Book Club Cheerleader

Fun Friday: ROOM Icebreaker (March 4, 2011)

Adult stories, told from a child’s point of view—book clubs love them! I was thinking about this as I was studying Emma Donaghue’s compelling novel, ROOM, in preparation for one of my book clubs last month....(Click to Continue)

Wordless Wednesday: My Hot Date with Dave Barry
(March 2, 2011)

Wildwood Literary Review published my humor piece this week—My Hot Date with Dave Barry—I hope he doesn’t mind that I kissed and told! ...(Click to Continue)

What is “Celebrating Books”?
(February 28, 2011)

I’m hoarse. Well, almost. I’ve been getting so many questions about how our public book clubs work. I think I’ll just blog about it and refer everyone here—would that be rude? (As if I could even stop myself from talking about it…) (Click to Continue)

Fun Friday: Happy 80th Birthday, Toni Morrison!
(February 25, 2011)

Let’s cheer on Ms. Morrison and help her celebrate this marvelous milestone by playing the Guardian’s quiz!... (Click to Continue)

Baghdad by the Bay Goes Bonkers for Books (February 23, 2011)

…Well, at least for those who write them.

Last weekend was the 3 days of the San Francisco Writer’s Conference—not the 12 days of Christmas—but I am still here to sing its praises. And although it was quite the information overload—being an off-the-chart extrovert, it’s always about The People for me. So I’m ecstatic to report that I met...(Click to Continue)

To Kill a Mockingbird Game  
(February 21, 2011)

This month my neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood, read the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Yes, we jumped on the bandwagon to pay homage to the 50th Anniversary of this beloved and iconic novel. As part of our celebration, we watched the movie—doesn’t Gregory Peck make the perfect Atticus?—and played the following multiple choice game. My Alabamian parents would’ve called our group of California Girls, “Yankees—through and through”—so I thought we’d have some fun with some of the Southernisms in the book and see just how many we knew...(Click to Continue)

Fun Friday: Literary Legos 
(February 18, 2011)

Of course, I already own the two Nancy Pearl Librarian action figures—both the red and the blue models. So it should come as no surprise that I absolutely adore these literary icons made from Legos found by Booklicious. Check them out and tell me which is your favorite—you can see mine, below...(Click to Continue)

Wordless Wednesday  (February 16, 2011)

Water For Elephants Movie Trailer—April 22...(Click to Continue)

Book Clubs Are A Great Excuse
(February 14, 2011)

There are many great aspects about book clubs, and many reasons that people join—but I like to think of them as “A Great Excuse”.

Have you ever thought, “I’ll do _______ (insert something important to you) when I get around to it.” I thought about my reading life in this way for years. Work, family (all three generations), home, school, travel—these all seemed to get in my way. I remember I had an instructor one time who passed out a wooden coin with the words “TUIT” printed on it. She said that it was a “Round Tuit”. And now that we all had one we could quit putting off all the things we wanted to do. I know, pretty cheesy, but she had a good point. Nothing was really stopping me from making the time to do what I wanted to do. I think of book clubs, as loud, organic “Round Tuit”s. Book Clubs give you a great excuse to do a lot of things...(Click to Continue)

Fun Friday: Comedian Authors (Februrary 11, 2011)
I love Steve Martin. He had me a “Wild and Crazy”! I just finished his latest book, “An Object of Beauty” and was amazed, once again, by how this clever man can turn a phrase... (Click to Continue)

Top 5 Reasons to Drink Wine With All Your Book Club Discussions (February 9, 2011)
by Cathie Beck, author of the best-selling memoir, “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” (nominated for March 2011 Books for a Better Life Award)

Back in the day, “book clubs” were stern little groups that took their literature very seriously — nothing but Dickens and Tolstoy and Shakespeare would meet their high-brow literary standards.

Thank the good corkscrews all that’s changed. Today book clubs choose their books based upon gut and good sense – with a little fun wickedness thrown in.

Hence, wine is an organic addition to any self-respecting book club. Without it how could we forgive those losers who never read the book? How we talk so loudly over a fellow member trying to make her literary point? To this end, here are the Top 5 Reasons to Drink Wine With All Your Book Club Discussions... (Click to Continue)

Top 5 Fiction Books for Black History Month
(February 7, 2011)

My Buddy, Dana Barrett, over at Midtown Review wrote a great blog last week about Black History Month (it’s the whole month of February, in case you’re wondering…) In her post she featured 5 Non-fiction books—which tell the true stories of what she calls the “unsung heroes” in black history. Her list is great—and it got me to thinking (it sometimes happens…) about how much history we learn from Fiction books as well—which is why this is such a hot category for book clubs. Book Clubs wanting to celebrate Black History Month—or just wanting a good, discussable book, might want to take a look at some of these titles. So as a companion to Dana’s Top 5 Non-Fiction list, here’s my Top 5 Fiction Books...(Click to Continue)

Fun Friday: Help Write a Book? (February 4, 2011)

Today will be a little different. For Fun Friday, I’m not sharing a video, or a game, or a bunch of pictures. I’m sharing a survey—and here’s the scoop…
As you may know, I’m writing a how-to book for book clubs—and although I’m clear as to what I think people need to know about book clubs, I’m not sure what they want to know about book clubs—and as we know, folks read what they want, not what they need...(Click here to continue)

Need a Book Club Professional?
(February 2, 2011)
  • Does Attila the Hun take over your book discussions on a regular basis?
  • Is your reading group missing the rich symbolic references in To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • Are you overwhelmed by all the characters in People of the Book?
  • Has your book club gotten lost in the complicated plot lines in The Thirteenth Tale?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, your book club may be in the market for a professional facilitator... (Click to Continue)

What Makes a Book Club Book Great?  (January 28, 2011)

Last month at the Pulpwood Queen (PWQ) clam bake, I was fortunate enough to meet Amy Bourret, author of Mothers and Other Liars, a PWQ bonus selection for April. (You may remember that her book was one of the great reads in my PWQ Book Bag, as well as recall the picture of her clever Anna Karenina costume I posted…) In any event, we are honored today to have a guest post from Amy, answering the often-asked question, “What makes a book club book great?”... (Click to Continue)

Fun Friday: Animal (Book) Kingdom
(January 28, 2011)

One of my favorite book blogs, Reading Group, recently posted a “Top 10 Books Featuring Animals” List. I’ve read seven of them so I guess, I’ll have to add the final three to my TBR list. Check them out and tell me your favorites (besides the marvelously wonderful Water For Elephants, of course…) (Click to Continue)
A Twist on a Classic Tail (January 26, 2011)

We’re in for a bit of a treat today. I’d like to share with you a great video clip from a fabulous Fantasy writer, Carolyn Turgeon. A couple of years ago I wrote a review of her novel, Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story—which made my Top 10 Book Club Books for 2009 list. Godmother is a great book club book—even if you aren’t into Fantasy (as I am not...) Carolyn’s upcoming novel is Mermaid: A Twist on a Classic Tale (or is that tail?)... (Click to Continue)
My Pulpwood Queen Book Bag (January 24, 2011)

One of the great things about book conferences is all the great books you learn about and can often get signed—personally, on the spot—by the authors.

