Book Club Cheerleader

Celebrating Books

Three Cheers for “Homecoming”!

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Random House • $25 • ISBN 9780385344081
July, 2011

Best Book I have read so far this year! Even for this slow reader, that’s still #1 among 40+ other books!

Summary (provided by Publisher):  Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.

Why I loved it: One word: Characters! I fell in the love with the Moses and Lake families. This is not to say that any of the characters were perfect—they all had their own little quirks—but of course, that’s what made them round, human and sympathetic.

The Setting:
  A one hundred acre farm in 1950’s Arkansas. From a woman who spent practically every summer in the 1960’s in Mobile, Alabama, this novel sang with authenticity—and charmed with shared memories. I couldn’t help but compare “Moses Honesty’ with what my family calls an “Onie Lie” (not a lie, technically, but not the whole truth, either…) However, even readers my folks would’ve called “Yankees” will relate to this book’s portrayal of a simpler life and times. Of course, there were many elements that still ring true today: a former bread-winner, now unemployed; the “other woman” out to get your guy—even if that guy has no intention of straying; and frustratingly willful children. I guess you could say these are timeless occurrences…

It reminded me of: East of Eden for the same strong theme of “Good and Evil”; To Kill a Mockingbird for the decidedly adult story (partly) told from an intelligent and precocious child’s point of view (we trade Scout for Swan); Water for Elephants for its portrayal of brutal spousal and animal abuse; Secret Life of Bees for its depiction of a parentless child who climbs up into your lap and soon has a hold of your whole heart  (again we trade Lily for Blade); The Help for its ability to both celebrate and expose Southern community connections—and disconnects; and finally, South of Broad for its easy Southern storytelling style with a plethora of compelling characters.

Discussable Themes: Book clubs will have a field day discussing themes of Family; Community; Southern Living; Good and Evil; Suicide; Spousal and Child Abuse; Animal Cruelty; Loyalty, Trust and Honesty; Alignment of Beliefs vs. Behavior;  Faith, Redemption and Miracles; and lots of Paradox. Whew—better bring lots of Chardonnay on the night you discuss this novel—y’all are gonna be there for a long time!

Keeping the Faith:  I’ve read some reviews in which they label this book as “Christian Fiction.” Although it is a book about Faith, I believe that would be like calling the Harry Potter series “books for Wiccans,” or saying that any book about the holocaust is one that “only those of the Jewish faith would be interested in.” Please don’t allow labels to keep you from reading this book. People of all faiths will enjoy the novel!

Discussion Questions Available:
You can find seven pre-crafted questions on the Random House website. But your own questions written around the themes listed above are probably your best bet for a meaty discussion!

I hope you enjoy Jenny Wingfield’s debut novel as much as I did. “Homecoming” is a real winner!



Mary Sutter’s Civil War

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the War Between the States—the war between brothers—and a war in which the technology of warfare outgunned the technology of medicine. It is this latter aspect of the war that Robin Oliveira makes the focus of her debut novel.

My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira

Summary: Mary Sutter, a skilled mid-wife by trade, is denied entry into medical school because she is not a male. She falls in love with a handsome young neighbor, but she is not pretty enough, and he becomes enamored with her beautiful twin sister. Paradoxically, the door that opens opportunities for Mary is the  same one that ends the lives of so many others, The Civil War. And during the young country’s struggle to hold itself together, Mary strives to old herself together as well. Mary leaves her home in Albany, New York to answer Dorthea Dix’s call for nurses in Washington  DC, where she is again rejected—this time because she is not old enough. Due to sheer determination and persistence, she falls under the tutelage of two separate surgeons, who both fall in love with her, but more importantly, help her pursue her dreams. But sometimes you must be careful what you wish for…

The writer’s attention to historical details and her seamless weaving of fact and fiction makes the war come to life in this instant Civil War classic. I had to go take a shower to wash the gunpowder out of my hair.

A Favorite Passage: The author helps to demonstrate the dire state of medicine—as well as supply lines—in the mid 19th  century with the following lines of dialogue between Mary and Dr. Stipp during the early days of her work with him,

“This one can’t breathe.”

“Give him whiskey.”

“This one can’t walk.”

“Give him whiskey.”

“That one can’t stop itching.”

“Give him whiskey.”

“This one has got diarrhea.”

“Haven’t they all?”

“We’ve run out of quinine.”

“Give oil of turpentine.”

“We’ve run out of turpentine.”

“Then boil some willow bark and put it in whiskey and give it to him.”

“We’ve run out of whiskey.”

Characters: The strong female character of Mary Sutter will put you under her spell—just as she cast one on Dr. William Stipp, Dr. James Blevins and the hospitals and battlefields full of men who grow to worship her.  Although completely rounded with necessary human foibles, Mary casts a long shadow and one cannot help but admire her courage, pluck, chutzpa, tenacity and will to both survive and succeed. I haven’t met a character this compelling since Jeannette Wall’s Lily in Half Broke Horses.  Be prepared to fall in love with Mary Sutter.

Whether saving babies, “sorting soldiers” (you’ll have to read the novel to know what I mean here) or sewing up amputees, Mary embodies the struggle of the “women of the nation who braved disease, despair, devastation and death to nurse in the Civil War hospitals…Nearly twenty women became physicians after their experiences nursing in the Civil War…” as described in Oliveira’s acknowledgements.

In addition to Dorthea Dix, we encounter the personal side of other real-life characters such as President Abraham Lincoln, his secretary, John Hay, and Clara Barton. But the author adds them for authenticity, not to take the focus off Mary’s story.

Mary’s family—in addition to the aforementioned pair of doctors—serves the role of rounding out the cast of characters—especially her mother, Amelia, who is a strong presence.

Themes: The author plays with Paradox and Irony. For example, showing how doctors used the carnage of war as an opportunity for research and practice of their craft and technique;  and how patients were more likely to die of dysentery, or secondary infection than from their original bullet wounds. She also deals with the struggle between Personal vs. Professional allegiances; issues of Family, Love, and Loyalty; Grief, Despair and Hope; and War, Politics, and Military Strategy. Overarching themes include Gender Roles and Medicine. The latter being defined as much by what that body of knowledge did not encompass (such as washing hands between patients) as by what it did (which was theoretically and not practically taught in medical schools.)

