Between the Lines Book Club: Discussion Questions

between the lines book club logoI hope all my Book Clubbers have been safely indoors, running their air conditioning and reading under a fan! We will have a Zoom meeting on Saturday, September 26, 2020, at 10:30AM to discuss An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

Here are some discussion questions (pulled from Oprah’s Book Club and from Book Riot)

  1. Jones named her novel An American Marriage, a title which suggests this novel has something specific to say about marriage in America. What do you think this novel is saying about marriage? What makes the events of this novel specifically American?

2. For Celestial, it seems as if certain behaviors are expected of her as a woman and, even more specifically, as Black woman. What sort of expectations do we see her family and Roy place on her? Are these expectations fair? Do you agree with how she responded to them?

3. This story is told in three alternating perspectives: Celestial, Roy, and Andre. Was there a certain perspective you responded more positively towards? How do you think you would view these characters differently if the story was told only from Celestial’s point of view? Or Roy’s?

4. This novel’s pacing is interesting in that it focuses in on specific moments of time for an extended period, speeds through others through the exchange of letters, and skips over periods of time entirely to move on to the next important moment. Why do you think Jones chose the moments she did to write about in detail? What effect did the fast passage of time have on the narrative?

5. When Celestial asks Roy if he would have waited for her for more than five years, he doesn’t answer her question but reminds her that, as a woman, she would not have been imprisoned in the first place. Do you feel that his response is valid? Do you believe that he would have remained faithful if Celestial had been the one incarcerated? Does this really matter, and if so, why? 

6. You may not have noticed that Tayari Jones does not specify the race of the woman who accuses Roy of rape. How did you picture this woman? What difference does the race of this woman make in the way you understand the novel’s storyline? 

7. Andre insists that he doesn’t owe Roy an apology for the way his relationship with Celestial changed. Do you agree? Why or why not? 

8. There are two father figures in Roy’s life: Big Roy is the one who shepherded him into adulthood and helped him grow into a responsible, capable person, but Walter is the one who taught Roy how to survive. Do you feel these men deserve equal credit? If not, which was the more important figure in Roy’s life and why? 

9. When Roy is released from prison, he first goes to his childhood home and almost immediately makes a connection with Davina. Do you feel that given the tenuous relationship he has with Celestial—who is still legally his wife—he is cheating? Why or why not? And when Roy announces to Davina his intention to return to his wife, do you feel that her anger is justified? 

10. Roy is hurt when Celestial, in discussing her career as an artist, doesn’t mention him or the role he played in giving her the encouragement and freedom to follow her dreams, but Walter argues that she is justified in her silence. Do you agree? Do you think her silence is due to shame, or is she just being practical in how she presents herself to advance her career? 

11. It is obvious that Andre is different from Roy in many ways. Do you feel that he is a better match for Celestial? If so, why? Also, why do you think Celestial and Andre decide against formally marrying? Do you think that as a couple they will be good and nurturing parents? Do you feel that as a couple, they will be better at parenting than Celestial and Roy would have been? If so, why? 

12. Toward the end of the novel, Celestial does a complete about-face and returns to Roy. What do you think her emotions were in coming to that decision? Do you feel that it was the right decision?

13. There are so many beautiful insights about love and the nature of love in this novel. For instance, Jones writes, “Love is the enemy of sound judgment, and occasionally this is in service of the good.” Do you agree with this sentiment? How does love affect characters’ decisions in this novel?

14. How did you feel about the ending of this novel? Was it hopeful at all? Did you want things to turn out differently for these characters, and if so, how? Would the marriage have survived if Roy had not gone to jail?

For more reading, compare this book to James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. Also read The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

A Poem For September

Words of wisdom from Walt Whitman, or, as fans of Dead Poet’s Society call him, Uncle Walt. Life is still happening, we are still here – and we still may contribute a verse.

O Me! O Life!


Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Between the Lines Book Club: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

between the lines book club logoHello Dear Book Clubbers! Our September selection is An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Here is the info for the zoom meeting, which will be held on Sept 26 at 10:30AM:

Carrie Sessarego is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Between the Lines Book Club

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 463 049 5746
Passcode: 423652

Meeting ID: 463 049 5746
Passcode: 423652

An American Marriage is about the repercussions on a family when the husband is sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit. For more on this topic, try reading If Beale Street Could Talk, a novel by James Baldwin, or see the movie of the same name. You might also read the non-fiction book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander!

