The Orphan's Tale 
Pam Jenoff, 2017
MIRA
368 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780778319818


Summary
A powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff.

Seventeen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier during the occupation of her native Holland.

Heartbroken over the loss of the baby she was forced to give up for adoption, she lives above a small German rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep.

When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants, unknown children ripped from their parents and headed for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the baby that was taken from her. In a moment that will change the course of her life, she steals one of the babies and flees into the snowy night, where she is rescued by a German circus.

The circus owner offers to teach Noa the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond.

But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their unlikely friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Where—Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Education—B.A., George Washington University; M.A., Cambridge University;
   J.D., University of Pennsylvania
Currently—lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey


Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England.

Upon receiving her master's in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat's Wife, The Ambassador's Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished.

She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
In prose that is beautiful, ethereal, and poignant, The Orphan's Tale is a novel you won't be able to put down.
Bustle


Against the backdrop of circus life during the war, the author captures the very real terrors faced by both women as they navigate their working and personal relationships and their complicated love lives while striving for normalcy and keeping their secrets safe.
Publishers Weekly


Noa becomes pregnant by a soldier and is compelled to give up both baby and home. Living above a railway station she cleans to pay her bills, she discovers a boxcar full of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp and steals one, joining a traveling circus to cover her tracks. Over-the-top imagination.
Library Journal


A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.… The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated. An interesting premise imperfectly executed.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add the author's questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for The Orphan's Tale...then take off on your own:

1. Noa gives her newborn away but remains bereft by the loss and tormented by visions of the child. What do you make of her decision?

2. In her own voice, Noa tells us...

I am unfamiliar with infants and I hold him at arm's length now, like a dangerous animal. But he moves closer, nuzzling against my neck.

Talk about the horror of that scene in the "nursery car" (which is historically accurate). What prompts Noa to save a half-dead?

3.What do you make of Astrid, whose voice alternates with Noa's? How has her tumultuous past shaped her character, especially in terms of her ability to trust others?

4. Talk about the development of the Noa and Astrid's relationship, on the ropes and off. 

5. Author Pam Jenoff conducted considerable research into Jewish circus dynasties, which has enabled her to provide the grainy details of circus life. What do you find interesting or what, in particular, strikes you about life under the tent?

6. Talk about the symbolic use of the circus with its twinkling lights as a foil to the darkness and terror of the Nazi era.

7. What do you make of the novel's other characters—Herr Neuhoff, or Peter, for instance. In what way do they demonstrate courage in the face of danger, brutality, and evil?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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A Piece of the World 
Christina Baker Kline, 2017
HarperCollins
320 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780062356260


Summary
   Later he told me that he’d been afraid to show me the painting. He thought I wouldn’t like the way he portrayed me: dragging myself across the field, fingers clutching dirt, my legs twisted behind. The arid moonscape of wheatgrass and timothy. That dilapidated house in the distance, looming up like a secret that won’t stay hidden.

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life.

Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

This edition includes a four-color reproduction of Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1964
Raised—in Maine and Tennessee, USA, and the UK
Education—B.A., Yale University; M.B., Cambridge University; M.F.A., University of Virginia
Currently—lives in Montclair, New Jersey


Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. In addition to A Piece of the World (2017) and Orphan Train (2013), her novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water.

Kline also commissioned and edited two widely praised collections of original essays on the first year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow. She coauthored a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins, with her mother, Christina L. Baker, and she coedited About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror with Anne Burt.

Kline grew up in Maine, England, and Tennessee, and has spent a lot of time in Minnesota and North Dakota, where here husband grew up. She is a graduate of Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing.

She has taught creative writing and literature at Fordham and Yale, among other places, and is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fellowship. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her family. (From the pubisher.)