Why Book Clubs will Love it: Of course, one of the reasons book clubs love historic fiction is because you can learn so much about history when following a story of a compelling
character. Book Clubs will enjoy not only revisiting the well-known stories of the Civil War, but also gobbling up the well-placed background details and
motivations of those who fought it. All of the themes outlined above will make for fine discussion.

My Name is Mary Sutter has just been added to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain , Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and Geraldine Brook’s March as one of my all-time Civil War fiction favorites!



Details and Links:

My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira

Penguin Books

Historical Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-14-311913-5

Author interview

Reading Group Guide available

The Lost Generation Revisited
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

Summary:  Welcome to the romantic world of 1920s Paris—filled with artists, flappers and ‘The Lost Generation’. And who is our host? The un-glamorous , old-fashioned, yet steadfast Hadley Richardson Hemingway—first wife of the infamous bigger-than-life writer, Ernest Hemingway. And that’s just the first of many paradoxes to come.

Although McLain covers some of the same territory as The Movable Feast and to a lesser degree, The Sun Also Rises, this fictional account allows the author to show us some of the couple’s interior lives. Heavily researched, including the author’s digestion of thousands of their love letters, this account takes us from their whirl-wind courtship, to their flight to Paris as newlyweds, and their humble-beginnings in a small flat as they meet the literary royalty who held court in their salons—and we get to be the fly on the wall. We jet-set along with them not just from Chicago to Paris, but also to the bull-fights of Spain, and the ski-resorts of Austria. And since most of you already know “Hem” had three other wives after Hadley, it won’t be a spoiler if I tell you it ends with Hadley marrying Paul Mowrer—to whom she remained happily married until his death in 1971.

Writing Style: “Papa” would be proud of the clean, direct prose the author employs to tell the story of his early days. However, her background in poetry is evident in her delicate choice of words. The most remarkable aspect of the book, is how the author was able to withhold judgment and just tell the story—or have Hadley do so. And all the while Ernest is making choices that make the reader cringe, the writer somehow is able to separate the man from the poor choices, in a way that treats this deeply flawed character in a sympathetic way.

She shows this tender understanding—and almost forgiveness—toward “Hem” in  one of my favorite passages: “We called Paris the great good place, then, and it was. We invented it after all. We made it with our longing and cigarettes and Rhum St. James; we made it with smoke and smart and savage conversation and we dared anyone to say it wasn’t ours. Together we made everything and then we busted it apart again.

There are some who said I should have fought harder or longer than I did for my marriage, but in the end fighting for a love that was already gone felt like trying to live in the ruins of a lost city. I couldn’t bear it, and so I backed away—and the reason I could do it at all, the reason I was strong enough and had the legs and the heart to do it, was because Ernest had come along and changed me. He helped me see what I really was and what I could do. Now that I knew what I could bear, I would have to bear losing him

Characters: The author demonstrates this same even-handedness in both of her main characters. Although, these young newlyweds are certainly a study in opposites attracting. Ernest is as exuberant, sophisticated, and young as Hadley is quiet, un-worldly, and almost passed her marriageable shelf-life for that era. Hadley is as selfless, loyal and sturdy as Ernest is narcissistic, deceitful (to his wife, his friends, and unfortunately even to himself) and moody. It would be simple in the hands of another writer to assume that your family dog had more personality than Hadley—or that Ernest was simply a bi-polar egotist with a bad medical plan. However, in McLain’s hands, we find Hadley charmingly conventional and consistent—the kind of person you would want on your side; while we see Ernest as a smart man who makes stupid choices. Over and over again. But we never abandon him—instead we just  keep rooting for him to make better choices the next time.

Who else is invited to this wild and crazy Parisian party? How about Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (was she really crazy or just eccentric?) and James Joyce—just for a bit of name-dropping. This supporting cast isn’t just famous—many are carefully drawn even if we are not as sympathetic to their plight. And, of course, there’ s finally the femme fatale—who we love to hate—and who betrays Hadley and steals her husband—but then, you knew that was coming…

Themes: Of course, McLain threads many themes throughout her tale: Childhood Trauma, Marriage and Relationships, Loss and Forgiveness, Search for Identity, Ambition and Desires, Living Abroad, and the Consequences of Fame.

Why Book Clubs will Love it: It’s Paris in the 20’s—need I say more? Probably not, but you know I will, anyway. In addition to the themes listed above,  the most discussable aspect of this story, is all of the relationships: Hadley and Ernest to their parents and siblings while growing up, to their friends in Chicago, to their new-found friends in Paris, to their son, Bumby, to the city of Paris, and of course, to each other. So be sure to bring an extra bottle of wine to book club that night—the discussion is gonna go late.

Random Rants: If the book is about 1920’s Paris—why do we find a 50’s housewife (Ok-40’s at the earliest) on the cover? Is this the only photograph Ballantine could find? Where is the joie de vivre of 1920’s Paris? This dust jacket disconnect is similar to the last book I reviewed, The Four Ms. Bradwells whose cover is adorned with a beautiful double strand of ivory pearls—it’s absolutely beautiful. Too bad the infamous pearls from the book were black pearls! Don’t the graphic artists responsible for the cover ever talk to someone who’s actually read the book anymore?

Pick it up—it’s a compelling read your whole club will enjoy!



Details and Links:

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

Ballantine Books

Historical Fiction

ISBN: 9780345521309

Author interview

Gifted, Entertaining, and Mysterious—
A GEM of a Novel!
The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Summary: On the eve of Betts potential confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, she retreats with three of her former law-school classmates—and best friends—to their popular Chesapeake island getaway. Along with the summer house, they also revisit their memories of a tragic spring weekend spent there that changed their lives completely. Their memories of that weekend—some shared and some withheld—and the decisions they will make this weekend will be just as life-changing as the last time they were there. As they share secrets they’ve kept for over 30 years, the mystery of what really occurred comes to light. Told from the alternating points of view of these four friends, the narrative also flashes back and forth from the present to that fateful spring break in 1982. Although the time and perspective transitions are well-marked, readers must stay on their toes not to miss them.

Characters: I love a good “girlfriend” novel—and “Bradwells”, like its predecessor, “The Wednesday Sisters” did not disappoint. The main characters are the four former law students: Mia “the Savant”—an unemployed journalist, Betts “the funny one”–a college professor and Supreme Court nominee, Laney “the good girl”—an attorney and candidate for the Georgia state senate, and Ginger “the rebel”—an attorney turned poet. In addition, their mothers and daughter play strong supporting roles. In particular is Ginger’s mother, Faith, (an attorney in an era when most women didn’t even work—much less hold professional positions) who enjoyed playing mentor to all of the “Ms. Bradwells”. Don’t be put-off by all of the lawyers running around—that element does provide intelligence to the characters—but they still walk around with both feet on the ground.