What I hate about travel is the unpacking! I finally got around to that little task this weekend! It’s not as bad as it sounds—I didn’t really need anything from my suitcase—since the clothes were all cheerleader uniforms (think Sue Sylvester with an attitude adjustment) and other costumes—and the toiletries are all my travel duplicates…But there was one bag of treasures that I was eager to get to first and this suitcase could not wait for the weekend—it was ALL THE BOOKS!

Count ‘em—there are 24—an even two dozen in all. And I wanted to pick up even more, but was concerned I wouldn’t be able to fit them in my bag! At first I was surprised that ten—almost 42% of my stash are non-fiction. But then, many of my book clubs read a lot of non-fiction titles so it’s not that unusual… In any event, here are all of my little treasures...(Click to Continue)

Top 10 Sound-bites Overheard at the Pulpwood Queen Girlfriends' Weekend!
 (January 21, 2011)

Think of the most compelling class you’ve ever taken. Add 60 authors you’ve been dying to meet, and then glam it up with wildest masquerade party you’ve ever been to—and that will give you just a flavor of what The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends’ Weekend (PWQ GFWE) is—but it won’t even begin to cover it all…

Here are the Top 10 sound-bites I overheard while tramping through the land of stories. And as Kathy Patrick, PWQ founder and hostess of the GFWE says, “It’s all about the Story!”...(Click to Continue)

What’s Your Book Club Sign?  (January 19, 2011)

When I went to Chico as an undergrad, guys would hit on us at The Grad, The O, or Madison Bear Gardens (the three top bars at a time when Playboy Magazine ranked us the #1 party school in the nation) by asking, “Hey, what’s your sign?” This week, Dana Barrett over at blog raises the same question about your book club—but I’m pretty sure the motivation for her conversation is a bit different from those long-haired guys at Chico many moons ago...(Click to Continue)

Ridge Street Book Club, Fair Oaks, California (January 17, 2011)

Recently I was talking to Sandy Briggs, the former Library Services Director of my hometown’s Carnegie Library, about her long-standing book club. She mentioned that they celebrated their 26th anniversary this past fall! I asked if she could share with Book Club readers about her club, and here’s what she had to say...(Click to Continue)

Pulpwood Queens Know all about the F-word!
(January 14, 2011)

Of course, you know I’m talking about The FUN!

Today is Fun Friday—and here are some more pictures of last year’s Girlfriend’s Weekend…(Click to Continue)

Celebrating “The People” Who Make Pulpwood Queens Great (January 13, 2011)

On Monday I spoke about The Pulpwood Queens’ (PWQ) philosophy and how it aligns with mine—The Books, The People, and The Fun…On Tuesday we talked about ‘The Books’ (and authors) that will be represented at Girlfriends’ Weekend; and on Wednesday PWQ author, Kathryn Casey wrote about what she loves about book clubs.

Today, I would just like you to see a handful of the great individual clubs who come to Girlfriends’ Weekend each year... (Click to Continue)

Why Authors Love Book Clubs
(January 12, 2011)

Today we are thrilled to host Pulpwood Queen Author, Kathryn Casey, who writes a guest blog on Why Authors Love Book Clubs, and in particular—since we are all in a frenzy of anticipation for Girlfriends’ Weekend—The Pulpwood Queens…(Click to Continue)

“It’s All About The Story” at Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriend Weekend
(January 11, 2011)

Focus on the Book: One of the great things about Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriend Weekend (PWQ GFWE) are all the great authors who come and talk about their books. It’s a wonderful opportunity to mingle with the authors—and of course, get your copy personally signed....(Click to Continue)

Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend is Here! (January 10, 2011)

This is the week I look forward to every year: Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend starts on Thursday and I can’t say enough about this fabulous Book Club event!...(Click to Continue)

The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10(ish) Book Club Books of 2010
(January 7, 2011)

Ok, my procrastination is over, so here’s where I start cheating…

Even after my two lists of caveats, I just couldn’t whittle the list down to a measly 10…and so I present to you my Top 12—call them my ‘Darling Dozen’, if you will…(Click to Continue)

The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 TBR Books at the End of 2010 (January 6, 2011)

Continuing with this week’s theme of Best Books of 2010, here are the books that Sally Slowreader wasn’t able to get to this year. This is what I know about them—and why I look forward to reading them…(Click to Continue)

The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 Book Club Books NOT of 2010 (Continued)
 (January 5, 2011)

Long, Long Time Ago:

This next category on the “Not 2010” list features a favorite book club genre, Historical Fiction...(Click to Continue)

The Book Club Cheerleader’s Best Books of 2010 (January 4, 2011)

One of my Reading Resolutions for this past year was to read 50 books. (Yes, I am a snail- s…l…o…w… reader.) And If I cheat and include the whole New Year holiday weekend—which I’ve arbitrarily decided is completely legal—I just made my goal! So you would think it would be easy to choose The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 Book Club Books of 2010—I mean I just have to take the Top 20% of the class, right? Nope. It wasn’t that easy for a couple of reasons…(Click to Continue)

Reading Resolutions for 2011 (January 3, 2011)

New Year’s Resolutions. Do you still make them? You know, those promises to yourself: “This year, I’m going to get so skinny, that I can wear a yellow polka-dot bikini at the beach”…”This is the year I’m going to get that promotion—and the raise that goes with it”…”This year, I’m finally going to get to know my brother, Joey’s, wife…” (Click to Continue)

Support Your Local Bookseller This Holiday
(November 2010)

One of my fellow book blogger friends mentioned today that she almost exclusively shops on-line for her books.  And it just struck me that although it is convenient, if we don’t support our local independent books sellers, we won’t have them to patronize in the future. As a former owner of a small family retail business, I know how hard it is to try to compete with the big national chains and box stores. But where else will they hand-sell you that great novel that they couldn’t put down, host your favorite author for an event, or in some cases even offer to wrap your book for free?  

  So this holiday season, I urge everyone to visit their local bookseller if they want to continue to have this option in the future. I’m quoting the following benefits from Indiebound (the association of independent booksellers):

    “Why shop Indie? When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

    - Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain

       and your community only sees $43.

    - Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.

    - More of your taxes are reinvested in your community--where they belong.

The Environment

    - Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.

    - Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community

    - Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.

    - Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.

    - More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.”


Are you willing to give up all of these great benefits? I didn't think so...

Enjoy your holiday—and go out and support your local bookseller!


The Silly Simonson Stalker (June 2009)

I had a wonderful week in New York last month for Book Expo America (BEA)! For those of you who are not familiar, it’s the book industrie's version of a birthday party, New Years Eve, and Oscar Night all rolled up into one. And for all that, I managed to pack only one suitcase—my mom would’ve been proud! I met some wonderful people there, too. First was my idol, Nancy Pearl—the originator of the One City, One Book program. And there was my favorite stylist, Clinton Kelly—of TLC’s What Not to Wear. And then there was breakfast—where I ate with Jon Stewart, Condoleezza Rice and John Grisham. Well…they were actually up on a stage while I was eating some overpriced muffins about a half-city-block away—but we were sitting in the same room. But one of the huge highlights of my week was meeting Helen Simonson, the author of the wonderful break-out novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Just the day before, I had missed—by one person—getting Nancy Pearl’s new book, Book Lust to Go, personally autographed. The woman in front of me in line snatched her very last book. A similar story happened with Scott Turow. So I was determined for that not to happen with Helen Simonson. In fact, I came so early for Helen’s signing that not only was I the first in her line—but I was also the first in line for the guy who was signing in the Random House booth before her! So I began chatting with some of the marketing folks in the booth, and pretty soon I guess they were all talking about this Simonson-stalker woman. So when Helen arrived for her signing, I was introduced to her as one of her major fans. Rather kind of them not to use the S-word…Helen chatted with me and my friends, and even agreed to pose with us.