Book Reviews
[I]n expanding on Christina’s story, Kline defies what some might see as the strength of Wyeth’s work, its undercurrent of mystery.… Despite the naturalism of his style, Wyeth asks viewers to exercise their own imaginations. In contrast, Kline sometimes over-explains.… This approach serves readers who want to fill in the blanks, to experience the daily grind of a way of life that often has been burnished by the passage of time, to honor the rectitude of people who stoically shoulder their burdens and get on with their chores. A Piece of the World is a story for those who want the mysterious made real.
Becky Aikman - New York Times Book Review


Like Wyeth’s paintings, this is a vivid novel about hardscrabble lives and prairie grit and the seemingly small but significant beauties found there.
Christine Brunkhorst - Minneapolis Star Tribune


Kline’s gift is to dispense with the fustiness and fact-clogged drama that can weigh down some historical novels to tell a pure, powerful story of suffering met with a fight. In fiction, in her quiet way, Christina triumphs—and so does this novel.
Oprah Magazine


A gorgeous read.
Real Simple


Artfully (pun intended) inspired by the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World.
Marie Claire


[I]ntriguing.… The story is told from Christina’s point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history.… Through it all, the author’s insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) [A] finely drawn novel.… Kline expertly captures the essence of Wyeth's iconic masterpiece and its real-life subject, crafting a moving work of historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA
Library Journal
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Readers will savor the quotidian details that compose Christina’s "quiet country life." Orphan Train was a best-seller and popular book-discussion choice, so expect demand.
Booklist


The real-life subject of an iconic work of art is given her own version of a canvas—space in which to reveal her tough personality, bruised heart, and "artist's soul."… It's thin on plot, but Kline's reading group-friendly novel delivers a character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for A Piece of the World...then take off on your own:

1. A good place to start a discussion of A Piece of the World is by considering Wyeth's painting, Christina's World. What does the painting exude, how would you describe its mood? Why might Wyeth have chosen not to reveal Christina's face? Observing the painting how does Christine strike you?

2. Now consider the novel. Do you think Christina Baker Kline captures the essence of Wyeth's painting? Is her own "drawing" of Christine what you might expect from the painting? More...or less than? Different?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: Describe Christine and the hardships she faces in her life. Talk about her debilitating disease. No one seems to pity her; is she deserving of pity in your eyes? Is she deserving of pity in her own eyes?

4. What was life like in Maine for Christine and her family in Cushing, Maine? Does Kline's portrayal detract at all from the nostalgic sheen which bygone eras sometimes create in us? Was there once an idyllic rural past?

5. In what way does Andrew Wyeth open up Christine's life? What does he show her about her surroundings? How does Kline portray Christine and Andy's attachment to one another?

6. Emily Dickinson's poetry and life seem to loom large in Christine's imagination. What does Christine find in the poet's work that inspires her?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Behind Her Eyes 
Sarah Pinborough, 2017
Flatiron Books
320 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781250111173


Summary
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
AKA—Sarah Silverwood
Birth—1972
Where—Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Education—West London Institute
Awards—British Fantasy Award
Currently—lives in London, England


Sarah Pinborough is a British novelist of "grip-lit." She is know for her Young Adult fiction (occasionally using the pseudonym, Sarah Silverwood). Her recent adult offering, Behind Her Eyes, was released in 2017 with considerable fanfare in the UK and the US. 

Background
Pinborough was born in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England. Her father was a diplomat, and the family lived in Syria until she was eight, when she was sent to board at Bedford High School. She describes herself as "the naughtiest girl in the school" and was thrown out at 16, after which she went to Edinburgh Academy for Boys. She attended the West London Institute (now Brunel), where she studied history and English.

In her early twenties she managed a strip club in Soho and later became head of English at Lea Manor High School in Luton.

Writing
Pinborough has been a full-time writer since 2008, publishing more than 20 novels and several novellas; she has also written for the BBC. Her recent novels include the dystopian love story, The Death House (2015), and a YA horror story, 13 Minutes (2016), which as of this writing is in production with Michael "Fifty Shades" De Luca for Netflix. (Adapted from the Evening Standard and the author's website.)