Themes: In addition to Friendship—and all of the jealousies, complexities and tenderness that implies, the Mother/Daughter theme is strong throughout. The author skillfully juxtaposes the daughter in one generation, later playing the mother in the next, and through this role reversal she gains insight into her own mother’s motivations and sacrifices. Also the theme of Feminism is strong—sexual politics, gender power, and the abuse and discrimination that can result from the same. Love and Loneliness, and Secrets and Truth are explored as well.

Why Book Clubs Will Love it:
In addition to the very discussable themes already outlined, at its core the novel is also a page-turning mystery—with suspense continuing to build until the very end. It almost has a vibrant “Who shot JR-type” thread running throughout—without the trashy melodrama—making it a compelling read.

It is also an intelligent novel—without trying to be too high-brow, and it’s clever without trying to be overly “wink, wink”. Meg is witty with her details such as: the way in which the women are dubbed “Ms. Bradwells” their first day in law school; the name of Faith’s boat: the Roe v. Wade; and the alumni news that she inserts as an epigraph in many of the chapters, e.g.: “Law Quadrangle Notes, Spring 1992: Ms. Helen Weils (JD ’82) and her husband Will Robeson are happy to announce the birth of their third child: Ginger Elsbieta Mary Robeson, a.k.a. Ms. Gem Robeson-Bradwell.” (She was named after the other three Ms. Bradwells: Ginger, Betts, and Mia)

There was only one small scene at the end that I found to be over-the-top (this from the queen of over-the-top) and not in sync with how the characters would respond—but that was a small distraction from on overwhelming enjoyable read.

I predict this will be a popular book club title—pick up a copy when it releases tomorrow, March 22!



Links and Details:
The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton.
Ballantine Books, $25.00 (336p) ISBN 978-0345517081
(March, 2011)
Author’s Website:
Author’s Blog:

Pride and Persistence in the Pacific

, by Laura Hillenbrand.

Summary: Louie Zamperini, Olympic track miler (Berlin 1936) and star USC runner, joins the Army Air Corps at the outbreak of WWII. After his plane plunges into the Pacific Ocean, he survives 47 days on a disintegrating raft, only to spend the rest of the war being starved and tortured in a series of Japanese POW camps.

Characters: Although Louie is the main character in this story, there are many other brave men and women who play a supporting role. Also, a couple of cameo appearances by famous people such as Jesse Owens and Adolf Hitler add to the drama.

Themes: Louie’s story is one of Persistence, Bravery, Redemption, and Forgiveness.

Why Book Clubs Will Love it: The author’s depth of research and attention to detail is evident by the over 50 pages of footnotes she includes. But her writing is not just factual—it’s also compelling and heart-breaking. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes historical non-fiction—and even those who don’t often read non-fiction. The author writes in such a beautiful narrative voice, there’s certainly no danger of mistaking this for a text book!



Links and Details:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand.

Random House, $27.00 (496p) ISBN 978-1400064168

(November, 2010)

The Power of Love


          In her tenth novel, Solomon's Oak, Jo-Ann Mapson crafts a story of life, loss and the redeeming power of love. From almost the first page, we move into Glory’s rustic farm house along with her foster daughter, Juniper, and just make ourselves at home.  Told from the perspective of Glory, Joseph and Juniper—each struggling with his or her own abandonment issues due to death, divorce and parental desertion—we experience their anger, fear and struggle to pull themselves out of the mire their lives have become.

          In the back-to-nature setting Mapson has created, we can smell the goats, feel the horses wet coats, and snuggle—and laugh—with the dogs, humorously named Edsel, Cadillac  and  Dodge. And the healing power of nature is most symbolically embodied in the famous oak on their property. When Glory’s sister Halle remarks, “…your house reminds me of one of those Christmas cards put out by Leanin’ Tree. Everything is so homey and cozy and Western…” It was meant as a put-down, but the scene that Mapson creates is so homey and cozy and you want to curl up on the couch along with them.

          If Solomon's Oak is Mapson’s tenth novel, I have nine new books to add to my TBR list!



A Rose By Any Other Name


           In her debut novel,Juliet, Anne Fortier weaves two tales separated by centuries. Both set in Siena, Italy, one tells of two lovers and their feuding families in the fourteenth century—the real-life romance from which Shakespeare crafted one of literature's most famous tragedies. The other is a modern-day story of a young woman seeking her fortune in a strange new land. Woven into both accounts is an adoration of Siena and an homage to Shakespeare.

           Julie Jacobs's life is about to change. When her great-aunt Rose dies, she inherits the key to her new life—literally and figuratively. Tucked inside an antique box lies the key to a safe-deposit box in Siena and the revelation that she is a direct descendant of the Juliet of Shakespearean fame. Armed with a new passport bearing an ancient name, Giulietta Tolomei begins a quest to discover her past and forge her future .

            Fortier builds some interesting characters in this mysterious romance—and an especially sympathetic one in Julie/Giulietta. Her clever dialogue and humorous asides amuse while keeping the reader firmly grounded in the story. "Cars had never been a passion of mine, primarily because they usually came with a guy attached," comments the determinedly anti-romantic heroine. Fortier creates such a strong sense of place that as we stroll (well, sometimes we run for our lives) through the streets of Siena, the city becomes one of our favorite characters. Despite the somewhat uneven pacing, which lags in the middle of the ancient story and rushes at the end of the modern one, this mystery is a pleasing variation on an old familiar theme. Students of Shakespeare will appreciate this Italian adventure—and fans of Follett will enjoy the numerous plot twists. Will the star-crossed lovers finally reunite? "The better part of valour is discretion"…




Juliet, by Anne Fortier.

Ballantine Books, $25.00 (464p)
ISBN 978-0-345-51610-7

 (August, 2010) 

A Fine Vintage

          Most families have their pigeonholes and identities. Coming from a family of three girls, I know first-hand about family roles and labels.  My oldest sister, Linda, was “The Smart One”; my middle sister, Sheri, was definitely “The Pretty One”; so as the baby, I had to do something to get everyone’s attention (albeit not enough to get any pictures in the family photo album) so I became “The Funny One.” In Allegra Goodman’s sixth novel, The Cookbook Collector, the two sisters, Jess and Emily Bach are defined as “The Creative One” (read “flighty” “irresponsible” and “granola-natural”) versus “The Responsible One” (read “solid”, “grounded” and “practical”) respectively.