Back home on the ranch, while writing follow-up notes to all the people I’d met, I sent one to Helen—along with the picture she so graciously posed for. Helen wrote a nice reply and indicated that we would be seeing each other again in January—at The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend.

But then, the very next day I got another email from Helen asking if she could use the picture I’d sent for a series of blogs she’s writing for Kepler’s books. They wanted a ‘casual’ photo of her (versus the typical formal author shot) to run with her piece.

So, today my story ends with our smiling faces—my friends’, Helen’s and mine—grinning at the world from atop Helen’s guest blog! And how kind! They even managed to use our given names—instead of calling us The Stalker Sisters.


Leslie, Kay, Helen Simonson, and Moi

Woodland Reads Brings Jacqueline Winspear to Town (April , 2010)

I love my hometown of Woodland! It isn’t just a town—it’s a community. And not just any community—it’s a community of readers!

Woodland, as Community
: This fact has never been more apparent than when Woodland Reads, our One City, One Book initiative, recently asked for donations to help bring New York Times best-selling author, Jacqueline Winspear, to town to discuss her award-winning book, Maisie Dobbs. Local businesses, community organizations and individuals immediately responded with generous donations, demonstrating their strong commitment to supporting literacy in Yolo County. Community sponsors include The Book Club Cheerleader, Friends of the Woodland Public Library, Holiday Inn Express, Omega Nu, Soroptimist International of Woodland, Yocha Dehe Community Fund, Woodland Sunrise Rotary, Sandra Briggs, Wayne and Mary Ginsburg, Kathy and John Harryman, Councilman Bill Marble, Supervisor Matt Rexroad, Bob and Virginia Salley, and Meg and Tom Stallard.

The Events: Woodland Reads invites the public to attend a community luncheon with Jacqueline Winspear at The Heidrick Ag History Center, 1962 Hays Lane in Woodland on May 6, 2010, at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are available from The Gifted Penguin at 716 Main Street (530-668-8215), Terry’s Hallmark at 375 W Main St (530-666-4431), and  The Avid Reader at 617 Second Street in Davis (530-758-4040) for $20. Books are also available from these same retailers for $13. That afternoon, Jacqueline will speak with local high schools at 1:30 pm in the Woodland High School library. Woodland Reads will conclude with a Meet the Author Talk and Book Signing in The Woodland Public Library Leake Center, at 250 1st Street in Woodland at 7:00 pm.  This event is free to the public.

The Book: Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline's first novel was a National Bestseller and received an array of accolades, including New York Times Notable Book 2003, a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Mystery 2003, and a BookSense Top Ten selection. In addition, the novel was nominated for 7 awards, including the Edgar for Best Novel. She subsequently won the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First novel, the Macavity Award for Best First Novel; and the Alex Award. Maisie Dobbs spent almost four months on the Independent Mystery Booksellers Bestseller list in 2004.

The Author: Jacqueline Winspear: Born and raised in the county of Kent, England, Jacqueline immigrated to the United States in 1990. A regular contributor to journals covering international education, Jacqueline has published articles in women's magazines and has also recorded her essays for KQED radio in San Francisco. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a regular visitor to the United Kingdom and Europe.

Jacqueline's novels thus far—Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth, An Incomplete Revenge, Among the Mad—as well as the newly-released The Mapping of Love and Death are set in the late 1920's and early 1930's, with the roots of each story set in the Great War, 1914-1918. Jacqueline's grandfather was severely wounded and shell-shocked at The Battle of the Somme in 1916, and it was because of his suffering that Jacqueline became deeply interested in the "war to end all wars" and its aftereffects. Though she did not set out to write a `war’ novel, it came as no surprise that this part of history formed the backdrop of Maisie Dobbs and other books in the series. Readers may find some ironic parallels between the war themes of a century ago, and today’s troop deployments.  Also, adults as well as young adult readers will relate to the unique and engaging character of Maisie Dobbs—who is very much a woman of her generation. She has come of age at a time when women took on the toil of men and claimed independence that was difficult to relinquish. It was a time when many women remained unmarried, simply because a generation of men had gone to war and not come home. (We wrote about Jacqueline last year when Among the Mad came out—please refer to that article in our Book Buzz column)

The High School Connection: Students from three of our area high schools—Woodland, Pioneer, and Esparto—will be reading Maisie Dobbs along with the community. And wherever folks are discussing books, you know the Book Club Cheerleader has got them playing games! So check out our Fun and Games column for games and activities we specifically developed for the high schools. Of course, any of these can be adapted for use by your own book club when you discuss Maisie Dobbs—so download a couple and have yourself some fun while learning more about Maisie Dobbs and her world!

One City, One Book Background: The first One City, One Book program was "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" in 1998, started by Nancy Pearl at Seattle Public Library's Washington Center for the Book. Many communities have piggy-backed on Nancy’s idea, and have adopted this community practice from big towns like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City—and small towns like Sonoma (CA), Clarendon Hills (IL) and New Rochelle (NY.) Ms. Pearl warns that the goals of the program should be literary and not political, "Keep in mind that this is a library program, it's not an exercise in civics, it's not intended to have literature cure the racial divide. This is about a work of literature."

Woodland Reads Background: Woodland Reads is a Woodland Community-wide Reading Event based on Nancy Pearl’s model. Each year the selected book is read by local high schools, book clubs and the community as a whole. Like many similar events in American cities and on college campuses, Woodland Reads is designed to foster literacy, acceptance and respect. Beginning in 2002, the Woodland community began reading together with The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez. Subsequent selections have included Mas Masumoto’s Epitaph for a Peach, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Jennifer Traig’s Devil in the Details, Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream by Greg Sarris, and Sue Bigelow and Janice Goldberg’s Rose Colored Glass. (We wrote about Sue and Janice last year in our Author’s Angle column.) Meg Stallard, member of the Woodland Reads team says, “We’ve been pleased with the community support we have received over the years for this important literary program. Each year participation seems to grow—and community organizations are so generous—we couldn’t bring in all these great authors without their support.”

For Further Information: Have questions about Woodland Reads? Please check out their website or email me!



Faking It—In an Important Way   (February,  2010)

“That waiter sure looks familiar,” I think to myself.

I’m sitting with my book club, Readers in the Hood, at the Pulpwood Queens Author’s Dinner, and I turn to another Hoodie and ask, “Did you read that guy’s name tag?” She hadn’t.

He pours a glass of water for my sister-in-law. “Hey Anne, did you catch his name?” I ask in a stage whisper.

“Nope. His badge was at the wrong angle.”

Finally he pours water for my sister, and I can read his name. “You’re Jamie Ford!” I practically shout.

He grins modestly, “Yes. I believe I am.”

“You wrote
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet!”

Again, the shy smile. “Guilty as charged...”

“You were voted one of the top three book clubs books of 2009 by!” I gush.