Book Review: The Bone Shard Daughter, by Andrea Stewart

It’s September, readers, and I still haven’t taken the time to play with this new WordPress system, but I HAVE been writing book reviews! Every now and then I write a review for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books that doesn’t work for them because of scheduling issues or because the book doesn’t match our audience. Here’s one of those reviews to get you started with your September reading! The book comes out on September 8, 2020.

The Bone Shard Daughter promised and delivered an #OwnVoices, Asian-based fantasy with a f/f romance. It also promised, as stated in the press release, “a talking aquatic kitten.” It delivered. However, I was too distracted by the promise of an aquatic kitten to notice in advance that this is grimdark fantasy, and full of triggers. I was not prepared for the large amount of child abuse and death, ableism, and incest.

We follow three main characters in alternating chapters and learn about the world and the conflicts as they go about their business:

  • Lin is the daughter in the title, the daughter of the Emperor of the Phoenix Empire. Lin is determined to overthrow her father since he spends all his time building constructs (more on constructs later) and does not rule the kingdom effectively. Also he’s just generally an asshole. 
  • Jovis is a smuggler who has spent years searching for his true love who was kidnapped by an unknown person. Through a complicated series of events he winds up with the talking ocean kitty, Mephi. He does not want to join a rebellion; he just wants to find his girlfriend. I’m sure you can guess where that’s going.
  • Phalue is the daughter of a governor and is in love with Ramani. Ramani is a fisherwoman and a rebel who wants Phalue to join the rebellion. These two women have an established relationship and their problems are related to politics, class, and family loyalty. While this kingdom has many problems, apparently (and refreshingly) homophobia is not one of them. They have the only romance in the book.

The Emperor rules by using “constructs.” These constructs start off as animals that are grown? Engineered? I didn’t understand. They are organic, not automatons and they are usually hybrid (for instance, there’s a spy construct that is part crow and part fox). There’s no explanation of how any of this works, either in terms of how they are created or in terms of how they live. Are they, technically, alive? Does what happens to them count as animal abuse? My husband and I interpreted this differently – I thought of the constructs as engineered animals with feelings despite what I must admit is a glaring lack of evidence, and my husband say them as non-sentient. Regardless, I loathed this idea with every fiber of my being, people, and it gets worse because…


….Every child in the kingdom has a piece of bone removed from their skull. Most, but not all, survive the operation, which is carried out without anaesthetic as part of a public ritual.

 The Emperor carves instructions on the bone shards and reaches into the constructs (this involves magic) and just shoves the shards right into their bodies. Lin’s quest for power involves reprogramming as many of her father’s constructs as possible. To me this process seemed like animal abuse. At least some of the constructs appear to be at least as aware and intelligent as a dog or cat and several use language and the whole thing just squicked me the hell out and that’s before we get to the reveal that there are human constructs who work as slaves.

CLEARLY this book is better suited for grimdark fantasy fans than for me. I’m just here for the mercat! As far as recommending this book to grimdark fans, it’s a mixed bag. The actual plot is pretty basic and predictable – Lin tries to win her dad’s approval and, failing that, to depose him, Jovis and Phalue try (separately) to avoid becoming freedom fighters, and we wait for Book 2. 

This might be too simplistic for some grimdark fans, and there’s a lot of optimism in the story so maybe it’s not so much “grimdark” as it’s “slightlyseriousdark.” It also depends big time on “because magic” as an explanation for things as opposed to dealing with the practical ramifications of, for instance, creating animal hybrids. This is a big mileage-will-vary thing – some people have no problem with aspects that drove me up the wall. Just know that that’s how this book works.

The exploration of the world from different geographical and class perspectives is interesting, and everything is laid out skillfully without giant infodumps. I kept wanting to know what would happen next, which is quite an accomplishment for a book that consists entirely of setting all the pieces on the board (this is very much an “intro to the series” book). Even though the plot is predictable, there were certain revelations that weren’t, and that added to the suspense. It’s very refreshing to see a fantasy story that isn’t set in a quasi?-European background, and the debates about ethics and privilege are certainly relevant. 

As with most series, it’s hard to recommend this one without knowing how things will wrap up eventually. However, I know that many of our readers are very triggered by animal abuse and I interpreted the making of and controlling of constructs as abusive. The book is undeniably good at creating a horrific situation, one in which the lives of an Empire’s subjects are drained literally (using a bone shard slowly drains life from the person it came from) and figuratively (most of the Empire’s subjects are worried about future invasion from another force and live in poverty). It’s concerns are all too relevant.

