Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—September 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Rating: In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 1.0 and 5.0+.  The average of the ratings was 4.43. Thirteen members gave the book a 5.0. This was an unusually high rating as compared to past selections.

In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 4.5 and 5.0+. The average of the ratings was 4.92. Ten members gave the book a 5+.  This book received the highest ratings ever for this club.

Review:

Books and Bagels:  Members fell in love with the Count and paced their reading to allow the magical experience to continue. Members did not want their time with the Count to end. The members were simply delighted with the compelling, witty language used by Towles.  Many members stated that the Count was their favorite character that has been presented in a fictional novel.  Fortunately, we had a member share some actual experiences of living under Soviet control and although members agreed the novel unrealistically portrayed the house arrest of the Count, overall, the fictional story was enlightening and engaging. Members have been recommending this original, humorous novel to their friends and family.

Morning Book Break: Members really enjoyed the Count.  He was human, caring, and likeable. Many members felt like the Count was their friend and thought this was a remarkable achievement for Towles.  Many members felt like the novel engaged them directly. The author was masterful in creating a well-developed story line which wove in the history of the Russian Revolution without being too preachy. Many members have been recommending this enchanting, accessible novel to friends and colleagues.  Several members barely tolerated the novel and found the narrative to be way too long and too descriptive.

Discussion Highlights:

Discussion centered on the characters presented within the novel:

  • The protagonist,  the Count and his amazing attributes and transformation
  • His suicide attempt and the effect of the handyman and the bees
  • Nina—the Eloise of the Metropol
  • Friendship between the Count and Nina
  • Nina as an agent of change
  • Sofia’s influence on the Count
  • The Count’s decision to get Sofia out of Russia, while remaining behind
  • Anna—the Count’s lover
  • Did you expect the ending? In your mind how does the story end?
  • Triumvirate—Andrey, Emilie, and the Count
  • Mishka, Osip, & Richard and their perspectives on the meaning of the revolutionary era
  • Douglas Smith of the Wall Street Journal wrote in his review: “Over four million people perished from famine in the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930’s…To flippantly refer to this moment as “unkind”…speaks to a disturbing lack of empathy and even moral imagination.”  We discussed whether the author was successful in balancing the Count’s life under house arrest with what was actually going on in Russia. This was a very interesting discussion as we also discussed the role of fiction in conveying historical events.
  • We discussed to what extent A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel of purpose.
  • Discussion on the Structure & Layout of the novel
    • Role of footnotes—helpful or distracting
    • The majority of the novel is told in third person from the Count’s perspective.  There is, however, an overarching narrator with a different perspective.  This narrator appears in the footnotes, Addendums, and the historical introductions of 1930, 1938, and 1946. We discuss the differences between this narrator’s POV & tone and the Count’s.
  • Amor Towles created quite a structure that incorporated the passage of time in a complex way. We discussed how this affected our reading of the novel.
  • We discussed the significance of Casablanca.

Resources:

For other books by Amor Towles in our collection, please click here.

http://www.amortowles.com/

Watch Becky Anderson of Anderson’s bookstore located in Naperville interview Amor Towles.
A Gentleman in Moscow was her favorite book of the year.

Read-a-Likes:

A Gentleman in Moscow

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Book Club, reader's advisory

After Dinner Mints – The Dish on Just Desserts – September 2017

after-dinner-mints

Just Desserts Discussion Group talks about
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This month’s fiction book is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale, Night Road, Firefly Lane, True Colors and Winter Garden.  She is a former lawyer, who started writing while pregnant and on bed rest with her son. Writing soon became her obsession and she’s been writing fiction ever since.

Our choice for this month is an epic love story/family drama set in France at the beginning and duration of World War II. Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads to war to defend France. Vianne and their daughter, Sophie, don’t believe that the Nazis will invade their small town of Carriveau. But they do invade and live side by side with the French citizens. Vianne is forced to make choices to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s rebellious sister, Isabelle, is searching for a purpose in life.  She joins the Resistance with a young man named Gaetan. They never look back, while risking their lives to save others. Isabelle is young, beautiful, and brave.

Their father, Julien, sends Isabelle to the country to help Vianne and Sophie survive the war. Their relationship is tested, but so is their strength and their abilities to tell right from wrong. The French people are being forced to accept a life filled with starvation, cold, and horrible treatment of their friends and neighbors, who are Jews.

Our story is told with courage, grace, and insight. We all hope that this is not Kristin Hannah’s last historical fiction novel. The group agreed that her writing is very visual. The novel would translate into a memorable film. In fact, several members thought that this was one of the best novels that they had ever read. I agree!

Pick up The Nightingale for yourself! You will find yourself getting lost in Vianne’s and Isabelle’s stories. It illuminates a part of history rarely seen: the women’s war in World War II France.

The Nightingale