He regards me patiently as one would humor a small child—or an adult with an IQ under 70. “That was a nice honor.” He fills the last glass at our table and makes his exit—most likely rather relieved to escape the woman with possible Tourette’s syndrome…

I look at my fellow Hoodies. “That was Jamie Ford…”

“Yeah, Marsha. Jamie. Hotel. BookBrowse. We got it.” Another Hoodie says.

Thus went my first encounter with Jamie Ford, famous author. If Will Smith’s character in the comedy Hitch advised his clients to use “shock and awe” tactics to get someone’s attention, I believe I had just used “shockingly awful” ones. But not one to under-achieve, it would not be my last chance that weekend to do so…

The next night, after our Barbie party, as we are enjoying a little nightcap at Skinners—the local biker bar—who should happen to walk in, but Mr. Jamie Ford himself. Since he appears to be alone, there’s room at our table, and I’m a highly inclusive person, I wave and invite him over. He slides in the booth next to Blonde Bimbo Barbie and she begins to regale him with stories of how much she enjoyed his book. She actually just finished it and is enraptured! Her plastic blonde wig bounces around rather unnaturally—but charmingly—as she extols the book’s praises.

Ski Bunny Barbie slips off her fur hat, clutches it to her chest and leans across the table. “Oh, I just haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, but I hear it’s wonderful! So don’t mention any spoilers.”

Jamie looks at Cheerleader Barbie as if to question what my thoughts might be on the subject.

I desperately want to participate in this conversation. But I am also agonizingly aware that—although this book has sat on my Kindle for the past six months—and two of my book clubs have chosen it as their future reads—I, myself, have yet to peruse a single page. So, I am faced with a dilemma: Just how much do I want to jump into this little chat? If I were to admit that I hadn’t quite gotten to it yet, the discussion would be dead—at least as far as I was concerned. Besides, I am “The Book Club Cheerleader.” To confess that I hadn’t read this book, would be tantamount to self-declaring job negligence! But on the other hand, I couldn’t just out-and-out lie about it—could I?

It was clearly time for an “Onie-lie.” Onie-lies have gotten my family out of pickles for generations. Onie was my maternal grandmother and we credited her with perfecting this scheme for weaseling out of things without technically lying—just a little misdirection. Yep—that was going to be the ticket. I’ve read enough reviews, interviews, and even reading group guides to think of something intelligent to say…

Leaning thoughtfully toward Jamie, in an oh-so-serious and sincere tone of voice, I blurt, “Oh, it’s a very important book!”

Very Important Book? Who said that? Bridget Jones Barbie, infamous public speaker?

Thankfully, not completely stunned by my own stupidity, I quickly follow up that one with “What inspired you set your book in Seattle?” and “Does the hotel in the book actually exist—or is it fictional?” And thus goes our discussion until Ski Bunny Barbie, turns the conversation to Jamie’s heritage. We ask about his wife and kids, share a few wallet photos, and after a while we’re just having a friendly conversation instead of a book interview. A few other authors join us and we move over to the karaoke portion of the bar. Some of our group actually performs on stage, and we ultimately stay out way too late—especially for someone who’s still on doctor’s orders to take daily naps.

Jamie is the keynote speaker the next day, and I take copious mental notes about this great-book-I-have-yet-to-read—you know, in case I might have an occasion to fake it again before the weekend is over. Jamie is signing books after his talk, and realizing that he can’t very well sign my Kindle, I purchase a hard copy specifically for this purpose. One of my girlfriends and I get our picture taken with Jamie when it’s our turn in line. We dance with him at the ball that evening. Well, sort of. We are on the same dance floor. We go to church with him on Sunday. Well, sort of. We are in the same church. But another Onie-lie moment, mercifully, does not present itself.

Eventually, it’s time to fly home and we all say our goodbyes. Finally, relaxing in my plane seat, I open my paperback copy of
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and realize I have yet to read Jamie’s inscription. I turn to the title page and read, “…Hope you enjoy this important book.” So he knew all along. I guess the granddaughter couldn’t pull off the old Onie-lies quite like the original…

My flight touches down at the Sacramento airport as I turn the last page of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. And, oddly enough, I think to myself, “This IS a very important book.” With universal themes including father-son relationships, prejudice, and first love—it is captivating and compelling. Overlay that with period-specific gems such the 40’s Jazz scene, relocation camps, and WWII patriotism—in all its disparate faces—and you are transported back to the Seattle of the hero’s childhood.

“Hotel” is sweet, charming, and innocent—which is just as we all found Jamie to be. Oh, yeah—and don’t forget—Very Important.

Rah, Rah, Reading!


Left: Jamie Ford as waiter du jour (with soon-to-be Ski Bunny Barbie); Center: A Very Important book;
Right: Jamie getting in touch with his feminine side at the OZ party

One Fine Weekend in the Emerald City   (January, 2010)

“Sounds like a Convention on Crack…Count me in!” That was the reaction of Sheila, one of my fellow Readers in the Hood members, when I first introduced the idea of going to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend (PWQ GFWE) almost a year ago. After actually attending our first GFWE, I must say her interpretation pretty much nailed it! Even with my 'Shappy Mew Dear-talk and daily catnaps (Handsome Hubby ensured my sister, Sheri, went along as my nurse) it was one of the ‘funnest’ parties I’ve ever attended—and trust me—I’ve been to some fun parties!

             I tried to narrow it down, but it was hard to leave anything out, so here are my Top 10 Most Memorable Moments (assuming I have a memory…):

10 ) Jefferson Convicts and PWQ Burlesque: The Hoodies spent all afternoon on Thursday practicing for a “skit” we were to perform at the “Great Big Ball of Hair Ball.” It was really just sophomoric hand gestures acted out while singing the lyrics to a made-up song, Somewhere Over the Pulpwood Rainbow—written by fellow Book Club Cheerleader, Kay Hodges. The only space large enough to practice our moves was in the back alley behind the Historic Jefferson Hotel—where right next door just happened to sit the local Sheriff’s department. So there we were, out in the alley, sporting turquoise beaded shawls and boas, while our “audience” was lurking around the Sheriff’s yard in bright orange jumpsuits giving us peculiar looks. Not only was turquoise and orange an atrocious color combination—but I’m not sure these poor guys could’ve done anything egregious enough to deserve such cruel and unusual punishment. Fortunately for them, the rain eventually drove us inside. Unfortunately for those who had to watch our little routine on Saturday night, there was no evidence that any practice had ever taken place. But we were proud to have made Kathy Patrick cry! (I’m just not sure if those were tears of joy or pain…)

Left & Center:  Everybody Sing along, ”Somewhere, back in the alley, convicts lurk…”?;
 Right: The Peacocks of California pose before taking flight.


9)  Pat and Melissa Conroy: Pat may be the legend of the family, but they were both absolutely adorable! Pat received an award for Best Book of the Year for South of Broad, while Melissa took home the award for Best Children’s Book, Poppy's Pants. Pat served us dinner on Thursday night and was friendlier than a cocker spaniel—just as cute—and he never piddled on my shoes! Many of the other authors were overhead exclaiming throughout the weekend, “Pat Conroy bought my book!” He is truly a gracious man.