         So, while Emily is cast as a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon with gripping maturity, Jess is more like a fresh summery Sauvignon Blanc. But, both sisters are a fine vintage you will want to spend your time sipping and savoring. This is the perpetual Jungian struggle and in this case, as in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the contrast provides much of the comedic tension in a wonderful tale of love and fortunes won and lost. We sense much sisterly affection along with some slight competition:

”’I’m taking the Berkeley, Locke, Hume seminar, and logic and philosophy of language…’Jess paused to sip her mango lassi. ’And working and leafleting …for Save the Trees. And I’m also taking Latin. I think I might be as busy as you.’ Emily laughed. ‘No.’ She was five years older and five times busier. While Jess studies philosophy at Cal, Emily was CEO of a major data-storage start-up.”

          Like Austen, Goodman has an excellent grasp of personality types and the human psyche, and clearly captures the personal emotions of pain, loss and love. But combine that with a Dickenesque ability to build quirky characters and weave them into the plot in surprising ways—and, well, you’ll just have to read this romp to find out how it all ends. (Although I will warn you that the author cheats a bit at the end and pulls a ‘Wilde’ hare out of her hat reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest. But it is so skillfully done, that we quickly forgive this amusing trick.)

          This story is part fairytale and part a cynical treatise a la Wall Street on the temptations of greed and ambition. Set in 1999 amidst the heady bubble, and continuing through the fall of the Nasdaq—followed by the twin towers—Goodman takes us on a rollercoaster ride along with the dramatic stock market dips and dives. But hearts beat along with the ticker tape, and what could’ve been a depressing story of doom and gloom—come on, we all know what’s coming—is actually an optimistic story of love and hope.

          Combine the industries of computer software, education, religion, antiquarian books, education, and environmental charities—and you have a pretty interesting mix of work settings—all well-researched by Goodman. It reminded me of an irreverent bumper sticker one of my friends drove around with for years, “Nuke the Gay Whales for Jesus.” But the various viewpoints, instead of causing confusion—like the aforementioned bumper sticker—provide a story of rich perspectives, competing motives, and an interesting study in contrasts.

          In addition to contrasts, Goodman has a good time playing with ironies—we can almost see her at her keyboard with her tongue firmly attached to her cheek. First there’s Jess’s tree hugging activities, which contrast with her actual job which is selling books—a product which requires pulverizing those same trees in order to be printed. Then she writes of Emily and Jonathan’s relationship which seemed to be fueled by their individual success as CE-somethings of competing software companies—the same companies that required that they live 3,000 miles away from each other. Also, I wondered at some point if their relationship was based more on the excitement their companies’ IPO were providing than they contributed to themselves. Finally, we read the plethora of letters Emily and Jess’s late mother wrote to her daughters—one to be opened on each of their birthdays until age twenty-five—which would indicate a strong desire to communicate with her little darlings, while meanwhile conspiring with her father to keep them in the dark about significant family secrets.

          Like a fine wine maker building complexities into her vintage, the book deals with the struggle for balance: Work and Home life, Trust and Doubt, Getting and Spending, Ideas and Ideals, and the value of the Material versus the Immaterial. Additional themes include the Morality of both businesses and non-profits; Finding Meaning and Identity; and heady Appetites for Love, Sex, God, Money, Food and, of course, Fine Wine.

          Goodman’s full-bodied characters are as satisfying as the buttery California chardonnays they sip.

          Jess is a perpetual student working on chalking up some more ‘incompletes’ on her doctoral degree in Philosophy. At 23, she also works part-time at Yorick’s Rare and Used Books, part-time leafleting for Save the Trees, and part-time charming the leaders of both. She has an optimistic approach to life. After getting drenched in a rainstorm she tells her sister, “I’m hydrating.” At another point, Goodman writes, “She had a theory about everything, but her ideas changed day to day. It was hard for Emily to remember whether her sister was primarily feminist or environmentalist, vegan or vegetarian. Did she eat fish, or nothing with a face?”

           Jonathan is the least likable character—as bloated as his company’s stock price. Although we know his back story and admire his persistence, we never fully trust—or like him. We don’t dislike him for who he is, it’s just that we’re disappointed because he could be so much more. The only time the story lags is when Goodman spends too much time on the East Coast with ISIS, Jonathan and his cohorts there. But just as you begin to miss California—and the sisters—Goodman switches us back to the main event—and we find the absence has made us grow fonder—if that’s possible.

          To mix Austenian metaphors, George, the owner of the antiquarian book store, is our Mr. Darcy. Goodman gives us a succinct bio on him:

 He was old money, a Microsoft millionaire now returned to Berkeley where he’d gone to college in the seventies, majoring in physics with a minor in psychotropics…George retired, traveled, and donated to worthy cause. But he was eccentric as well. He was a reader, and autodidact with such a love for Great Books that he scarcely passed anymore for a Berkeley liberal. Previously anti-war, at thirty-nine his new concern was privacy. He grew suspicious—his friends said paranoid—of technology, and refused to use e-mail or cell phones. He…boycotted the very products with which he made his fortune, and called Microsoft the Evil Empire, although he still owned stock. In the eye of the internet storm, George sought the treasures of the predigital age.”

          Cookbook’ feels like historical fiction not only due to the Dickensian, Austenesque and magical fable-like qualities, but also the sharp details Goodman uses to conjure a world—though only a decade ago—markedly different from today including: dial-up connections, economic confidence, and Republicans in office. Her tone remains optimistic amidst tragedy, loss and disappointments: “Sometimes sadder, sometimes wiser, laid off programmers returned to graduate school to finish their degrees, or joined The Peace Corps, or scrambled for money to start new companies, as seedling grow in rings around a redwood struck by lightning.”

Like a fine wine, I predict this delectable book club selection will hold up over time. With notes of hope, faith and love, The Cookbook Collector is sure to satisfy discriminating palates. With upfront characters, and realistic optimism, it is a well-balanced combination of sweet and sour with a lasting finish. Yes, 2010 looks like a good vintage for Goodman.