Should you read this book, do so knowing that it has a lot of triggers and ends on a cliffhanger. It also has islands and smugglers in boats and a talking aquatic cat, all of which are excellent things. There’s an actual cave hideout. There’s a lot of great sounding food. And even though I realized very early that I would not enjoy reading this book, I could not stop. This book is the first in the “Drowning Empire” series.

War and Peace Challenge

My book clubbers inspired me to participate in a two-fer of challenges. The War and Peace Covid Challenge asks – can you read War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, from start to finish prior to the end of the quarantine? The War and Peace in a Year Challenge asks: Can you finish War in Peace in a year by reading one chapter a day? I’m doing War and Peace in a year, but occasionally reading multiple chapters in a day so hopefully I’ll finish a bit ahead.

I’m finding the book to be surprisingly easy reading, and very gripping! The biggest challenge is keeping the characters straight and keeping momentum since every time the point of view character changes I have to shift interest to a new plot line and set of characters.

As of this writing (and I write these posts a couple of weeks ahead of time) I’m on chapter 87! If you want to join me, here are some resources:

Brian E. Denton’s meditations on each chapter

There’s No Better Time to Read War and Peace

Tolstoy Together

War and Peace: The Ten Things You Need to Know

The Guardian says that War and Peace has the worst first line of any novel. The line is “Well, Prince, Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family.”

What do you think of this line – and are you inspired to tackle the novel?

Between the Lines Book Club: From Protest to Resistance

Dear Book Clubbers, we have been discussing the book From Protest to Resistance by Lilli Segal. Tomorrow (August 22, 2020) at 10:30 AM we will be meeting via zoom to talk about the book and hear from Margo Kaufman, the book’s translator and Lilli Segal’s niece. 

Here is the zoom info for Between the Lines Book Club. Please join us!

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In other news, the Sacramento Public Library is also hosting the Quarantainment Adult Book Club. Here’s the information!

Quarantainment Adult Book Group

Date: Saturday, September 5 

Time:  11am-12pm

Book: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adeji-Brenyah

The Adult Book Group invites you to escape your home through the pages of a good book. The September selection is Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adeji-Brenyah. At first glance, this powerful debut collection of short stories might register as speculative fiction, but current headlines umasking racism, injustice, consumerism, and senseless violence prove to be clear inspirations. This is invigorating writing in the tradition of Colson Whitehead or Marlon James that will grab you and haunt you long after you close the book.

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A Quick Tarot Thought for a Busy Month

The Eight of Wands signifies that an abundance of opportunities are coming your way. Here it is – see how exciting!

It’s a sign of my lack of confidence and my lack of energy due to chronic health problems that my response this card is almost never “Hooray!” Instead, I always feel a need to duck. to me, this card looks like too much. I just want to take a nap on the chairs in the audience while this card says, “Get out there and BE A STAR!”

This card suggests that I need to grab my chances while I have them and nap later. On the other hand, the ten of wands says that we can’t really seize the opportunities we most want if our mental and physical lives are full of clutter. Here’s the ten of wands:

This card says that you are holding on to so much that you are about to drop everything. To switch metaphors, this card says that you have “too many balls in the air.” What can you put down?

The end of summer tends to bring a lot of new opportunities at work, with school, with politics, with family…even with Covid throwing everyone off rhythm I think this will continue to be true albeit in some different ways in 2020.

Planning 101 suggests that we start by thinking about priorities. What opportunities matter the most to us? What goals and tasks can we drop? For people with chronic illness, every day has to have a tier. For me, pre-Covid, my top priorities were to get my daughter to and from school safely and to make sure everyone in my house was fed, even if not by me (I’m blessed to have a teen who likes to cook). Now? I’m not sure. So I’ll be trying to put some thought into that and into what wands I can put down during a time period when everyone, especially parents, has a lot of pressure to pick more wands (emotional, physical, and logistical) up. What are you setting down?

From Protest to Resistance: Discussion Questions

Hello Book Clubbers! We will be meeting over zoom at 10:30AM on August 22. Our Book is From Protest to Resistance, by Lilli Segal.

