University of Sussex, where he received a BA degree in English Literature in 1970. While completing his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia, he took a creative writing course taught by the novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson.
McEwan’s works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany’s Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday. “
Discussion Guide from Publisher
Conversation Starters from BlogaBook:
Critics have praised McEwan’s close observation of people in the English upper middle-class in 1935. Did you enjoy this? What does the opening of the novel on a long sweltering summer’s day at a country house-party contribute to the novel?
The book is, in effect, three books in one. The first part is the crime, the second part is Robbie in the war, the third part is Briony working as a nurse in London. Do you think this tripartite approach works?
What did you think of the descriptions of Dunkirk? What significance does Dunkirk have for the characters and for the book?
One critic says, “McEwan brilliantly engages readers in a tour de force of what ifs and might have beens until they begin to wonder what actually happened. ” Could you decide what actually happened? How much of the book is real and how much imagined?
Readers have enjoyed the psychological insight McEwan brings to his characters. Did you find the characters well-drawn and their actions believable? Could you detect motives for their behavior?
Would you agree that the book is about the power of memory, the search for truth and absolution, and the human capacity to forgive?
Would you agree that the novel is reminiscent of the works of Virginia Woolf?
“In its broad historical framework, Atonement is a departure from McEwan’s earlier work, and he loads the story with an emotional intensity and a gripping plot reminiscent of the best nineteenth-century fiction. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, country and class, the novel is a profoundly moving exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.”

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

In January 2008 the Harford Out-of-the-House Book Group for Moms will be meeting in the Bel Air Branch. Please call the branch at 410-638-3151 or check our web page for details of this group and for other book groups sponsored by the Bel Air branch.

In January the Moms will be discussing Digging to America by Anne Tyler. Since my own book group just finished reading this uplifting and thought provoking book, I thought I would discuss it here. I can heartily recommend it both as a good read and as a book that a discussion group can get its teeth into. Find this large print book in our catalog.
Find this book in our catalog.

This is a novel of seemingly quiet and unremarkable lives. The novel itself is seemingly quiet and unremarkable and yet it packs a punch. In subtle and nuanced ways and with powerful psychological insight, it explores the tension between the human need to fit in with the crowd and yet assert ones own individuality. There is a lot of quiet humor in the book, and loving observation of human frailty. The reader cares about the two families, one quintessentially white middle class American and the other Iranian American, both living in Baltimore.

The families meet at BWI, when both are there to greet the arrival of two Korean infants who are being adopted by two couples, Brad and Bitsy and Sami and Ziba. The families get together over an arrival party arranged by Bitsy and afterwards their friendship develops in fits and starts, through misunderstandings and various happy and sometimes excruciatingly embarassing social occasions. Maryam, the widowed mother of Sami, and a first generation Iranian immigrant is the center of the story. It is mainly through her eyes that the reader sees twenty-first century American life, at least in the Baltimore/Washington suburbs. Maryam has always found it hard to come to terms with being part of a culture and a country. She feels foreign in America, though she has been in the country thirty-something years, and yet she no longer feels she has a home in Iran. If truth be told, she never felt she fitted in even in Iran, and when young expressed this alienation in political dissidence. Most of the book is about how she works out this dilemma.

The book also shifts to the points of view of the other characters, who are individually quirky and lovable. Stretching from the babies’ arrival in 1997 to 2004, the novel is punctuated by the annual Arrival parties and other celebrations, all of which add color and humor to the book and also offer insights into American and Iranian culture.

Conversation Starters

It is said that in the novel the two different households serve as microcosms for twenty-first American Society. Would you agree?
Bitsy and Brad Donaldson appear to be stereotypical white-middle class Americans. Is Anne Tyler condemning the stereotype? Are there occasions when they depart from the stereotype?
Maryam continually feels her “outsiderness.” Are there occasions when others feel this exclusion or “otherness?”
Some of the members of my group felt that Anne Tyler made many of her characters two-dimensional in order to make a point in the book. Do you agree? If you do, did this matter?
Other group members felt an empathy with the characters. Why would this be?
Even though some characters may be stereotypical, one reviewer found the families “utterly believable.” Do you agree?
What did you think of this portrait of immigrant life? Each character strikes a balance between assimilation and remaining true to his/her culture. What do you think of the implications of this in the book and in our own lives?
One reviewer noticed that many decisions in the book are transformed into deeply symbolic acts, subject to earnest debate. Did this make sense to you in the context of the book. In the context of your own life? Could you identify some of the symbolism in the book?
What do you think of Bitsy’s attempts to create traditions for her family?
What do you think of Anne Tyler’s language and her ability one reviewer noticed to infuse the commonplace with meaning and grace?
What did you think of the shifting from the perspective of one character to another?
Within the two extended families, many characters are able to get their own way. Can you identify some examples?

About the Author

There was an extensive article about Anne Tylaer by Jessica Teisch in Bookmarks magazine for November/December 2006.

In Washington Post, 10/22/03, Anne Tyler said this, “People have always seemed funny and strange to me, and touching in unexpected ways. I can’t shake off a sort of mist of irony that hangs over whatever I see…It just seems to me that even the most ordinary person, in real life, will turn out to have something unusual at his center.”