About the author: New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman, has previously written the novels, Kaaterskill Falls (1999; a National Book Award finalist), Intuition (2006) Paradise Park (2001), and The Family Markowitz (1996); a short story collection, Total Immersion (1998); as well as a young adult novel, The Other Side of the Island (2008). Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories. She is a winner of the Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She lives with her family Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Links and Details:

The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman

A Summer Adventure for

Your Book Club


           Is your book club looking to go on a grand journey this summer? You need go no further than M.L. Malcolm’s international adventure, Heart of Lies. Fans of Water for Elephants will enjoy the historical aspects of the book. Devotees of Shanghai Girls will love the inside glimpse at the exotic settings—including Shanghai, Budapest, Paris, and Manhattan. Followers of Ken Follett, Jeffrey Archer and David Baldacci will love the political intrigue angle. And admirers of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet will love the fact that Heart of Lies is also an old-fashioned love story.

            Born a Hungarian peasant, Leo Hoffman leverages his good looks, wit, and a gift for languages and social mimicry to become a rich and powerful man, only to have circumstances and naive choices from his past threaten everything he holds dear. 

            Set in Europe, Asia and The New World, Leo’s escapades sweep you across the globe. The tumultuous history of the time period—1920’s and 30’s—helps to drive the plot. As many of you know, I love this period of history between the two World Wars, and Ms. Malcolm sprinkles some wonderful tidbits plucked from history into Leo’s story, such as the Hungarian counterfeiting scandal of 1925, the manipulation of the rubber market in 1926, Chiang Kai-shek’s weakening hold on China, the bombing of Shanghai in 1937, and the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, the rise of Hitler’s power, and the Jews fleeing from Germany and Europe…Whew! OK—maybe she does more than ‘sprinkle’…There’s definitely some meat to the history piece!

            Although Malcolm tells a fast-moving adventure story, it is not at the expense of the characters, dialogue or prose. Ms. Malcolm’s vivid descriptions and meticulous research are reflected in the language of Leo’s story. Here’s what she writes as the soldiers returned to Hungary after their defeat in WWI:

Honor and country had called them to the battlefield of Europe and then abandoned them there, where a weary grayness drifted into their eyes, settled into their hearts, and wrapped around their souls, souls that had been slit open and sucked dry by the beast of the Great War.

            Besides Leo, you will root for the two loves of Leo’s life: his wife, Martha, the great beauty with the lovely voice, and his daughter, Maddy, with her infectious laughter and gift for music. You’ll also meet two characters you will love to hate: Amelia, the scheming temptress, and Lui Tue-Sheng, the powerful head of the Chinese mafia who has a secret hold on Leo’s life. Although Leo denounces his heritage and reinvents himself time after time, he seems to be unable to leave his past behind him—which threatens his future and that of his family.

            And though the book is set up for a sequel to follow, I felt the major plot pieces were suitably closed so that the reader feels satisfied, and yet eagerly awaiting that next book for more of Leo and Maddy’s exploits. (Watch for Heart of Deception releasing next year.)

            Ms. Malcolm deals with themes that book clubs will want to discuss such as Survival and Perseverance; Deception and Forgiveness; Passion and Love. There are reading group questions and an author’s interview in the back, and the author is available for a visit or phone call to your book club. 

            Be prepared for your book club to fall in love with Heart of Lies. I sure did.



Links and Details:

Heart of Lies: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm

  • June 8, 2010 release from Harper Paperbacks
  • 336 pages
  • Includes a Readers Guide and Author Interview
  • Author’s Angle column M.L. wrote for Book Club earlier this year:
  • Book’s website link:
  • Publisher’s website link:
  • Source: Advanced Readers Copy from Author


Better Than Room Service!

Have you ever stood in the lobby of a 5-star metropolitan hotel speculating about what really goes on within such a sumptuous establishment? Did you wonder if it might be even remotely possible that someone similar to you has checked into that penthouse suite? Well, place those musings into Manhattan’s Four Seasons Hotel and you have the premise of Based upon Availability, a recently released novel by Alix Strauss, a lifestyle trend writer who appears on national morning and talk shows.


In Availability, Strauss takes you into the lives of eight very different but equally compelling women; all of whom are connected in some way to Morgan, the hotel’s seemingly “got it all together” general manager and the book’s central character. The author uses her “lifestyle trend” expertise to describe each character’s individual struggle to establish truthful, meaningful human connections.


In addition to the aforementioned Morgan, who is still grieving for the sister she lost over 20 years ago, we meet Louise, a drug-addicted, faded rock star attempting rehab in the hotel’s Suite 2410; Anne, a sad and lonely hotel concierge suffering from OCD; and Ellen, a decorator whose self-worth is irretrievably tied to her ability—or lack thereof—to conceive a child. And not to be overlooked are Robin and Vicki who manage to take sibling rivalry to a whole new level. Are you hooked yet?


          You’ll be sorry if you dismiss this novel as merely another shallow beach read. While Availability is without question imminently entertaining, it is also an insightful and engrossing character study of eight women not so very different than you or I. Looking past their superficial differences, you will find yourself identifying, in at least some small measure, with each and every one of them—like it or not! Who cannot relate to feelings of isolation—whether it be in the middle of Manhattan or simply at a family gathering? And who among us has not had to face the heartbreaking reality that the object of our deepest affection—be it lover, sibling or friend—doesn’t share that emotion?


          Availability is smart and unpredictable, and alternately dark and humorous. Strauss’s writing is superbly crafted as evidenced by how she conveys each character’s story in a manner that is simultaneously concise, yet complete. I found that the ties she established between each character to Morgan and the Four Seasons were incredibly clever, yet totally believable. The primary strength of this novel, however, is Strauss’ ability to not only cause us to relate to these characters but to also make us care what ultimately happens to them—yes, even Lou, the druggie!


          Availability is a natural choice for book clubs. Members will relish hashing over the all-too-real trials and tribulations of these Manhattan ladies. And when these individual scenarios are played out in the suites, offices, bars and restaurants of a swanky Manhattan hotel, you’ve got one truly satisfying read—on or off the beach!

by Kay Hodges,  (The Other) BCC

Links and Details:

Based upon Availability, by Alix Strauss

  • June 8, 2010 release from Harper Trade Paperpack Original
  • 352 pages
  • Author’s website link:
  • Publisher’s website link:
  • Source:  Advanced Readers Copy from Author


The Outside Boy Simmers

with Inner Conflict

Jeanine Cummins has written a beautiful coming of age story about a motherless gypsy boy, who struggles to discover who he is in a rapidly changing world—1950’s Ireland.