Left: Pat Conroy in his serving apron with Readers in the Hood at The Moveable Feast; Center: Pat and Melissa Conroy signing books; Right: Melissa Conroy as Penelope Barbie

8)  Auntie Skinners: Part biker bar, part karaoke showcase, Skinners was the hangout for authors and readers alike. Tracy Carnes’s (Excess Baggage) outrageous rendition of Bad Girl made us believe she really was. Well, almost. And Hoodie Sheila and Kathi Kamen Goldmark’s duet of Higher and Higher made us feel as though we were. An Elvis impersonator was also thrown into the mix somehow—but how he ever got to Jefferson from Vegas, I’ll never know…But the highlight of my evening was Jamie Ford (Winner of the PWQ Bonus Book of the Year for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—and the ultimate “nice guy”)—buying me drinks. (OK—he really picked up the tab for the whole table, but I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story…)

Left: Tracy Carnes serving at The Moveable Feast: Center: Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark with  BCC and Hoodie Betsy; Right: Jamie Ford and the BCC with his award-winning book

7)  PWQ of Katy, Texas: Blonde (mostly) beautiful (all), and charming (to a person), these gals have won “best girl group” two years in a row. And with good reason—they are creative, fun and talented. This year they carried their costume theme of ‘hot pink and zebra’ consistently through the entire weekend—including their bags, jackets, Barbie costumes, and Oz regalia. Since they’re about 20 years younger than most of The Hoodies—we’ve decided we have no other choice than to adopt these darling women. We will definitely be partying with them again in the future!

Left: Katy Club in their Barbie costumes and their trophy; Center: The Outrageous Lollipop Kids;
 Right: The Katy women in full OZ splendor

6)  The Lollipop Kids: Actually a mother/daughter PWQ group, these gals not only donned killer costumes, but they have some bump and grind moves that R&B artists would kill to be able to duplicate. Wish we’d snagged that performance on video! Go Munchkins! Go Munchkins!

5)  The Rock Bottom Remainders: Now those of you who know me, know that the only man Handsome Hubby has the right to be jealous of is Dave Barry. Dave is truly the funniest man alive and I’ve had a major crush on him for years! So of course, I’ve been following his all-author band, The Rock Bottom Remainders just about as long. Imagine my delight in meeting the founder of that band, Kathi Kamen Goldmark (And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You), and her newly-wed hubby, Sam Barry (How To Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons.) And imagine my further delight in discovering that Sam is Dave’s brother! Throughout the weekend Sam and Kathi treated us to several numbers including, Somewhere over the Rainbow and The Pulpwood Ball. They also joined our table one night at Skinners, where I confessed to Sam that I was in love with his brother. He looked at me rather quizzically, “You do know he’s married, right?” Some people just don’t understand!

Left: Blues Ken and Western Barbie (newlyweds Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark); Center: Sam, Kat, and Kathi performing; Right: My crush, Dave Barry, and BCC at a writer’s conference several years ago

4)   Robert Leleux & Family:  As many of you know, Robert met with several members of The Hoodies when we visited New York City last May. His handsome partner, Michael, joined us as well and after taking several pictures with yellow pom poms and red wax lips, we all got along famously. Reprising last year’s performance at GFWE, Robert led the author panels with Kathy Patrick, forming a team affectionately dubbed “BobKat.” His irreverent asides and infectious laugh provided much of the weekend’s entertainment! I didn’t pee my spankies this time—but I was on the verge… (I think that’s a Colin Raye song, isn’t it?) Not only were we pleased and surprised that Michael was able to make the weekend, but Robert also brought his mother, Jessica—the famous co-star of his book,The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy. Robert, Michael, and Jessica together in one room—what a treat! 

Left: BCC, Robert Leleux and his mother, Jessica; Center: Some of The Hoodies with Robert and his partner, Michael, in NYC last year, Right: “BobKat” on stage

3)  Texas Two-Step, Louisiana Style: Half-way through the “Great Big Ball of Hair Ball”, the band, Borderline (with Kat’s hubby, Jay, on the keyboards and vocals), announced it was time for the Texas Two-Step. Immediately the table of witches next to us (I must point out that these were really nice ladies who were just dressed as witches…) all jumped up and decided the “Women from California” needed to learn this dance. So each member of the Southwestern Louisiana PWQs took a member of our club under her wing (which was a bit counter-intuitive since we were the ones dressed like birds) and taught us to dance. Now, let me tell you, the Texas-Two step is not at all like The Hustle—which is the only line dance I have ever learned. It was rather comical to see Witches dancing with Peacocks, Glendas, Rainbows—and an occasional Flying Monkey thrown in for good measure. Now that’s what I call celebrating diversity! Louisianans teaching Californians to do the Texas Two-Step—who’d a thunk?

 Left: BFFs Rhonda Perry and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On) as twin rainbows, and Ad Hudler (Man of the House) as The Great and Powerful Oz; Center: Those kind Texas Two-steppin’ Witches from SW Louisiana; Right: Deanne Gist (A Bride in the Bargain) as Glenda, and Karen Harrington (Janeology) as Dorothy

2) Queen Kathy Patrick: Although Kathy and I have been email pen pals for a few years now, this was the first time I actually met her in person. She is an outrageously dynamic force for literacy, authors, readers and her community! Who else could’ve pulled off “Tippi Hedren Barbie” (complete with birds pecking at her face) or Texas Tornado (her Oz costume which featured flying cow earrings)? Who else could’ve pulled off such a great author/reader weekend? And who else would dare to invite you into her home—in your pajamas—for a “wine-down” post-party? River Jordan (Saints in Limbo) was overheard describing the scene, “Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend makes Mardi Gras look tame!” While M.L. Malcolm (Heart of Lies ) characterized it as “Books by day, Party by night.” Now that’s what I call one fine weekend!

Left: Kathy Patrick as Tippi Hedren Barbie; Center: Kat as the Texas Tornado; Right: M.L. Malcolm (Heart of Lies ), Kay Huck as Malibu Barbie, and Kat chattin’ it up

1)  Southern Hospitality: Although my family moved to California before my 4th birthday, I was born in Alabama. And since both sides of our family hailed from the Mobile area, we spent every July visiting aunts, uncles and cousins in the deep South. In addition, I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church—which means we attended service 3 times a week—whether we needed to or not—with other displaced Southerners. So although I identify as a “California Girl” (who wouldn’t—love those Beach Boys) I have some deep Southern roots, as well. So when we rushed into our restaurant—minutes before closing late Wednesday night—and our little waitress drawls, “Of course we’d stay open for y’all”, I was Home. Whether it was the owners at the Jefferson General Store who “loved to mail all y’all’s books for you”—even though I had over 20, just by myself—or the usher at the United Methodist Church who was “so happy y’all joined us for service today”, these wonderful people with their gracious charm, dulcet accents, and unhurried pace enchanted me the entire weekend. I mean I didn’t actually fall in love (like with Dave Barry or anything) but I was enchanted.

 Left: Readers in the Hood posing with our Yellow Brick Road sign at the soda fountain in the wonderful
Jefferson General Store—note our snazzy new hats—with the tags still on Minnie Pearl-style;
Right: Pulpwood Queen authors and readers after Sunday service at the United Methodist Church—
Judy Christie (Gone to Green)—in the front row with Kat—was the special guest speaker

                So here’s a shout out to every book club in the country who likes reading good books, enjoys meeting great authors, and especially loves a grand party—sign up right now for The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend 2011.   Oh, yeah, and you better start working on your costumes on crack. I’m sure those clever Katy girls already have.


