Book Club Prep: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Our next book club book will be The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich! This award-winning memoir and true crime combination is, at times, tough reading, but well-worth sticking through.

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins an internship at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.

[Note: Although Marzano-Lesnevich now identifies as non-binary, I am using the official synopsis of the book as written on their website.]

Highlight white text for content warnings: sexual assault, child abuse, murder, death and dying, sexual content, pregnancy and childbirth, mental illness, gaslighting

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing The Fact of a Body. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some articles and books which either tie into Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir or expand upon its themes and content.

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Book Club Questions: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Both of us were pretty blown away by this novel. The way in which the story is told – podcast transcripts alternating with first-person narration – could have been absolutely awkward and clunky in the hands of a lesser author, but Courtney Summers’ subtle hand and complex approach to character results in a novel that is a simple and quiet masterpiece.

Although the book is touted as a thriller in its marketing, I would disagree. It’s certainly a page-turner, as many YA novels are (readability being a thing that YA authors tend to strive for, for some reason), but to me “thriller” connotes a sense of cheapness, of base tricks employed to keep my interest going until the last page. Sadie is remarkable for its respect of its subject matter, and for the way in which it makes us confront our reliance on established narratives to explain away the people who get lost in the margins of our world.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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Indie Bookstore Day Success!

That’s right! We made it. It was not our most efficient nor our most relaxing year, but all that matters is that we got all 21 stamps on our passports by the time the last bookstore closed. I was the driver, Colleen was the navigator, and our friend Willa was in the backseat presiding over our hoard of snacks. Together, we were a fearsome trio, determined to not only make it to all our bookstores, but to also have fun and enjoy ourselves—and we certainly succeeded!

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Colleen and Willa while we were waiting for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry.

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Book Club Prep: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Our next book club book will be Sadie by Courtney Summers! Although Summers is already an established Canadian YA author, this latest bestseller has definitely gotten her noticed with a careful blend of podcast transcripts and first person narration depicting a story with no simple answers.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Highlight white text for content warnings: assault, sexual assault, child abuse, murder, kidnapping and abduction, drug and alcohol addiction, ableism, classism

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing Sadie. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some podcasts, articles, and books which either tie into Summers’ novel or expand upon its themes and content.

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Indie Bookstore Day 2019!

So this post isn’t about our 2019 Reading Challenge, but rather a different upcoming book-related challenge that is similarly demanding, delightful, and rewarding. I am, of course, talking about Independent Bookstore Day—the best day of the year!

This year, the five-year anniversary of IBD will fall on Saturday, April 27th—the last Saturday in April, as always. Indie Bookstore Day is a United States national celebration of independent booksellers and all they do to keep us connected as a literary community in a way that massive bookstore chains and online sellers cannot. Bookstores across the nation join the party with special IBD merchandise, scavenger hunts, raffles, trivia quizzes, food and drinks, giveaways, author appearances, contests, and more!

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Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

I’d been meaning to read The Dry for a decent amount of time, ever since the striking cover design caught my eye at the Magnolia Bookstore during Independent Bookstore Day last year. The premise sounded great—a detective reluctantly returning to his rural Australian hometown, where unresolved tensions from 20 years before still simmer and a recent family murder-suicide has badly rattled townspeople already suffering from the worst drought in a century. Of course, many many books with equally great premises are also on my TBR list—but in the midst of my mystery/thriller spree earlier this year, I finally pulled up The Dry on my Kindle and dove in.

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Book Club Questions: The Witch Elm by Tana French

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

Tana French has been a long-time favorite author for my friend Colleen and me. Although her books are always to be found in the mystery section, they are unlike any other mystery book I’ve ever read. In fact, I am often surprised during my many rereads that no one (including the publisher) has ever attempted to switch them over to the so-called “literary fiction” category. However, I am also always quite happy to see her books still ensconced among thrillers and whodunits on my visits to my local bookstore. Her books are an unparalleled example of the craft and skill often to be found on the shelves of genre fiction.

The Witch Elm is a first for French, in that it falls outside of her Dublin Murder Squad series. Having enjoyed our last Tana French book club discussion so much after the release of The Trespasser, Colleen and I were both very excited to read this book with the expectation of another 3-hour discussion to follow. And to our delight, The Witch Elm did not disappoint.

Discussion questions below the cut!

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2019 Reading Challenge Check-In: April 9th

How’s your reading challenge going? Now that we’re three months into 2019, my friend Colleen and I have put together a quick look at where our reading challenges are at so far. Hers is most definitely in excellent form, while mine is rather dismal to behold. But there’s another nine months to go, and plenty of time to catch up for all of us!

We’re hoping our category fillers will help you find some suitable candidates for your own reading challenge—and to that end, we’ve included a few quick reviews of our favorite reads. Hopefully you’ll find some winners of your own as you rack up categories over the next few months! Best wishes, and happy reading!

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Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

Anne Brontë, or as she is often treated in Victorian lit, the Lesser Brontë, wrote just two novels during her life, prior to dying of tuberculosis at 29 years of age. (Just eight months after her brother Branwell and just five months after her sister Emily. 1848-1849 was not a great time for Charlotte Brontë.) However, to shrug at Anne’s limited number of publications is much like referring to Emily Brontë as a “one hit wonder” – a designation I actually witnessed in a poorly considered Goodreads article last year. (Pretty sure you can’t be called a one hit wonder if the reason you only had one hit is because you DIED shortly afterward.) Speaking as a 28-year-old, if I had already written two books as emotional, insightful, humorous, and satisfying as Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by this time in my life, I think I’d call it one hell of a win and then die, not happily, but with a certain amount of resigned acceptance knowing that my work would live on for hundreds of years beyond me.

Anne Brontë’s relative obscurity compared to her two older sisters is something which frustrates and baffles me whenever I read her writing. Of course, much of this obscurity is due to Charlotte preventing the re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall following Anne’s death, a course of action which remains unexplained. But even with that in mind, I am still baffled at her status as a “second tier” Victorian novelist. I find her novels easy reading in comparison to many of her contemporaries’ tomes (I say as a dedicated reader of Victorian literature), full of wry observations, elegant social commentary, engaging characters, and laugh-out-loud situations. Their continued obscurity, all while much more ponderous and plodding novels continue to hog the lime light, is a horrible state of affairs. (And yes, much love to Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, but there’s something to be said for a novel which doesn’t make you wait 100 pages for the plot to show up.)

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Book Club Prep: The Witch Elm by Tana French

Our next book club book will be The Witch Elm by Tana French! This latest novel from the greatest mystery writer working today (in my opinion, anyway) rolled onto the market last autumn, so hopefully you’ll be able to get your hands on a library copy by now without too much delay!

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

Highlight white text for content warnings: sexual harassment, physical assault, terminal illness, death and dying, suicide, homophobia, ableism, sexism

For those of you looking for hosting ideas, here are some easy snacks and beverages you and your book club compatriots can enjoy while discussing French’s latest work. And for those of you who are looking for something more beyond the book itself, here are some articles and books which either tie into French’s novel or expand upon its themes and content.

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