This story is told in the unique and intuitive voice of a 12-year old Irish Pavee boy, “Christy”—short for Christopher. They call themselves “Travellers.” Unkind town folks, or “Buffers” call them “Tinkers”—you would know them as “Gypsies.”  At this point you’re probably starting to hum as Cher’s rendition of Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves begins to swell in the background… However, Cummins’ s sympathetic treatment of these members of society’s fringe, may cause you to want to join their merry band—painted wagons, campfire songs, and all… Christy provides an excellent point of view for us to learn about his Pavee culture, and the react  these outsiders get from the townspeople—both the inclusive and the cruel.

Although Christy is the primary character, we come to care about many of the other supporting cast-members that make his world go round.  In fact, two family members that take up a lot of energy in his mind and space in his heart, are deceased—a term our young narrator notes is “a nicer word than dead’.” His “Mam”, who died during childbirth, and thus causes him to carry around huge tinker-buckets full of guilt, and his “Grandda” whose passing provides the drama for the prologue, setting the stage for how Christy’s life will drastically change. Christy’s Dad, Christopher, his cousin, Martin, his Aunt and Uncle, their other children and “Granny” make up the small family of Travellers that take us on Christy’s journey of self-identity.

Although The Outside Boy is a character-driven book, their development is strong enough to move the plot forward in a well-paced story. And while the paperback hefts at over 350 pages, you’ll turn them quickly—so don’t worry about that. The ending promises some surprises and difficult choices for Christy, but still manages to satisfactorily tie up most loose ends.

Cummins’s novel addresses universal themes such as Freedom and Belonging, Pride and Prejudice, Books and Education, Identity, Family and the Concept of Home—all in a way that makes us, the reader,  reflect on our own family values. You’ll have tons of topics for your book club to discuss! And yes, there’s a Readers Guide in the back.

Christy’s distinctive voice is innocent, insightful, and honest—and he makes us not just see, but feel what he is experiencing as the plot unfolds. He describes his Granny’s anguish at the death of her life partner in this way:

 The keen she let up was so thick and tender I could nearly see it coming out of her, her breath spiraling out violently in torrid colors, defeating the darkness and drenching the camp with grief.”

          And he tells us about his brotherly relationship with his cousin, Martin, with this description of the two of them as they huddle together in a blanket watching their Granny:

 Martin squirmed in even closer beside me, and I could feel his elbow stuck between two of my shivering ribs, like we was twins for minute, instead of cousins, We was joined at the eyes and ears, joined at the dread. Everything was silent and stretched—only the tidal rhythm of our shared breath pushed the seconds forward….”

           It’s a voice which also reflects his life’s paradoxes:  his love for books and reading combined with his spotty formal education; his common sense approach to life—with just a touch of the dreamer.

Yes, I wanted to adopt Christy from the beginning to the end. I mean, who can resist an Outside Boy looking for his home. And—trust me—he’ll be at home in your book club. Read it!



Links and Details:

The Outside Boy, by Jeanine Cummins

The Book That Fell to the

Top of My Pile

Recently I received an Advanced Readers’ Copy of a debut novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by a yet-unknown-to-me author, Heidi W Durrow.  It had recently received the Bellwether Prize for Fiction for best fiction addressing issues of social justice. Intriguing—but not really why I read it right away. The great Barbara Kingsolver wrote the cover blurb—again, not a real reason to read it next. I read the authors bio—and  not only does she have a kazillion degrees—somewhat like my Handsome Husband—but she has won way too many awards to remember—eh, still not a reason to give this book cuts—I was sure it was a nice, polite book which could wait its turn in line. As many of you know I have a to-be-read pile that “Save a Tree” activists would love to flog me for. But in reading the book jacket, the premise of this book was so compelling, I just had to pick it up and read it. Right then.  Am I ever glad I did!  This book was such a treat—not because it was a light, fluffy and happy book—indeed it is quite disturbing in parts. But because Heidi Durrow takes you inside this young girl’s head and makes you see another side, another life, another world.

This fresh coming of age story is alternately narrated by several unique voices—and in this way, dark family secrets are slowly revealed to the reader. We see the story unfold from: Rachel, the title character; her late mother, Nella, by way of journal entries; a neighbor boy, Brick (aka: Jamie); Nella’s supervisor, Laronne; and by Rachel’s father, Roger, in a solitary, yet insightful entry.  Rachel’s voice is by far the strongest. Her honest words resonate with quiet wisdom as she struggles with such themes as: racial identity, love and loss, affection and sexuality, abandonment and belonging, and growth and survival. Durrow also addresses gritty themes such as alcoholism and recovery, and abuse and caretaking. In a skillful counterpart, Brick struggles with many of these same issues as Rachel.

As a sixth-grade girl, we hear Rachel describe her new grandmother: “This is the picture I want to remember: Grandma looks something like pride. Like a whistle about to blow.” Later, as a freshman in high school, we hear Rachel lament “...the other black girls in school think I want to be white. They call me an Oreo. I don’t want to be white. Sometimes I want to go back to being what I was. I want to be nothing.” Or as James McBride’s mom would’ve described it, “the color of water.”

Rachel is a broken soul and in order to try to make sense of her outward self, she stuffs her feelings: anger, sadness, hurt—and anything she believes may not be acceptable to those around “the new girl”—into what she visualizes as an internal blue bottle with a stopper to keep all of her “bad” feelings in…Heartbreaking, and yet in Durrow’s sparse prose, so clearly seen and felt.

The ending was a bit unsatisfying, but the powerful story, the haunting prose, and the idiosyncratic, well-developed characters overshadow this tiny flaw. Hey—didn’t Margaret Mitchell end Gone With The Wind with “Tomorrow will be another day?” Book Clubs will certainly have plenty to discuss.

Coming of age, coming to terms with loss—without completely coming undone…Rachel’s story will yank at your heartstrings. This cheerleader gives Heidi Durrow’s freshman novel a two pom pom cheer!

Yay, Heidi!


Godmother: The Secret
 Cinderella Story


“Spread your wings and fly!” That’s what you’ll want to chant to The Godmother—the heroine of the latest book by Carolyn Turgeon. And in writing this bewitching story, that is exactly what Ms. Turgeon has done.