Left: That nice guy Jamie Ford providing a Ken for the 8 Hoodie Barbies; Center: Jenny Gardiner (Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me) as ‘Judy Garland: The latter years’ and  Jamie Ford with his ruby red boa; Right: Authors River Jordan and Patti Callahan Henry (Driftwood Summer)

Shappy Mew Dear! (January 1, 2010)

Here’s hoping you had a fun, relaxing, (or insert whatever adjective is important to you) holiday. Mine was a little more complicated and exciting than I had hoped…

On Christmas Eve—while entertaining two dozen family members and guests for dinner at my home—I experienced what can now only be called a stroke. (I know—always striving to get the maximum attention…) I’m OK—a bit humbled—but, I’m OK.

I will have a bit of recovery to look forward to in the upcoming months, but my ability to speak has been impacted the most. (How ironic—I mean that’s like a giraffe with a sore throat…a centipede with sprained ankles…an elephant with a broken nose…you get the picture…)

Of course, at first I was convinced I’d developed that rare tropical disease, “Fat Tongue.” My mouth resembled a pair of Reebok high-tops—or a Rolling Stones Poster! I felt like Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain—with a tongue too big to be able to articulate like a human.

The doctor’s aren’t quite sure exactly what happened to me, but after mountains of tests here are…

The Top 10 Most Likely Reasons My Speech Mechanism is Broken:

10)     Extreme overuse and abuse of said mechanism

9)       The cat got my tongue (but which of my two mischievous twins had it?)

8)       I watched A Christmas Story WAY too many times, and tried to lick a frozen flag pole

7)       A bee stung me in the mouth

6)       I drank too much Chardonnay, and my tongue became permanently distilled

5)       My spot-reducing was successful—all of my weight shifted to my tongue

4)       I ate my own holiday cooking

3)       I heard the local speech therapist was really cute—and I found a way to see him


2)       Handsome Hubby got three wishes for Christmas, and “a quiet wife” was his first

1)       Tiger Wood’s wife suspected that something was going on and bashed me in the face

           with a baseball bat


But, for whatever reason you choose, the pom poms will have to stay in the closet for a bit, while I practice my “She sells seashells by the seashore”—which at this point, comes out like so much spouting sea spray!

As a former corporate trainer, I believe life is training and development. And if I can’t be a good example—perhaps I can be a good warning. I would like to urge those of you whose doctors tell you to lower your cholesterol, lose weight, exercise regularly, quit smoking—or whatever your doctor is saying—to follow her advice. Don’t live in denial like I did: “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”, “It won’t hurt if I skip the treadmill today”, “I don’t need to take no stinkin’ meds”, etc. etc. etc. I think I’ll take this little scare as a warning, myself. And so my New Year’s resolution is to take better care of myself. What’s yours going to be?

Shappy Mew Dearor rather, Happy New Year—and Cheers!


 "Of course, at first I was convinced I’d developed that rare tropical disease, 'Fat Tongue.'

My mouth resembled a pair of Reebok high-tops—or a Rolling Stones Poster!

I felt like Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain—with a tongue too big to be able to articulate like a human."

Readers in the Hood Give Back
  (December 2009)

This is my favorite time of year. No, I don’t love mall traffic; nor am I a Cyber Monday fan—and I certainly don’t like cold weather. (I'm way too much of a California Girl for that...) But, I do love holiday lights, Christmas cards—and most especially, Gift Giving! I plan most of the year to make themed baskets for my sister and sisters-in-law (I just hope they enjoy receiving them at least half as much as I do designing them…) I devour my nieces wish lists on Amazon and have a tough time deciding which items will mostly likely elicit squeals of excitement. And it’s the one time of year that my always-practical hubby allows me to talk him into some much-needed new clothes.

My neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood, shares this passion, as well. Not buying clothes for Handsome Hubby—but giving back. We’ve found many creative ways to support some worthy organizations—and have a lot of fun together doing it! Read about some of our favorites on my recent blog at… We’d also love to hear what your book club is doing to give back to your community—let us know!

Go, Go, Giving!


My neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood, with our holiday book donations
for The Ark Preschool library; Holidaze 2007 party

Top 10 Book Club Books of 2009   (November 2009)

It’s almost Thanksgiving—and you know what that means? No, not turkey, bowl games, and Black Friday—it’s time for everyone’s “Year-end Best” Lists—and The Book Club Cheerleader is no exception!

How did I arrive at such a list of Top 10 Book Club Books of 2009, you ask? Well, first I solicited feedback from many of the reading groups that I work with, and then I mixed them up in a hat—and pulled out MY favorites! Yes, very scientific, indeed. I also have to admit to a bit of fudging with the dates. Since many book clubs read primarily paperbacks, I took the liberty of including 2009 paperback releases as well as the traditional hardcover releases you may see on other ’09 lists. And as if that were not enough, I out-right cheated in order for one of my favorites to make the list. This is one time when I do believe the end justifies the means—let’s see what you think. In alphabetical order here they are:

1) Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story, by Carolyn Turgeon. For those who typically shy away from the fantasy genre—here’s your chance to dip your toes in the water—without getting too wet. Carolyn has woven a beloved old-fashioned fairy-tale with a story of modern-day Manhattan. But don’t get too comfortable—there’s a darker twist to this magical story—so I wouldn’t try reading this version aloud to the little ones…

Be sure to check out my earlier review on this haunting tale in our Book Buzz column. Carolyn Turgeon is definitely an author to watch!

2) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island, locked in a fitting room at Nordstrom, or simply left the country after your political candidate lost the election, you likely already know all about this book. Informing us about a little-known aspect of WWII—the German occupation of the Channel Islands between England and France—this is a wonderful story of a newspaper columnist who discovers exactly what went on during this period of time—and we get to discover it with her. But, it’s not just about history—in fact, it’s mostly about character—and Guernsey island is full of them! It's an enchanting, yet educational read of bravery, loyalty—and yes, even a little romance.

If your club is planning to celebrate this book, try playing our Pictogram word game as an icebreaker before your discussion. 

3) The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, by Robert Leleux. This humorous and heartbreaking coming-of-age story is set in East Texas. A young gay man who learned about life from his high-maintenance mom—and the salon at Nieman Marcus—learns to let go and follow his dreams. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry—hopefully you won’t wet you spankies like I did…

Please see my review from earlier this year.

4) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. OK, two confessions on this one—I lied, and I lied. First, this is the book that I had to cheat onto the list. It came out in paperback on December 30, 2008. But, y really can’t get much closer to a 2009 release, now can you? I mean, really—If you went skiing for a couple of days between Christmas and New Years, you would totally miss it until ’09, right? Also, I mentioned this list was in no particular order—this was so I wouldn’t get flack from any of my author friends for listing them as #10 vs. #1. But, if I had listed them in order, this would have to be my #1 favorite book of the entire year (assuming you go along with my little charade that we can consider it “of” this year…) How can you not become infatuated with a book that is, after all, about a book? How can you not fall in love with the plethora of fabulous characters who risked their lives to protect said book? And how can you not become obsessed with the wonderful way in which Ms. Brooks has woven the story of modern book-lovers with ancient ones? I dare you to resist its charms—just try!