Here are some discussion questions:

  1. How does Lilli’s personality as a child foreshadow her decisions as an adult?
  2. Why is Lilli’s family so slow to realize the danger they are in? Why does her father kill himself?
  3. What is Lilli’s motivation for working for the Resistance? Were you surprised that she kept her Resistance work going even after having a child?
  4. How does Lilli keep her spirits up in Fresnel Prison? What character traits do she and other prisoners display that help them stay resilient?
  5. Lilli is enraged at a guard who says that he only beats her because of orders. Why is that “the worst part of the whole business?” (157)
  6. How are Lilli’s coping skills in Auschwitz similar and different from the ones in Fresnel? How do personal relationships affect morale and survival throughout the story?
  7. The Germans pit different groups against one another in the camp to keep them from allying against their captors. Where has this tactic been used in other books we’ve read? How have you seen it play out during your own lifetime?
  8. Some people meet Anni and Lilli with kindness, some with rejection, some with hostility. Why do they react in the ways they do? What do you think you would do?
  9. Were you surprised that Lilli and Jascha ended up (at the end of the book) happily in East Germany? Why or why not?
  10. What lessons, if any, did you learn from the book?
  11. Why are memoirs like this important?

Here is an interview our book club member and book translator, Margo, gave to Insight on NPR!

August, by Dorothy Parker

Our August poem comes to us from Dorothy Parker, courtesy of

When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart;

Summer, do your worst!
Light your tinsel moon, and call on
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky;
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern,
With her dusty laces’ pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by. 

Between the Lines Book Club: Our Book for August

Welcome to the August edition of Between the Lines Book Club! Our next meeting will be held via zoom at 10:30AM on August 22. We will be reading the fascinating memoir, From Protest to Resistance by Lilli Segal.

From Protest to Resistance tells the story of a young woman who grew up in Germany, married a Lithuanian, became a citizen of the Soviet Union, and worked for the Resistance in Paris in World War II. She was captured and survived Auschwitz. Lilli describes her experiences with humor, conviction, and an eye for detail.

We will be joined by Lilli’s niece, Margo Kaufman. It is sure to be a fascinating discussion. Please join us!

A couple quick announcements

I guess for August my special project should be figuring out the new WordPress. Change is bad! Why must they baffle me? Why are there all these new buttons and still no spell check?

I’m happy to say there will be two book clubs this month:

On Saturday, August 8, Librarian Brendle Wells and I will be hosting Between the Covers Romance Book Club with the Sacramento Public Library via zoom. Our book is The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon. This book was incredibly popular and yet I felt nothing – join our zoom chat and explain what I missed! Click on the link above for info.

On Saturday, August 22, at 10:30AM Between the Lines Book Club meets via zoom. Our book is From Protest to Resistance, by Lilli Segal. We are very excited about this! Check out Friday posts for more about this amazing book!

Remember when we thought we had all this extra time because of quarantine? I feel pretty busy, don’t you? I hope everyone made it through July and is having a happy August, getting out in nature as much as you safely can and reading to your heart’s content! Love you guys!

Answer July, by Emily Dickinson

Emily always comes through for us – here’s a poem for this month!

Answer July—
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?

Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
Answer Thee—Me—

Nay—said the May—
Show me the Snow—
Show me the Bells—
Show me the Jay!

Quibbled the Jay—
Where be the Maize—
Where be the Haze—
Where be the Bur?
Here—said the Year— 

I hope you are all finding safe ways to get outdoors especially in our cooler mornings and evenings. We are missing our regular trip to San Diego so I guess I’ll have to spend more time exploring our own river here in Sacramento. Stay well, Readers!

Between the Lines Book Club: Persuasion Discussion Questions

Between the Lines Book Club is back, and we are reading Persuasion by Jane Austen! We will be meeting via Zoom on July 25, 2020 at 10:30AM.

Here are some discussion questions. These questions are from, and I may add some more prior to our meeting. Consider these as you read!

Persuasion is often described as “autumnal.” Why? How does “autumnal” describe Anne Elliot’s situation? Jane Austen’s?

