If you like a story that rips your heart out over and over, grab a box of tissues and a copy of The Last Letter. Special ops officer, Beckett, grew up in foster care and went into the armed services to run away from his difficult, transient life. His best friend was killed in action but before he died, he wrote a last letter, asking Beckett to take care of his sister, Ella if anything happened to him. She had been married and pregnant at 17, her husband left her to raise twins on her own. One of the twins was very sick and needed treatment, and without her beloved brother, she really could use some support. Will Beckett leave the military to follow up on his buddy’s last request?
The book is a back and forth exchange of letters, where we not only learn the day to day happenings and the past leading up to it, but also the deep feelings, insecurities, hopes and dreams of Ella and Beckett. Through the eyes of a military family, Yarros has mastered the tugging of heartstrings and created complete characters who fight their own demons and exercise restraint, while at the same time explore love and loss, worry and hope, with physical chemistry that rivals 50 Shades of Grey at times. Life’s mix of emotions is experienced in this sorrow-filled, yet beautiful love story. One day at the beach or on a plane with this book is all you need to become immersed, absorbed and drained! Add The Last Letter to your list for a quick and emotional read. Don’t forget the tissues!
Rebecca Yarros is a hopeless romantic and a lover of all things coffee, chocolate, and Paleo. She is the author of the Flight & Glory series, including Full Measures, the award-winning Eyes Turned Skyward, Beyond What is Given, and Hallowed Ground. Her new Renegade Series features Wilder and the upcoming Nova, and is sure to keep your heart pounding. She loves military heroes, and has been blissfully married to hers for fourteen years.
When she’s not writing, she’s tying hockey skates for her four sons, sneaking in some guitar time, or watching brat-pack movies with her two daughters. She lives in Colorado with the hottest Apache pilot ever, their rambunctious gaggle of kids, an English bulldog who is more stubborn than sweet, and a bunny named General Fluffy Pants who torments the aforementioned bulldog. They recently adopted their youngest daughter from the foster system, and Rebecca is passionate about helping others do the same.(less)
It is always a special treat and enlightening to attend an author talk, and recently I was thrilled to hear Katharine Weber speak about her new book, Still Life With Monkey with contributing editor and former Book Review section editor for Publisher’s Weekly, Sybil Steinberg. Between research and literary knowledge, the intelligence on the stage was vast. With sophisticated language and deep characters, Weber’s Still Life With Monkey is a must read for all book groups. There are many stories within the story and much to discuss.
Duncan Wheeler is a talented architect and owner of his own firm in New Haven, CT. He was visiting his Thimble Islands site and while driving home on I95 with his assistant, was in a car accident. His assistant was killed and he survived but suffered injury that resulted in becoming a quadriplegic. His wife Laura, is an art conservator at the Yale Art Gallery, fixing broken things for a living. She sees Duncan fall into depression, and while she struggles with her own thoughts of letting go her dream to become a mother, she reduces her hours at work so she can take care of her husband. Every day had become “a broken series of unsuccessful gestures”, his will to live is wavering, and so to add to the already growing number of hired aides to help take care of Duncan, and to lift his spirits, she requests a capuchin monkey to become a part of their in home support. Ottoline was feisty, charming and lovable – a welcoming character who gave Duncan some pleasure as he thought about how he might live and how he might exit this life. Will sitting around in a wheelchair all day be Duncan’s life? Is being alive the same as living?
Not only are we forced to ponder what a life worth living may be, but Katharine Weber teaches us about architecture and art conservation, about care for a paraplegic and about helper monkeys. In CT, helper monkeys are not legal, but in MA there is a legitimate program that has been around for close to 40 years called Helping Hands. Katherine had the opportunity to meet a married couple and their helper monkey, Farah on numerous occasions, and witnessed the benefits the monkey provides like buttoning and unbuttoning, page turning, social interaction, bonding and emotional connection. Farah is 7 lbs and 36 years old and is living with her 2nd and last family, as 40 years old is life expectancy for a monkey living in captivity. Weber’s human characters are not based on real people, but Ottoline the capuchin was based on the charming and lovable Farah.
