The Last Tuesday Book Club: The Alice Network

Wow. That’s the first word that came to mind when I finished this book. It was a roller coaster of a ride, with a (very) few ups and enough soul-crushing downs to make the most devoted reader require a break every now and then. But it was also riveting, addicting, and based on  a network of spies that actually existed during World War I.

It’s the story of two women: Eve, the WWI spy, and Charlie, a young woman who enlists Eve’s help in looking for her cousin following the end of World War II. Eve is broken and bitter; Charlie is unsure of herself and lacks confidence in her future. They are connected in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, and their similarities are many. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, and I highly recommend that you read it if you haven’t.

So here are the questions I have this month, some of which I have borrowed from the discussion at the end of the novel:

  1. How do you think the ending of the book would be different if Charlie had found Rose, alive and well?
  2. How do female friendships grow and change throughout the course of the book? Not just the relationship between Eve and Charlie, but also the relationships between Eve and Lili and Eve and Violette?
  3. Did you think Charlie was going to find Rose? Do you think it would have been a better story if she had? More or less realistic?
  4. How and when did young Eve begin to change into the person we meet at the beginning of the book? What prompted those changes?
  5. Finn and Captain Cameron are parallels for each other: both are Scots, ex-soldiers with war wounds and prison terms, and the support systems for the women they love who go into danger. How are the two men different as well as alike? Why does Finn succeed and Cameron fail?
  6. Charlie argues that Rene should face justice through the legal system whereas Eve favors a form of vigilante justice. Who’s right?
  7. The theme of fleurs du mal carries from Lili to Eve to Charlie. When does Charlie become a fleur du mal in her own right? How has knowing Eve changed Charlie’s life, and vice versa?

This will be the last book club discussion for the time being. It hasn’t been as successful an idea as I had hoped, and I would like to come up with other ideas for a regular blog feature that might get more interaction. Any ideas?

A huge thanks to those who read and discussed the books–a discussion makes the experience of reading a book even richer and deeper, and I loved hearing your thoughts and learning from you.

Until next time,

Amy

The Last Tuesday Book Club: The Life She Was Given

This month’s book club selection is The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The only other book I’ve read by Ms. Wiseman is The Plum Tree, though she has two others: What She Left Behind and Coal River. Her books feature female protagonists placed in heart-wrenching circumstances who somehow learn to survive and grow.

The Life She Was Given is about two people: Lilly Blackwood, a young Albino girl whose mother sells her to the circus during the Great Depression, and Julia Blackwood, a young woman who has run away from home in the mid-1950s to escape her controlling and unkind mother.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I won’t put out any spoilers, but you may want to avoid reading the questions below until you’ve had a chance to read it.

I have mixed feelings about the book. I think Ellen Marie Wiseman is an extremely skilled and gifted writer and she has a way with words that I can almost assure you will bring tears to your eyes (if not a gushing flood of emotion). That being said, this story pushed me a little too far out of my comfort zone. I actually skipped one whole chapter because I knew what was going to happen and I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. I have to say I’ve never done that before.

For those of you who read it, what did you think? What were your overall impressions? And if you read the book, can you guess the chapter I skipped?

Here are the questions for this month, some of which I borrowed and/or tweaked from the back of The Life She Was Given:

  1. When Lilly left Blackwood Manor after ten years of never setting foot outside the attic, were you surprised by how quickly she acclimated to life on the outside? Did you expect her to have more developmental problems given the isolation of her first ten years?
  2. What is the author trying to say, if anything, about religion in The Life She Was Given?
  3. Why do you think Momma and Father were unkind to Julia, when their stated intention was to give her the life her mother had never had?
  4. Do you think Momma loved Lilly, or was her attitude toward her daughter based on something else?
  5. Do you think Lilly could have survived on her own if she had escaped from Momma on the way to the circus?
  6. What are your feelings about Lilly’s father?
  7. The parallels between Lilly’s life and that of the elephants and other animals are many and obvious. How did you feel when Jojo was taken from Pepper?
  8. What do you think of Claude? Do you think he did the right thing by keeping to himself during the time after Lilly disappeared? Do you think he was right not to share his knowledge with Julia?
  9. Do you think the title, The Life She Was Given, specifically refers to Lilly? Did you think it could refer to Julia, too?
  10. Have you ever been to the circus? What is your opinion of circuses?

Next month’s book is The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It’s a story about a college student looking for a cousin in France after WWII who is joined by a former spy from WWI. I’m excited to read this one!

Until next time,

Amy

The Last Tuesday Book Club: Stolen Memories

Welcome to the second edition of the Last Tuesday Book Club. Last month we read The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro and there were some interesting points made during the discussion. My plan is to read a book every month and to discuss it on the last Tuesday blog post of the month. I hope more people join us in the coming months!