  1. Consider the opening of the novel. What does it tell the reader about both the characters in the novel and the condition of Britain in 1815, the year Persuasion is set?
  2. What values do Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth represent? Captain Wentworth, the Crofts,the Harvilles and Benwick?
  3. How are Sir Walter’s values displayed through his words and actions? Consider his relationship with his tenants, those who work for him, and each of his daughters.
  4. What do Sir Walter’s fiscal problems suggest about the condition of the upper class and aristocracy in Britain? Does Sir Walter recognize his failures?
  5. How are Elizabeth and Mary like their father? How are Mary Musgrove’s values displayed through her words and actions?
  6. What is Austen’s own view of the two, and how is it conveyed?
  7. Jane Austen described her heroine in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight (23-25 March 1817), “You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me.” Do you agree?
  8. What arguments are there for Anne’s having listened to Lady Russell eight years earlier? How does Anne view this persuasion by the end of the novel?
  9. What does the navy represent in the novel? Compare and contrast the two worlds of the novel: the aristocracy and upper class on one hand and the British navy on the other.
  10. The characters are subject to different types of persuasion. Who is persuaded by rank/class/family connections? Who is persuaded by self-interest? Who is persuaded by self-importance?
  11. Does the novel embody a feminist viewpoint? Consider Anne’s conversation with Harville. Consider Mrs. Croft’s character and actions.

July Tarot: Tarot and Poetry

I don’t know about you guys, but July is kicking my butt and as of writing this it’s only July 10. With that in mind, this month I have links for you! By the way, WordPress just changed…everything, so until I take the time to figure out the new system I’m not doing much with images over here. Curses, new system. Curses.

OK, first off, here’s a wonderful article by Benebell Wen on Poets and the Tarot. I highly recommend Wen’s book Holistic Tarot which is comprehensive and amazing!

Here is a link to Classic Tarot Poems You Can Read Online, from a blog by the editors of Arcana: The Tarot Poem Anthology

Want to go shopping? Check out The Poet Tarot and Guidebook. I have this as an app but I think it works better as an actual, physical deck. It uses poets and writers for creative inspiration!

Message me if you would like a reading!

Between the Lines Book Club is Back!

Hello everyone! We will be meeting via zoom for the foreseeable future. Our upcoming book is Persuasion, by Jane Austen. We will meet to discuss it on July 25, 2020, at 10:30AM. If you haven’t gotten the zoom invite, let me know in the comments.

Persuasion is a complicated book. Here is a list of the characters in Persuasion and their relationships to each other. In reading Austen, pay attention to who is related to whom, and how they address one another! Also, note ages – this book is unusual among Austen’s novels for having a romance between a couple in middle age, and everyone’s ages take on great importance as the book progresses!

Persuasion – Characters

Ages Given Where Known

Anne’s Family

Sir Walter Elliot, Bt: (Age: mid fifties) Anne’s dad, a widow. Likes Mrs. Clay, a widow. 

Elizabeth Elliot: (Age 29): Anne’s older sister.

Anne Elliot:  (Age 27) Our heroine. In love with Wentworth.

Mary Musgrove: Anne’s younger sister. Married to Charles, who proposed to Anne, was shot down, and then proposed to Mary, who accepted. Is a hypochondriac with several children.

Charles Musgrove: Mary’s husband.

Little Charles: Son of Charles and Mary. Breaks his collarbone, causing Anne and Wentworth to finally reunite.

Louisa Musgrove (Age 19): Charles Musgrove’s sister. Likes Wentworth but ends up engaged to Benwick.

Henrietta Musgrove (Age 20): Louisa’s sister. Likes Charles Hayter (her cousin), then likes Wentworth, then likes Charles again.

Lady Russell: A family friend who is Anne’s surrogate mother.

The Renters and Their Friends

Sophia Croft: (Age 38) Captain Wentworth’s sister and Admiral Croft’s wife. Has happy marriage.

Admiral Croft: adores his wife, admires Wentworth, his brother-in-law

Captain Wentworth: (Age: 31): proposed to Anne many years ago and was rejected. Likes Louisa, then likes Anne again. Ends up with Anne. Is Sophia Croft’s brother.

People in Bath and Lyme

Mrs. Clay: (Age: in her 30s): widow who charms Elizabeth and Sir Walter but might end up with William Elliot.

Captain Benwick: was engaged to Captain Harville’s sister, who recently died. He was devastated, but then seemed to like Anne, and promptly ended up with Louisa. Is a friend of Wentworth and Harville.

Captain Harville: Friend of Wentworth and Benwick.

William Elliot: distant relation and heir presumptive of Sir Elliot. Originally it was hoped he would marry Elizabeth, then he married a rich woman who died, now he likes Anne and also wants to distract Mrs. Clay from Sir Walter. Might end up with Mrs. Clay. 

Mrs. Smith: (Age 30): childhood friend of Anne’s. Widow of friend of William Elliot’s, who will not help her. Gets help from Anne and Wentworth.