Book Reviews
By injecting a spritz of supernatural fizz into Behind Her Eyes, Pinborough shrewdly transforms a romantic suspense novel into an eerie thriller calculated to creep you out.… Pinborough keeps us guessing about just who’s manipulating whom—until the ending reveals that we’ve been wholly complicit in this terrifying mind game.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times Book Review


The second twist turns the creepy factor up to 11 and is a total wrong-footer. #WTF ending indeed— the sort that makes you go back to the beginning to check if it all pans out. And it does.
Guardian (UK)


[A] twisty psychological thriller.… Pinborough will keep even veteran genre readers guessing about which members of the trio, if any, are providing trustworthy accounts of their pasts and presents.
Publishers Weekly


Deserves its own warning label.… Avoid any contact with the growing buzz concerning the novel’s ingenious, to-die-for twist.
BookPage


(Starred review.) A masterpiece of suspense…and dread that is highly satisfying. But it is with the plot, so tight and yet also intricate, that Pinborough shines…as the story moves to the disturbing conclusion that everyone is talking about.… Readers will likely never see it coming
Booklist


One of them is hiding a secret, revealed near the end of the book, which will leave you (and another of the characters) gasping.… [Y]our patience and indulgence will be rewarded in spades.
BookReporter



Discussion Questions
(We'll add specific questions if and when they're made available by the publisher. In the meantime, use our generic mystery questions.)



GENERIC DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Mystery / Crime / Suspense Thrillers

1. Talk about the characters, both good and bad. Describe their personalities and motivations. Are they fully developed and emotionally complex? Or are they flat, one-dimensional heroes and villains?

2. What do you know...and when do you know it? At what point in the book do you begin to piece together what happened?

3. Good crime writers embed hidden clues in plain sight, slipping them in casually, almost in passing. Did you pick them out, or were you...clueless? Once you've finished the book, go back to locate the clues hidden in plain sight. How skillful was the author in burying them?

4. Good crime writers also tease us with red-herrings—false clues—to purposely lead readers astray? Does your author try to throw you off track? If so, were you tripped up?

5. Talk about the twists & turns—those surprising plot developments that throw everything you think you've figured out into disarray.

  1. Do they enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?
  2. Are they plausible or implausible?
  3. Do they feel forced and gratuitous—inserted merely to extend the story?

6. Does the author ratchet up the suspense? Did you find yourself anxious—quickly turning pages to learn what happened? A what point does the suspense start to build? Where does it climax...then perhaps start rising again?

7. A good ending is essential in any mystery or crime thriller: it should ease up on tension, answer questions, and tidy up loose ends. Does the ending accomplish those goals?

  1. Is the conclusion probable or believable?
  2. Is it organic, growing out of clues previously laid out by the author (see Question 3)?
  3. Or does the ending come out of the blue, feeling forced or tacked-on?
  4. Perhaps it's too predictable.
  5. Can you envision a different or better ending?

8. Are there certain passages in the book—ideas, descriptions, or dialogue—that you found interesting or revealing...or that somehow struck you? What lines, if any, made you stop and think?

9. Overall, does the book satisfy? Does it live up to the standards of a good crime story or suspense thriller? Why or why not?

(Generic Mystery Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Perfect Little World 
Kevin Wilson, 2017
HarperCollins
352 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780062450326


Summary
When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she’s fresh out of high school, pregnant with her art teacher's baby, and totally on her own. Izzy knows she can be a good mother but without any money or relatives to help, she’s left searching.

Dr. Grind, an awkwardly charming child psychologist, has spent his life studying family, even after tragedy struck his own. Now, with the help of an eccentric billionaire, he has the chance to create a “perfect little world”—to study what would happen when ten children are raised collectively, without knowing who their biological parents are.

He calls it The Infinite Family Project and he wants Izzy and her son to join.

This attempt at a utopian ideal starts off promising, but soon the gentle equilibrium among the families disintegrates: unspoken resentments between the couples begin to fester; the project's funding becomes tenuous; and Izzy’s growing feelings for Dr. Grind make her question her participation in this strange experiment in the first place.