The character of Ottoline adds texture to an already rich story that highlights ideas about twins, children and secrets. Duncan is a twin and had been considered the original, and his brother Gordon, the copy. Duncan had a big life, was highly educated, married with a big job, and in contrast, Gordon had a speech impediment and rode his bike to work at a bookstore. Interesting to examine their relationship and Gordon’s relationship with Laura, Duncan’s wife. Also, worth looking at is the impact the neighborhood children have on Duncan’s mental health, and the effect secrets may have on relationships and self worth.
Still Life With Monkey is a story about life and relationships. It is not a tearjerker yet it is filled with compassion and humor. I highly recommend it for book clubs and discussion.
Katharine Weber is the author of six novels and a memoir, all book group favorites. She is the Richard L. Thomas Professof of Cretaive Writing at Kenyon College.
Katharine’s fiction debut in print, the short story “Friend of the Family,” appeared in The New Yorker in January, 1993.
Her first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (of which that story was a chapter), was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1995 and was published in paperback by Picador in 1996. She was named by Granta to the controversial list of 50 Best Young American Novelists in 1996.
Her second novel, The Music Lesson, was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1999, and was published in paperback by Picador in 2000. The Music Lesson has been published in fourteen foreign editions.
The Little Women was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2003 and by Picador in 2004. All three novels weren named Notable Books by The New York Times Book Review. Writing in The New York Times, Richard Eder said, “Katharine Weber’s novel, which stops being droll only to be funny and almost never stops being exceedingly smart, is a hermit crab. Creeping into the whelk shell of Louisa May Alcott’s celebrated novel, it avails itself of the spirals to do double and triple twists inside them.”
Katharine’s fourth novel, Triangle, which takes up the notorious Triangle Waist company factory fire of 1911, was published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in 2007 by Picador. It was longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, was a Finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award and the Paterson Fiction Prize, and was the winner of the Connecticut Book Award for Fiction.
True Confections, Katharine’s fifth novel, was published in January 2010 by Shaye Areheart Books, and was published in paperback by Broadway Books in December, 2010. In January Broadway also brought out a new edition of The Music Lesson. Triangle and The Music Lesson are now available as ebooks, too.
Her sixth book, a memoir, The Memory Of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities, was published by Crown in July 2011, and by Broadway in 2012.
Her new novel, Still Life With Monkey, from Paul Dry Book is available now.
Katharine’s maternal grandmother was the songwriter Kay Swift. Since Swift’s death in 1993, Katharine has been a Trustee and the Administrator of the Kay Swift Memorial Trust, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the music of Kay Swift. This work includes the first Broadway musical with a score by a woman, “Fine and Dandy,” and several popular show tunes of the era, among them “Fine and Dandy” and “Can’t We Be Friends?”
During the past 20 years, Young Adult fiction has been in the spotlight and greatly appreciated by kids and adults alike. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling was introduced in 1997, followed by The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A Fault in Our Stars by John Green was published in January 2012 and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews in March 2012. All made it to the big screen which has generously contributed to book sales and increased fandom. Due to the success of the Harry Potter fantasy novels, in 2000, The New York Times began a Children’s Bestseller List, indicating that the YA audience was substantial and there were enough worthy novels to support it. Several years ago the list was modified, separating hardcover middle grade and YA titles from paperback and e-book bestsellers.
I definitely enjoy a good coming of age story; teenage angst, first loves and budding friendships. Here are three wonderful selections for you no matter how old you are. Movie discussions have occurred for all three, but as of now, none are in the theaters… so take advantage and read the books first!
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell published in 2013.
As stated in Goodreads:
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.
Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson published in 2014.
As stated in Goodreads:
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven published in 2015.
As stated in Goodreads:
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.