This month’s selection for our Last Tuesday Book Club was Stolen Memories by Mary Miley. Mary is also the author of the Roaring Twenties mysteries, as well as a large number of non-fiction books. Stolen Memories is a work of Gothic fiction and I found it to be an exciting page-turner. Here’s a synopsis:

It’s 1928. A young English woman in Paris is attacked and thrown into the Seine, where she is left for dead. Thanks to the quick thinking of two sailors nearby, she is rescued and taken to a hospital. When she awakens, she is alarmed to discover that she has lost her memory. She doesn’t remember marrying the man standing over her with angry, flashing eyes, and she doesn’t remember why she was in Paris. The man is demanding that she reveal to him where she has hidden a number of paintings, and she has no idea what he’s talking about. As the woman slowly regains some of her disjointed memories, she is disturbed to find that she still doesn’t remember anything about her marriage, her home, the paintings, or her family.

I loved the book. Gothic fiction is my favorite genre to read and this did not disappoint. There is a French chateau, a woman who has lost her memory, a mysterious man of wealth and a dubious past, missing artwork, and an attempted murder. It has all the ingredients of a dark mystery.

There are a number of discussion questions at the end of the book, and I have opted to choose a few of them and supplement them with my own questions. Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments below and ask any questions you  may have.

  • When does Eva/Claire begin to question her identity? Why does she initially explain away her doubts?
  • Dr. Thomas J. Barnardo was a real person who died in the 1950s. Was he correct, that heredity counted for very little and environment was everything? Would Eva have become Claire and Claire, Eva, if they had been adopted by the other’s parents?
  • Clearly, both heredity and environment (nature and nurture) play a role in every person’s development, but how would you rank the importance of each?
  • Did you recognize any of the other characters in the book, besides Dr. Barnardo, as being “real people?”
  • Why do you suppose Alex wanted the paintings back? Was it pride, financial need/want, determination, or something else? Was it a combination of things?
  • What did you think about Lianne’s role in bringing Eva/Claire to Luca? Do you think it was romantic imagination on Lianne’s part, or did she suspect that Luca meant Eva/Claire harm?
  • How do you feel about Alex’s sister Danielle? Do you like her? Dislike her? What do you think about her motives in visiting the chateau?
  • Why do you suppose Madame Denon and Cousin Pauline were in the book?

I reviewed Stolen Memories, giving it 5 stars. I hope you enjoyed reading and discussing the book. If you have any suggestions for a June book club selection, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. In the meantime, the selection for May is What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I’ve read The Plum Tree by Ms. Wiseman and she is an incredibly skilled writer.

Until next time,

Amy

The First Last Tuesday Book Club Meets Here Today

Welcome to the first Last Tuesday Book Club! For those of you who may not know, I’ve started a new book club on my blog. On the last Tuesday of each month, we will discuss the book we’ve read for that month.

The book for March was The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.

For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, here’s a quick synopsis:

You may recall reading in the papers back in 1990 that paintings worth over 500 million dollars were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in a stunning heist that still baffles investigators today. The paintings were by such masters as Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer, and Manet. The Art Forger is a fictional account of what happened following the heist.

Claire Roth, a struggling artist living in Boston, makes a meager living by reproducing famous paintings. She works for an online retailer of artistic reproductions and she is very good at her job.

Claire is somewhat of an outcast in the art community for reasons that are explained in the book. Because of her lesser stature in the art world, she is eager to score an opportunity for a one-woman art show in a famous Boston gallery. The trouble is, in exchange for being invited to do the show, she has to agree to copy one of the masterpieces allegedly stolen during the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist. When she becomes convinced the “original” which hung in the museum was actually a forgery, she becomes deeply entrenched in a web of deceit that could spell the end of her art career.

I enjoyed the book. It offers plenty of food for thought about the reasons certain artworks become “famous” or “classic.” Is it because of the inherent value of a piece of art or is it because a famous person painted it?

I’ve curated some discussion questions from several places online, and I’ve sprinkled in some of my own, too. Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments below and ask any questions you  may have.

  • Do you think Claire shares any of the blame for Isaac Cullion’s suicide?
  • Do you find Claire to be a sympathetic character? How about Aiden?
  • Can you imagine yourself in a position where you want something so badly that you would do anything–even something unethical or illegal–to get it?
  • Do you think Aiden loves Claire? Why do you have that opinion?
  • What about the lies Aiden and Claire tell each other, or the corollary of that, what about the truths they keep from each other–do you think they can love with that level of deception toward each other?
  • Who is your favorite character and why?
  • Why are Claire’s works suddenly very valuable at the end of the book? They’re the same paintings that haven’t sold for years–is it their intrinsic beauty that makes them valuable, or the artist’s reputation, or something else?
  • Did you leave a review of the book online? 🙂

I must confess that as of the writing of this post, I haven’t reviewed the book online yet. I’ve got to put that on my to-do list. I hope you enjoyed reading and discussing The Art Forger. If you have any suggestions for a May book club selection, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. In the meantime, the selection for April is Stolen Memories, a Gothic mystery by Mary Miley. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s queued up on my Kindle and ready to read.

Until next time,

Amy