Written with the same compassion and charm that won over legions of readers with The Family Fang (2011), Kevin Wilson shows us with grace and humor that the best families are the ones we make for ourselves. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1978
Where—Winchester, Tennessee, USA
Education—B.A., Vanderbilt University; M.F.A., University of Florida
Awards—Shirley Jackson Award
Currently—lives in Swanee, Tennessee


Kevin Wilson is the author of the novels Family Fang (2011) and Perfect Little World (2017). His short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009), received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award.

Wilson's fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, A Public Space, and elsewhere, and has appeared in four volumes of the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology as well as The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012.  He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Rivendell, and the KHN Center for the Arts.

Born and raised in Tennessee, Wilson now lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his sons, Griff and Patch. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Sewanee: The University of the South. (Adapted from the author's website.)



Book Reviews
Kevin Wilson…knows how to construct a story.… Like Vonnegut, like Atwood, Wilson is up to serious business—like them, he's also very funny.… [Perfect Little World is] a novel you keep reading for old-fashioned reasons—because it's a good story, and you need to know what happens. But you also keep reading because you want to know what a good family is. Everyone wants to know that.
John Irving - New York Times Book Review


Charming.… Wilson pulls off his sweet-and-tart tone.… The novel delights in the project’s Willy Wonkaesque sense of antic chaos.
Lisa Zeldner - Washington Post


The sheer energy of imagination in Wilson’s work makes other writers of realistic fiction look lazy.… The novel’s grand finale…reminds us that not everything unpredictable is painful or bad, and that conventional arrangements have no monopoly on the profound connections that make family.
Newsday


Family is far more than a biological bond; that’s not a groundbreaking idea. But Wilson has found a lovely new way of telling readers something they know by heart.
Houston Chronicle


Delicious.… Wilson is such an inventive and witty writer.… [His] "perfect little world" of a novel pretty much lives up to its title.
NPR


Persistently compassionate.… Wilson’s best moments are funny and earnest.… [His] crisp language and smart plotting make Perfect Little World immensely likable and absolutely enjoyable.
GQ


Quirky.… Wilson’s Perfect Little World finds its bliss in the vast disconnect between people’s best intentions and where they land.
Entertainment Weekly


[Kevin Wilson's] sweet and thoroughly satisfying second novel.… Wilson grounds his premise in credible human motivations and behavior, resulting in a memorable cast of characters. He uses his intriguing premise to explore the meaning of family and the limits of rational decision making.
Publishers Weekly


It takes a village, or in this case a well-meaning, utopian parenting study, to create the ingredients for this almost farcical yet moving novel about love, parenting, and the families we create for ourselves. —Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Library Journal


(Starred review.) Stellar.…  Compelling.…  Realer and wiser and sadder and eventually reassuring about human nature than dozens of other novels.
Booklist


(Starred review.) This is another bittersweet story about messed-up families from the talented Wilson.… [The novel] checks in on the "Infinite Family Project" every year or two…[and] delves into the drama and tensions inherent in this strange aquarium.… A moving and sincere reflection on what it truly means to become a family.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Perfect Little World...then take off on your own:

1. What was your initial impression of Dr. Preston Grind when he is first introduced in the novel? Do you find him—or his goals—sympathetic? Did your views of him change during the course of the novel?

2. How did Grind's childhood affect his adult life, the kind of person he is? Discuss the "Constant Friction Method." What were the goals of his that experiment? Were his parents crazy?

3. Talk about Izzy. How would you describe her character?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: Given Izzy's lack of family support (or shall we say the horror that is her family), what do you make of her decision to sign her child over to Grind—does she have other viable options?

5. What is Mrs. Jackson's motives? Were you suspicious of her? How does her background as an orphan shape her decisions?

6. Kevin Wilson asks us to consider the definition and make-up, of family. What is family? What forms does it take in this book? Do you think there is an ideal family constellation—or is it possible for a solid and effective family structure to take different shapes?

7. The characters, Izzy, Grind, and Mrs. Jackson, all products of broken or nonexistent families, long for community and a sense of belonging. How does that trait evidence itself in each of these characters?