Like many well-told novels of late—two of my favorites: The Madonnas of Leningrad (by Debra Dean) and Water for Elephants (by Sara Gruen) immediately come to mind—Godmother  takes us on a journey along dual tracks. Lil, an elderly bookseller who works at a small New York City bookshop, tells the primary story line. Lil also narrates the second story—which takes us centuries back in time to her memories of the “real” Cinderella story and the problematic assignment to get her famous charge ready for the Prince’s ball. The story can also be compared to another popular book club read, Wicked (by Gregory McGuire), in that Carolyn picks up a well-known fairy tale, turns it on it head, and darkens it a few shades for good measure. This is not your Grandmother’s fairy tale!

Godmother  weaves magical portrayals of Lil’s former fairy world, with the darker side of modern New York City.  The former reveals an ethereal dream world: days filled with flitting from flower to enchanted flower, playfully teasing with tiny sisters and fairy friends, and leisurely lounging in her silvery lake home. While the latter drudges through the seediness of trash-strewn streets, the dullness of the dingy neighborhood diner, and the loneliness of her tiny apartment.

The fairy elders banished our heroine from Fairyland for willfully sabotaging her important mission, and exiled her to a world which holds little appeal for her. But, seeking redemption for past mistakes, Lil throws herself into another matchmaker role—once again reliving the grandeur of her fairy world past. At least for a moment.

As our two stories build to a crescendo, Ms. Turgeon skillfully intertwines the two worlds so that it becomes difficult to see but one thread. We don’t know if we’re in New York in the present—or back in Fairyland centuries ago. We just know that we are rooting for Lil to prevail—whatever that might look like. But nothing is ever as it seems, and Godmother’s enigmatic ending provides a twist to not only Lil’s psyche—but also the reader’s as well. As soon as I finished this dark and haunting tale, I wanted to start all over again.

Carolyn creates a complex and sympathetic character in Lil—and I found myself falling for some of the other quirky characters as well. In fact, after meeting the charming Carolyn, one must wonder how much of the vivacious Veronica was borrowed from Ms. Turgeon’s own personality.

Godmother contains all of the elements that make a great reading group discussion: complex characters; themes of betrayal, guilt, and redemption; unpredictable story lines, and an unconventional outcome that will resonate with readers. Book Clubs will be talking about Godmother, long after their meetings are over! 

 Rah Rah, Reading!



Kay Hodges (the other BCC),
 author Carolyn Turgeon, and BCC
 toasting Godmother in
  “Magical” New York City

People of the Book
People Map

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks has been one of my obsessions for the past few months. Of course, Pulitzer-prize winning Brooks knocked our socks off a few years ago, when she wrote March—the missing story of the father who was absent during the saga of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Ms. Brooks is known for her great characters, and complex stories, outdid herself with ‘People.’ The multiple story lines, changing timelines, and diverse characters will have you running for a map to keep track of them all. I created the chart below, and found it helpful in getting all the facts in order. I hope you do too. As my map footnote indicates, it is a work in progress. If you find errors or omission, please contact me so that I might update the chart.


Rah Rah, Reading!



Click on the picture above to open the "People Map"
in a printable pdf file

Among the Mad—The Sparks Do Fly!

                The marvelously mysterious duo of Jacqueline Winspear and Maisie Dobbs are together again for the sixth time—although for them, the first time was certainly a charm. Henry Holt and Co. has just released the latest novel in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, Among the Mad. So, I can’t wait to finish this piece, crack Mad’s hardcover, and escape into 1930’s London and the lives of some strong and unusual characters! If it’s anything like the first five Maisie Dobbs novels—I know I’m in for a treat!

             In spite of the fact that there was only water for the speaker instead of her customary tea—and despite her contention that “in a Zen way, one must allow the mystery to exist” so she couldn’t say much about her new book, Jacqueline spoke to a packed house at The Book Passage in Corte Madera on Monday night. Many readers in the audience were, like me, already staunch Jacqueline fans from her prior contributions to the series: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth, and An Incomplete Revenge, and were anxious to learn about the next installment. Others came, attracted by the grassroots buzz around the Maisie Dobbs series that has built up among book clubbers—and perhaps the ever-loudening press raves (check out the February 23 copy of People Magazine.)

             With a nod to Steven King, who wrote about “inspirational sparks” in his autobiography, On Writing, Jacqueline spoke about her sparks for Among the Mad as being three-fold. Her first inspiration came from her community service experience in high school (or “A levels” as the Brits say.) Beginning at age 16, Jacqueline volunteered every Wednesday afternoon at a psychiatric support center (or ‘lunatic asylum’ as they were called back in the day.) And while playing games with, making tea for, or just chatting with these patients, Jacqueline noticed that many of the residents seemed quite sane. In fact, she thought she’d seen more insanity at Safeway on a Sunday afternoon.

                And so she began to question, “What got someone into this place?” and  “Where was the line between those who were ‘in’ and those who were ‘out’?”

                Spark number two came from her experience working in downtown London in the early-80’s—a time rife with terrorism. Often, if the weather was nice, Jacqueline would take her lunch sitting in Regent’s Park, listening to the bands playing in the bandstand. One day, however, as she had just left the park, the earth shook with deep reverberations—not from the band—but from the eight bombs that exploded simultaneously, directly under the bandstand. Investigations of the incident, showed that those who actually set off the bombs had to be fairly close-by in order to detonate them, and were placing themselves in mortal danger with their actions. This caused Jacqueline to wonder, “ What kind of person would do that?” and what she learned was rather shocking. In the late-70’s most of the mental institutions in Great Britain were beginning to “deinstitutionalize” their populations, and many of these former residents were not welcomed into society, but rather, shunned. Terrorists were then recruiting the ‘disenfranchised’, giving them a sense of belonging—while serving their own purpose.

                The third spark that inspired Jacqueline was related to her grandfather, who had fought in WWI and was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. Not only did he live for the rest of his life with shrapnel in his legs, but he had also been gassed and suffered from shell shock. The latter ailment proved to be the most serious, and caused a sensitivity to loud noises. Particularly, screaming could bring him to tears, and as a child, Jacqueline remembers having to be extremely quiet around her grandfather. She later learned that by unofficial count it is thought that 200,000 to 250,000 cases of shell shock resulted from WWI action.

                As an adult, Jacqueline has visited Flanders three times—she called it a pilgrimage. On July 1, 1916, in the first hour of The Battle of The Somme, 2,000 soldiers were killed—by the battle’s conclusion in November, over 620,000 Allied troops would be killed. She said as she walked the sacred ground in the Somme Valley, you could almost hear the ghosts in the silence.