And while you’re at it, try my People Map (to help keep them all straight) and my People of the Book Scramble Game that you can play with your book club.

5) Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. This tale of Shanghai and LA’s China Town in the early to mid-20th century, was written by one of my all-time favorite authors. Not only is Lisa a great storyteller and detailed researcher—but she also really “gets” family relationships—especially sisters! If you liked Snow Flower and the Secret Fan —you will love Shanghai Girls. Two sisters, different in every way, withstand war, loss, and personal disappointments and betrayals. But, at the end of the day, as Lisa says, “Sisters are Forever.” For those who have already fallen in love with these characters, stay tuned—Lisa is working on the sequel for us as I type…

Be sure to read the blog Lisa wrote earlier this year for about How Three Book Clubs Helped with Shanghai Girls.

6) Song Yet Sung, by James McBride. After enjoying James’s wonderful memoir, The Color of Water, I was eager to read another of his books, and yet I wondered how he would handle a fictional piece. The answer: “Skillfully. Very Skillfully.”  This saga of a runaway slave with special ‘gifts’, incorporates prophesies of Martin Luther King, 21st century rappers, and television into her character-laden odyssey. Themes of cruelty, cowardice and corruption reside along with redemption, loyalty and selflessness. Sensuous description abounds, but not at the expense of the driving plot which is well paced all the way up to the surprising conclusion. Prepare to enjoy—and be awed. James McBride is a master!

Need an icebreaker for your gathering when you discuss Song Yet Sung? Try our “Teen Talk” word game.

7) South of Broad, by Pat Conroy. Okay—I’ll admit it—my book club was right, and I was wrong. Readers in the Hood, my neighborhood book club, selected Pat Conroy’s latest novel as our October read—and I was not happy about it. Even though I had owned the galley since last June, I’d also read some early mixed reviews and was leery. Well, I must say, the 14-year wait since his last novel was worth it. Mr. Conroy created for South of Broad some of the richest and most varied characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. This tale includes the themes of coming of age, persistence in overcoming obstacles, diversity—and not surprising given that we’re talking about Pat Conroy—it’s part love story to his beloved Charleston. Moving from the city to the mountains, the east coast to the west, and back, these characters will stay with you until the—in my case 3 a.m.—conclusion.

For your discussion, you may want to try the role-play technique, my sister-in-law, Anne, used to facilitate our group. A fun treatment for any character-rich book. 

8) The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Take “Mad Men” (a sophisticated look at the early 60’s) —and move it down to meet “Mississippi Burning” (a gritty look at the Civil Rights struggle in the heart of the South), and you’ll have a good idea of the drama in store in Ms. Stockett’s breakout first novel. In this insightful story, we learn about African-American servants who raise white families—taking care of the children along with the laundry, cleaning and cooking. We learn about what happens when an educated white woman dares to think for herself, doesn’t fit the “Southern Belle” mold and has the audacity to graduate from college without earning her MRS degree. And we learn all the secrets that are stirred up when both of these parties get together to write a book. As a transplanted southerner, (Mobile, Alabama is where I was born and spent every summer until I graduated from high school) I found the tone, attitudes, and dialogue to be dead-on. But this should be no surprise, since the author is from Jackson, Mississippi and just happened to graduate from Ole Miss, herself. You will cringe at the injustices of the period, and you will applaud the bravery of a few women trying to make a difference for the better.

Also, have fun with our Pictogram game covering the people, place and things you will encounter in The Help. Stumped for serving suggestions for your reading group meeting? Check out our ideas for Down-Home Southern Cookin in our Coach’s Column (Yeah, from me—who doesn’t cook—but it’ll be good, anyway, I promise…)

9) The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. Set against the fascinating backdrop of modern-day Salem, Massachusetts, Ms. Barry’s first novel tells the story of a woman trying to escape her past and struggling with the family members she loves and hates—both alive and deceased. Returning from California at the request of her grandmother, she finds that not much has changed since she left—or has it? As soon as I turned the final page, I had to start the story over again from the beginning. Can you resist doing the same?

10) The Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton. Ms. Clayton creates a wonderful story of friendship and striving to “be all that you can be.” Set in the mid-60’s in Palo Alto, the wives of engineers struggle with their children, their roles in society, and the joys and disappointments that befall their friends. They initially escape—and later grow stronger—through writing about their lives, and thus become “The Wednesday Sisters.” This past summer, not only was “Sisters” chosen as a Target Bookmarked Club Pick—but also as a Borders Book Club Selection.

Be sure to check out our interview with Meg earlier this year—and experience Meg’s wonderful website including character vignettes and an iMix “soundtrack” for her novel. As Meg describes, “It’s heavy on friendship and reach-for-your-dream songs, and includes songs that [the characters] listen to in the course of the book.”


So, if there’s a bibliophile on your gift-giving list who doesn’t yet own one of these great books—you don’t have to wait until black Friday to pick one up. Just click on one of the links above, and your shopping is done! I also encourage you to pick one up for yourself—Santa can’t think of everything, you know…

Of course, this type of list always creates much controversy and discussion—so Bring It On! What favorite book of yours did we miss on the 2009 list? Tell us your thoughts!

Happy Holidays—and Cheers!


Celebrating John Lescroart in NorCal
(September 2009)

        Last Saturday, Yolo County celebrated one of it’s own at a fundraising luncheon at the Yolo Fliers Club. John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling thriller writer visited us to talk about his two latest books, A Plague of Secrets and Sunburn. Well, sort of. Although both books were released earlier this summer, Sunburn was a re-release—and was actually the first novel that John published. Twenty books, and 13 New York Times bestsellers later, he brings us A Plague of Secrets, which reprises our favorite characters, Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky.

        John spoke about getting started in the business, his writing routine, and his love of what he does. He regaled us with the Cinderella story of how Sunburn was published, and later, his long road to publishing success—paved with tons of hard work. This is the fifth time I’ve heard John speak—including our book club party last year—and he’s never failed to entertain the crowd—no matter the size. Yolo County is blessed to have a thriller writer of John’s caliber (pun intended) in our midst. And if that were not enough, he’s just a really nice guy. If you are a fan of legal thrillers, do yourself a favor, and pick up a copy of A Plague of Secrets. You owe it to yourself!


P.S.  Friend and SoCal columnist, Gayle Carline, stopped to visit us at the "John Event" (as well as a great wine release party at Route 3 Wines) on her travels through NorCal, where she's promoting her new release, Freezer Burn. A mystery of a lighter sort—spiced by Gayle's signature comic relief—you'll enjoy it as well. I can't wait for her next book, to hear what her heroine, Peri Minneopa, is up to next!

On the left: My sister, Sheri, John Lescroart, Moi, & visiting author, Gayle Carline;
On the right: My neighborhood book club, Readers in the Hood (AKA: The Pulpwood Queens
of Woodland) flanking John Lescroart. Both pictures were taken at the Yolo Fliers Club in Woodland—so if you squint your eyes really hard you can see Amelia Earhart in the right photograph to the left above our heads...)

Mining Library Treasure (August 2009)


Recently, I was talking with Shannon McKenna Schmidt (co-author of Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks From Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West, regular contributor to, and featured author in our Author’s Angle column this month.) The subject of our respective public libraries came up and we discussed what a treasure they were! We also suspected that book clubs were not using them to their full potential. By the end of the conversation, I’d decided to write a blog on that very topic. posted it today—it’s entitled, “Turn Your Local Library Loot into Book Club Booty!  I hope you enjoy it and learn something new. If so, please share it with us! And if you want to teach us something new about how your book club has used your public library, please share that as well!