8. Talk about the breast feeding assembly line, which makes Izzy feel as if she...

had ended a shift in a factory that had been imagined by Walt Disney, the bright colors and happy music overriding the weird fact that you were working on an assembly line that created superbabies.

9. Kevin Wilson is both clever and perceptive, writing often with humor. What parts of this novel did you find humorous? Consider, for instance, the Stanford marshmallow experiment. (Do you know that it is a real-life experiment?)

10. Talk, of course, about the irony inherent in the novel's title. Can you come up with any other titles that might be appropriate?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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Norse Mythology 
Neil Gaiman, 2017
W.W. Norton & Co.
304 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780393609097


Summary
An instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths. Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon:
  ? Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning;
  ? Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods;
  ? Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back.

More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1960
Where—Portchester, Hampshire, England, UK
Education—N/A
Awards—See below
Currently—lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


Early life
Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated from Antwerp before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (nee Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy.

After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion.

Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said...

I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them-which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it.

One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him to finally acquire the third book in the trilogy.

For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. Years later, he said...

I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you.... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets.

Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When he won 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "....It had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was another childhood favourite, and "a favourite forever. Alice was default reading to the point where I knew it by heart." He also enjoyed "Batman" comics as a child.

Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, includging Fonthill School in East Grinstead, Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965–1980 and again from 1984–1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.

Early Writings
As a child and a teenager, Gaiman read the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Dunsany and G. K. Chesterton. He later became a fan of science fiction, reading the works of authors as diverse as Alan Moore, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, H. P. Lovecraft, Thorne Smith, and Gene Wolfe.

In the early 1980s, Gaiman pursued journalism, conducting interviews and writing book reviews, as a means to learn about the world and to make connections that he hoped would later assist him in getting published. He wrote and reviewed extensively for the British Fantasy Society. His first professional short story publication was "Featherquest", a fantasy story, in Imagine Magazine in May 1984, when he was 24.

When waiting for a train at Victoria Station in 1984, Gaiman noticed a copy of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore, and carefully read it. Moore's fresh and vigorous approach to comics had such an impact on Gaiman that he would later write; "that was the final straw, what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics".

In 1984, he wrote his first book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, as well as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of quotations, with Kim Newman. Even though Gaiman thought he did a terrible job, the book's first edition sold out very quickly. When he went to relinquish his rights to the book, he discovered the publisher had gone bankrupt.  After this, he was offered a job by Penthouse. He refused the offer.

He also wrote interviews and articles for many British magazines, including Knave. As he was writing for different magazines, some of them competing, and "wrote too many articles", he sometimes went by a number of pseudonyms: Gerry Musgrave, Richard Grey, "along with a couple of house names". Gaiman ended his journalism career in 1987 because British newspapers can "make up anything they want and publish it as fact."

In the late 1980s, he wrote Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion in what he calls a "classic English humour" style. Following on from that he wrote the opening of what would become his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the comic novel Good Omens, about the impending apocalypse.

Comics and Graphic Novels
After forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore, Gaiman started writing comic books, picking up "Marvelman" after Moore finished his run on the series. Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham collaborated on several issues of the series before its publisher, Eclipse Comics, collapsed, leaving the series unfinished. His first published comic strips were four short "Future Shocks for 2000 AD" in 1986–7. He wrote three graphic novels with his favorite collaborator and long-time friend Dave McKean: "Violent Cases", "Signal to Noise", and "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch". Impressed with his work, DC Comics hired him, and he wrote the limited series "Black Orchid". Karen Berger, who later became head of DC Comics's Vertigo, read "Black Orchid" and offered Gaiman a job: to re-write an old character, The Sandman, but to put his own spin on him.

"The Sandman" tells the tale of the ageless, anthropomorphic personification of Dream that is known by many names, including Morpheus. The series began in December 1988 and concluded in March 1996: the 75 issues of the regular series, along with an illustrated prose text and a special containing seven short stories, have been collected into 12 volumes that remain in print.

