What’s That Book? Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Whats That Book

Girl with a Pearl Earring

TitleGirl with a Pearl Earring

Author:  Tracy Chevalier

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Rating:  *****

What’s it about?  A wonderful historical fiction set in Holland in the 1660s, describing the restrained attraction between an artist and his model.  It was inspired by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and his painting of the same name.  The story is told through the eyes of beautiful sixteen-year-old Griet, who works as a maid in the Vermeer household and develops a relationship with the painter.  The friendship begins when Vermeer notices Griet’s eye for art.  He sends her on errands, teaches her how to mix paints and has her pose as a substitute model.  One of Vermeer’s wealthy patrons, known for his shameless behavior towards young girls, notices Griet’s beauty and asks Vermeer to paint a picture of the two of them.  To protect Griet, Vermeer agrees to paint just Griet for the man.  Vermeer gives Griet his wife’s pearl earrings to wear for the painting, a move that causes his already suspicious wife to act.

How did you hear about it?  One of my book club friends selected it for our discussion.

Closing comments:  It’s uncommon for everyone in a book club to like a book selection, but everyone in my group loved Girl with a Pearl Earring.  Tracy Chevalier is a wonderful writer and does a great job depicting 17th century life in Holland.

Contributor:  Ginette

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We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are WaterWe Are Water
Wally Lamb


Wally Lamb has written an ambitious book about abuse and how, over time and generations, the range of effects widens like the circles from a pebble in the pond. We Are Water is a novel with many characters and many themes in a rotating narrative, told from the points of view of the main players in the book.

Simply put, the story is about fifty-something Annie Oh, an angry artist who has left her husband, Orion, to marry Viveca, another woman. But this story is anything but simple. As Orion and their three grown children react and adjust to this development, a dense array of secrets and family dysfunction emerges and the story becomes a massive and painful tale in which each character struggles to find happiness.  There is also a bit of a thriller and suspense element and that keeps the story moving.

In addition to abuse, it’s a story with a multitude of themes: art and expression, family, gay marriage, prejudice and acceptance, religion, relationships, desertion, anger, family heritage, alcoholism, a little political commentary, and, of course water. The water theme begins with the devastating events surrounding the actual Norwich, Connecticut flood of 1963, in which the dam at Norwich’s largest park collapsed and flooded four square miles, killing six people.

But as the plot develops, We Are Water’s main focus becomes verbal, physical and sexual abuse and their far-reaching effects. Lamb’s characters attempt to explain and justify what they do in the wake of this abuse. Annie uses art as a release and her creations result in violent displays of things and people. Her art has been recently discovered and is highly valued, but most likely misunderstood. She becomes a cyclone during her creative efforts, but her family has suffered, especially her son, Andrew, who has borne the brunt of her suppressed anger.

I like stories about families and conflict. Because of that, I like many things about this book, but not everything. Some of Lamb’s characters are very difficult to like and that makes their narrations less appealing. For example, Annie’s adult character is difficult to know. She’s self-centered and it’s hard to know why she’s about to marry Viveca. Yet young Annie is sweet and charming and you want to protect her. Similarly, but with a much more uncomfortable reader experience, Kent Kelly’s story begins innocently. He’s a victim first and then he’s a hero in the flood. By showing Kent as a boy, Lamb tries to explain, but not justify, Kent’s teenage and adult behavior. Personally, I’m not interested in getting into Kent’s head. It’s not a matter of how he came to be a monster. It’s a matter of the damage he creates. I think this section is overdeveloped and over-explained. It’s more than rough to read and it’s too sympathetic of the character. That said, maybe Lamb is accurate in describing someone like Kent, a sick charmer who ultimately pays the price.

I like Orion’s character the best. He’s certainly the most likeable. It’s easy to sympathize with him because he’s misunderstood and he tries to do the right thing. He’s also the most realistic character.  Not always, however, because sometimes I think his conversations with the adult Marissa, Andrew and Ariane are overly open and unrealistic. Just sayin’.

Here are some other things I like about We Are Water:

  • Lamb’s storytelling style. His characters take turns giving part of the story, introducing facts and events, then another character cycles back to include more details.
  • The section about the flood is the strongest part of the book.
  • I like stories about old houses and the things that are hidden inside.
  • Characters who try to make sense of the bad things in the world. Ruth Fletcher, a flawed character, but one with surprising depth, says,

I’m down on my knees now, asking God why, if He’s merciful, He had to put so much meanness in the world He made. Weasels pounce, snakes bite, dams break, men kill other men. And why would a merciful God let a little child’s mother die?

Despite the dark subject, Lamb tries to end on a hopeful note. The ending reminds me of movies with tragic events, in which the survivors, beaten down, but not quite finished, look towards a hopeful future.  Orion has adjusted to his future, but Andrew faces a difficult decision. As Andrew’s tattoo suggests, “Love wins,” and Orion answers, “No matter which way our lives turn out. Right?”

This is my fourth Wally Lamb book. All in all, a mixed bag, with some good spots.  Have you read We Are Water?  What did you think?  I have always enjoyed Lamb’s books, but this one leaves me puzzled.

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

tell the wolves picTell the Wolves I’m Home
Carol Rifka Brunt


When it comes to friendship and love, what is okay, what is wrong?  How can two unlikely friends take care of each other, and what are the boundaries?  These are some of the central questions in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, an unusual story about a family that is coping with the death of Finn Weiss, a famous artist and gay man, brother and uncle to the family, who has died of AIDS.  The story is set in Westchester, New York, in 1986, during a time when little was known about the disease and much was feared.  June Weiss, Finn’s niece, is fourteen, a solitary girl who is trying to make sense of her own place in the world and of her close relationship to Finn.  This strong bond has all but ruined June’s relationship with her older sister Greta, a smart and talented high school senior, headed for college in just a few months.

The family dynamic is a major theme in this well-written story, especially between June and Greta.  The plot revolves around Finn’s final painting, a portrait of June and Greta and the family’s reaction to it.  When June meets Finn’s lover, Toby, a man who has been kept a secret from her while Finn was alive, the two develop a strange and unconventional, highly-charged relationship.

I enjoyed a great deal about this book.  It’s well-structured and moves at an engaging pace.  It’s a complicated story and it’s sometimes sweet.  There’s a little bit of mystery and magical feel to it.  But there are also many things that make it uncomfortable, strange and creepy.  June seems to be uncontrollably propelled, or maybe pulled into a friendship with Toby, but either way, the risks are enormous and her decisions are hard to understand.

The best part of the story is the painting and how it becomes a way for the characters to communicate.  I also think the relationship between sisters is the best part of the dynamic and I hoped for a reconnection between the two.  I had trouble understanding the rest of the relationships, but it’s definitely a book that makes you think, and that’s why I enjoyed it.

Thanks to my friend Dawn for recommending Tell the Wolves I’m Home and for being my guest blogger.  Click here to read her review.  If you’re a book clubber, it’s a good choice.  Some of you will love it and some of you will not, all-in-all a great discussion book!

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