Rah, Rah, Reading!


How Authors Can Be More “Book Club-Friendly” (June 2009)

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from authors lately about how they can be more “book club-friendly”. And it just so happens that earlier this month, I participated in a Book Club Panel at Book Expo America (BEA) where fellow reading group facilitators Esther Bushnell, Jill Campbell, and Katherine Schulz, and I—along with moderator, Carol Fitzgerald of fame—shared our thoughts and ideas on what book clubs want. It was one of those situations where you research, talk to all of your client reading groups, and prepare tons of notes—only to share less than a  tenth of the information you came with… But, that’s OK—it was a LOT of fun—and I met some great people. And if you’d like to pretend you were there—and would like to eavesdrop on what we discussed, click here to listen to the podcast on BEA’s website. As far as the research is concerned, here’s a little summary of my “Top Ten Cool Things Authors Provide for Book Clubs” (in no particular order…) Hopefully this can provide Reading groups with ideas for value-added extras you may be able to find on the internet to enliven your reading group discussions. Also, if you’ve found other “Cool Stuff”—please click here to share them with us, as well!

Top Ten Cool Things Cool Authors Provide for Book Clubs

1) Discussion guides: When authors print their guides in the back of their book, it’s as though the book is sitting in the store with a sign on its forehead saying, “I expect to be a book club selection—buy me.” Authors could do themselves (as well as us) a huge favor by including these. If not, they should post them on their website along with other helps as mentioned below. By the way—80% of the reading groups I work with use reading group guides!

2) Geographical Maps: For example, when one of my groups read Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, which was set in some “formerly known as” countries in Africa such as Rhodesia, the publisher did a great job of showing us the old and new countries and their boundaries. But more importantly, they also showed where The Fuller’s various ranches were located so we could get our bearings. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks also includes a map, which shows the journey of the book in question across Europe from 1400’s to today in the front cover. In addition, Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky includes a map, identifying which portions of France were German-occupied during the year the story takes place.

3) Character Maps and Family Trees: Some good examples include The Known World, by Edward P. Jones; and The Covenant, by James Michener. Following the characters in the multiple stories within People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, proved quite a challenge for many reading groups I have spoken with. I created a People Map to help them keep things straight—but I would have preferred to find one on the web!

4) Music: Robert Leleux recorded a song from his book, The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, entitled, It Would Be So Great If You'd Just Die, and put it on his website and Youtube. We were able to add the original song to the mix tape we made of all the other songs that he referenced throughout his book. For our book club meeting last month, we played this CD in the background. On a similar note, Meg Waite Clayton created an iMix “soundtrack” for her novel, The Wednesday Sisters. As Meg writes, “It’s heavy on friendship and reach-for-your-dream songs, and includes songs that [the characters] listen to in the course of the book.” If you’ve put together a mix for one of your reading group books, please share it with us.

5) Back-story: Meg Clayton also includes vignettes, which give us the flavor of each of her main characters. For example, Kath, The Southern Belle, includes Kentucky Derby recipes and family pictures on her page; while Linda, the athletic and assertive ‘sister’, includes men’s running shoes and war protest pictures of the era. This kind of character ‘sampling’ makes the reader want to get to know these people better—and there’s only one way to do that…By the way, The Wednesday Sisters has been selected as the Target Bookmarked Club Pick for the Summer, as well as a Borders Book Club Selection. Just remember—you heard about it first on!

6) BookTrailer: Many authors produce some great videos and post them on their website and Youtube. It’s a jazzy way to help readers get a feel for the book.

7) Excerpts: Of course, Kindle readers can download the first chapter free—but why should they have all the fun? Providing a teaser on your website will go a long way toward whetting a reader’s appetite to buy the book. Some authors include the first chapter of their subsequent book in the paperback version of the current book, so readers can decide if they want to buy the new one. BTW, according to a recent survey by, 83% of book clubs read hardbacks in addition to paperback editions of the book—so it would pay for authors to start marketing the new book to reading groups early.

8) Suggestions of Similar Books: This suggestion is more for publishers than authors. Harper Collins has a great feature on their site. For example, if you look up The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, you’ll find a section at the bottom of the page that reads “New Books Similar to the This One.” It suggests, ‘if you like The Known World, you might also want to try: Four Spirits, by Sena Jeter Naslund; Bought , by Anna David; or Bright Shiny Morning, by James Frey (and I believe he’s actually admitting this one's Fiction…) 

9) Author Bio: Facilitators can often find author information readily on the author’s website. However, if the author does not have a website, it would be helpful for book clubs if the publisher would include an expanded author bio on their website. For example, Alice McDermott, author of After This, and Charming Billy does not have a website and her publisher includes only a 2-sentence bio in their “author” section. Not very informative for reading group use...

10) Recipes: This is rather funny, coming from me, since I don’t cook. But, thank goodness, other folks in book clubs do. So, including recipes of special items that are mentioned in the book would be a great tie-in for reading groups. For example, in The Laws of Harmony, Judith Ryan Hendricks mentions a wonderful berry brownie recipe, which her protagonist, Sunny, brings whenever she attends a potluck. So, Judi has posted the recipe on her website for book clubbers.

What Did I Miss? Does your club have some other ideas of cool things they would like—to make your book discussions richer? Let me know!

ah, Rah, Reading!


Invite an Author to Your Book Club Meeting (May 2009)

Did you know that:


I have long advocated ‘Celebrating Authors’ by inviting them to your book club meeting.

Some of my favorite celebrations have involved wonderful authors such as Lisa See (Snow Flower and The Secret Fan), Franz Wisner (How The World Makes Love) and John Lescroart (Betrayal.)


My friend, Beth Groundwater, blogged on this very topic earlier this week. Check out her guest blog at: for some great tips and an author’s perspective on this fun issue!


Rah, Rah, Reading!



 The Pulpwood Queens Saga (April 2009)

       You may already know that my “home” book club, Readers in the Hood, recently joined The Pulpwood Queens. Not only did we join them, but we’ve also registered for their 10th Anniversary Girlfriends’ Weekend in January of 2010! We’re going to be ‘following the yellow brick road’, ‘over the rainbow’ to see not only the wizard, but also wish Barbie a Happy 50th, while meeting Great Authors, enjoying Fun Events, and mingling with Awesome Women! It’s going to be “one fine weekend in the emerald city”—and “I’ll never be hungry again”—or if I am, “Frankly, my dear, I won’t give a damn!” No idea what all those odd references are about? Check out the info on the Pulpwood Queens 10th Anniversary Girlfriends’ Weekend at

Famous! Well, sort of…

Along with our registration package, we sent Kathy a Barbie doll dressed like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, with this note enclosed:


Kathy Patrick (Founder of The Pulpwood Queens) got a kick out of it, and wrote all about The Book Club Cheerleader and Readers in the Hood  in her April 17 blog, on the Pulpwood Queen site. But there was one little error…

Not ones to let things go uncorrected, The Hoodies  had to make Kat aware of the discrepancy.  So here’s the message we sent her in response:

I have a feeling this is the start of a beautiful friendship!

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