In 1989, Gaiman published "The Books of Magic" (collected in 1991), a four-part mini-series that provided a tour of the mythological and magical parts of the DC Universe through a frame story about an English teenager who discovers that he is destined to be the world's greatest wizard. The miniseries was popular, and sired an ongoing series written by John Ney Rieber.

In the mid-90s, he also created a number of new characters and a setting that was to be featured in a title published by Tekno Comix. The concepts were then altered and split between three titles set in the same continuity: "Lady Justice, Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man, and Teknophage".They were later featured in Phage: Shadow Death and Wheel of Worlds. Although Gaiman's name appeared prominently on all titles, he was not involved in writing of any of the above-mentioned books (though he helped plot the zero issue of Wheel of Worlds).

Gaiman wrote a semi-autobiographical story about a boy's fascination with Michael Moorcock's anti-hero Elric of Melniboné for Ed Kramer's anthology Tales of the White Wolf. In 1996, Gaiman and Ed Kramer co-edited The Sandman: Book of Dreams. Nominated for the British Fantasy Award, the original fiction anthology featured stories and contributions by Tori Amos, Clive Barker, Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and others.

Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling Gaiman said “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. And you go, well, I don’t know that I’m as good as that and that’s two and a half thousand years old. But with comics I felt like I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun.”

In 2009, Gaiman wrote a two-part "Batman" story for DC Comics to follow "Batman R.I.P." It is titled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" a play off of the classic Superman story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore. He also contributed a twelve-page "Metamorpho" story drawn by Mike Allred for Wednesday Comics, a weekly newspaper-style series.

Novels
In a collaboration with author Terry Pratchett (best known for his series of Discworld novels), Gaiman's first novel Good Omens was published in 1990. In recent years Pratchett has said that while the entire novel was a collaborative effort and most of the ideas could be credited to both of them, Pratchett did a larger portion of writing and editing if for no other reason than Gaiman's scheduled involvement with "Sandman".

The 1996 novelization of Gaiman's teleplay for the BBC mini-series Neverwhere was his first solo novel. The novel was released in tandem with the television series though it presents some notable differences from the television series. In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. The novel has been released both as a standard novel and in an illustrated text edition.

American Gods became one of Gaiman's best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. A special 10th Anniversary edition was released, with the "author's preferred text" 12,000 words longer than the original mass-market editions. This is identical to the signed and numbered limited edition that was released by Hill House Publishers in 2003. This is also the version released by Headline, Gaiman's publisher in the UK, even before the 10th Anniversary edition. He did an extensive sold-out book tour celebrating the 10th Anniversary and promoting this edition in 2011.

In 2005, his novel Anansi Boys was released worldwide. The book deals with Anansi ('Mr. Nancy'), a supporting character in American Gods. Specifically it traces the relationship of his two sons, one semi-divine and the other an unaware Englishman of American origin, as they explore their common heritage. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children's book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009, it had been on the New York Times Bestseller children's list for fifteen weeks.

As of 2008, Gaiman has several books planned. After a tour of China, he decided to write a non-fiction book about his travels and the general mythos of China. Following that, will be a new 'adult' novel (his first since 2005's Anansi Boys). After that, another 'all-ages' book (in the same vein as Coraline and The Graveyard Book). Following that, Gaiman says that he will release another non-fiction book called The Dream Catchers. In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012 he would begin work on what is essentially, American Gods 2.

Literary Allusions
Gaiman's work is known for a high degree of allusiveness. Meredith Collins, for instance, has commented upon the degree to which his novel Stardust depends on allusions to Victorian fairy tales and culture. Particularly in The Sandman, literary figures and characters appear often; the character of Fiddler's Green is modelled visually on G. K. Chesterton, both William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer appear as characters, as do several characters from within A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The comic also draws from numerous mythologies and historical periods. Such allusions are not unique to Sandman; Stardust, for example, also has a character called Shakespeare.

Clay Smith has argued that this sort of allusiveness serves to situate Gaiman as a strong authorial presence in his own works, often to the exclusion of his collaborators. However, Smith's viewpoint is in the minority: to many, if there is a problem with Gaiman scholarship and intertextuality it is that "...His literary merit and vast popularity have propelled him into the nascent comics canon so quickly that there is not yet a basis of critical scholarship about his work."

David Rudd takes a more generous view in his study of the novel Coraline, where he argues that the work plays and riffs productively on Sigmund Freud's notion of the Uncanny, or the Unheimlich.

Though Gaiman's work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Gaiman says that he started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."

Awards
British Fantasy Award
British Sci-Fi Awards (2)
Bram Stoker Awards (4)
Carnegie Medal
Eisner Awards (19)
Geffen Awards (3)
Hugo Awards (4)
International Horror Guild Award
Locus Awards (5)
Nebula Awards (2)
Newbery Medal
Mythopoeic Awards (2)

(Author bio from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/27/2013.)



Book Reviews
Who else but Neil Gaiman could become an accomplice of the gods, using the sorcery of words to make their stories new? The author of American Gods transforms Norse myths into addictive reading for young and old, with high-wattage retellings that preserve the monumental grandeur of the Nordic universe but also turn it into a world that is up close and personal, full of antic wit and dark intrigue.
Maria Tatar, Chair - Harvard University, (Folklore and Mythology)


The fascinating ancient tales in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda have always needed gifted storytellers to breathe new life into them from century to century, and who better now than Neil Gailman to retell the tantalizing Norse myths with great gusto. Gaiman has such a profound understanding of the conflicts of Odin, Thor, Loki, and other gods that he revitalizes them through his imaginative depictions. His interpretation of major Norse myths will draw readers into a strange realm that will dazzle and baffle and lead to a new appreciation of Norse mythology.
Jack Zipes, Ed. - Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature


Gaiman turns his restless imagination to a retelling of Norse folklor.… [He] provides a dramatic continuity to these stories…[and] has great fun in bringing these gods down to a human level.… Gaiman takes a well-worn subject and makes it his own.
Publishers Weekly


( Starred review.) [T]he classic stories of Norse mythology but with no less humor, sense of adventure, and imagination than when [Gaiman's] playing in worlds of his own making.… A spectacularly entertaining and elucidating collection of stories with wide crossover appeal. —Stephanie Klose
Library Journal


[Gaiman] does a bang-up job of it.… His simple, Anglo-Saxon-canted diction…couldn’t sound better to modern ears used to the clipped, the droll, the laconic that a century of hard-boiled literary patter has made normal.… Gaiman’s retelling of these ever-striking and strange stories should be every reader’s first book of Norse mythology.
Booklist


( Starred review.) Gaiman writes assuredly and evocatively and with a precise eye for the atmospheric detail…. Superb. Just the thing for the literate fantasy lover and the student of comparative religion and mythology alike.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Norse Mythology...then take off on your own:

1. Talk about each of the primary gods: Odin, Thor, and Loki. Consider their passions, humor, conflicts, bravery, and flaws. Which god do you find most interesting, admirable, cruel, weird, cool? Consider also Odin's wife,Freya, and his son, Balder, as well as Tyr, the one-handed god.

2. Which of the stories do you find most engaging or funny? Are any of the stories instructive or especially tragic? What larger meanings, if any, might the stories offer?

3. What is the role of mythology in culture? Why have all civilizations created their stories: what do myths signify? What do the Norse myths, in particular, say about the Germanic/Norse cultures…and their view of humankind.

4. Follow-up to Questions #3: Does mythology, particularly Neil Gaiman's volume have relevance today? Are they universal cautionary tales? Do they offer age-old wisdom? Or are they primarily for entertaining?

5. What other mythologies are you familiar with: perhaps Ancient Greek, African, Hindi, Native American, Sumerian? How do the Norse myths compare—are there similarities with any other group of myths that you are familiar with?

6. In Norse mythology all roads lead to Ragnarok (also known as Gotterdammerung for Wagner opera buffs). How did they get there? Is the cataclysmic end inevitable—is it dictated by fate or by the innate nature of the gods?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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