             With three such powerful inspirational sparks, I can’t wait to see where Maisie takes us this time around.

             For a great in-depth interview with Jacqueline, and a review of Among The Mad, follow the links to Also, don’t miss the video link on  Battle of the Somme, live footage of this controversial WWI battle.

Rah Rah, Reading!


The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy,
by Robert Leleux

                Every once in a while you read a writer who is so deliciously funny, he makes you wet your spankies. For me this year, that writer was Robert Leleux. Reading about his over-the-top, best-friend-Mother —with whom he spent his childhood Saturday’s at Neiman Marcus getting his hair styled and nails lacquered—caused me to ping-pong back and forth between not believing their outrageous behavior and clever dialogue could be true—and wanting with all my heart for it to be absolutely, word-for-word exactly the way he wrote it. 

I laughed when Jessica prayed for Jesus to smite the cars off the freeways when she was in a hurry. I cried when Robert watched all of his earthly goods ruined in a freak summer downpour. And I wet those aforementioned spankies when Jessica’s infected lip implant flew across the room, injuring a small child.

Of course, one of my favorite analogies was when he described his mother’s new fake hair as looking and sounding like a yellow pom pom. It was as if he wrote that line with me in mind…

If Texas is this funny—I can’t wait for him to write about New York City. This cheerleader gives The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy a two-pom-pom cheer!

                Other praise for Robert’s first book includes:
"Winning…sprightly…head tossing, high-strung comedy.”—The New York Times
“Utterly beguiling…witty, irreverent, a romp on paper.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Wickedly funny and tender…ridiculously tasty.” –The Seattle Times
“This hilarious, heartbreaking memoir is a pure joyride for the reader.”—Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
"[Leleux] displays a nice self-effacing wit, a talent for constructing funny scenes, and a genuinely sweet spirit that engages the reader's sympathy." –Booklist  

Learn more about Robert, his book, his life, and his antics at



 Cathie Beck
, Author of
Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship

Top 5 Reasons to Drink Wine
With All Your Book Club Discussions

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.

Because life is short and wine can, ultimately, spoil.

1. One glass of wine meets the USDA’s minimum daily requirement of one fruit serving. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, this is so. Therefore, one bottle meets four fruit servings, so consider enjoying a whole bottle yourself. In one sitting.

2. It is safe for your carpeting. When you spill your red wine on your Book Club hostess’s carpet, it’s her carpet – not yours! – and you’ll be gone before she notices it anyway because she’s also enjoying her minimum fruit servings. (Tip: Be sure to wet a cloth and try to rub the red wine out of the rug, which will rub it in more, but again, it’s not your carpet, so don’t worry too much.)

3. It is cost effective. Wine is not cheap and so one reason to always have wine at your book clubs is that someone else – whoever is hosting – must foot that liquor cost. Be sure to always be unavailable when it’s your turn to host and pass that privilege on to the next Book Club member. In this way, your monthly liquor bill stays in budget.

4. Health. Wine has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, minimize cancer risks, heart disease and other nasty ailments. It can also erase the wrinkles on your face and erase your husband’s unsightly “belt bubble” fat and untended nose hair, making him appear pretty darn hot for the evening. For the latter two, you must drink a lot, but try it, it works.

5. Wine is free for you and your book club members. Cathie Beck, author of the best-selling memoir, “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship,” sends every single book club that schedules a “Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship” discussion a bottle of 2008 Signature Cheap Cabernet wine – beautifully packaged and shipped to your front door. THEN – she Skypes your club and turns it into a real parTAY! Email her directly at

More “Cheap Cabernet” fun can be found at

(Editor’s note: I met Cathie Beck at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends’ Weekend and when I learned that she sent wine to book clubs—I knew she was my kind of gal! However, the opinions stated in this post are those of the naughty guest blogger, and as a self-proclaimed group dynamics expert, I do not endorse items #s 2 or 3 above—although I do think they are quite funny!

Cheers! BCC)

Amy Bourret, Author of

Mothers and Other Liars

What Makes a Book Club Book Great?

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?”

In late January, I ventured to Jefferson, Texas for the 11th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends’ Weekend.  I served with 5 other authors on a panel titled “Books for Book Clubs.” With six people and forty five minutes for most of the panels, you can imagine that the discussions didn’t get very far beyond each author introducing her book. But amid all the animal print and tiaras and costumes and skits, I found some seriously interesting conversations about books.

After my panel, one of the Pulpwood Queens asked me more about my book and then asked what I thought was the difference between a good book club book and a great book club book. Each author at Pulpwood has a book that is an Official Book Club Selection or Official Bonus Book Selection, and they vary widely in topic and tone, so I had to think about her question for a moment. “Well, I suppose that depends on your book club,” was my initial answer. Some groups want to be transported to different places or eras; some want to engage in academic literary critique. Some want to drink wine and socialize with each other. But the common denominator in each is one thing: discussion.

A good book club book is a story, maybe sweet, maybe macabre, that allows for discussion. This person loved that the boy and girl managed to get together in the end. That person loved the Hawaii setting because it seemed so vivid.  One person saw it all coming; the twists, the ending, she saw it all. A good, well-written story, especially one with an interesting hook in place or person or plot that provides fodder for animated conversation, makes a good book club book.

But a great book club book, that in my opinion requires a bit of kerosene on the fire.  Politics that the members may not all agree with, an era in which they may have had different experiences, plot points on which they may have varying views. My debut novel, Mothers and Other Liars, is the story of a single mom and her 9-year-old daughter in Santa Fe who face some difficult choices when a secret from the mom’s past catches up with them. I have discovered that people feel very strongly about the rightness or wrongness of some of those choices. In visiting book clubs, I have heard lively debate (especially when wine was involved!) between members. I have been told “No mother would ever make that choice.” I have been told I have no maternal instinct at all. I have been asked how I thought I would have written the book differently if I myself were a mother. My audacity to write such a book has been challenged. And then I have been told over and over “This was our most fun book club meeting ever.”

I’m not one of those hoity-toity authors who can tout my own book as a “great” book club book. Frankly, I just feel honored that groups are choosing to read Mothers and Other Liars. But when I hear people debating Ruby’s decisions, wondering what might happen after the last page of the book, when I recognize that my story has stuck with these folks, that they honestly care about my characters, well, even when I am being complimented and flayed in equal measure, that is plenty great enough for me.

Amy Bourret

Mothers and Other Liars is a Pulpwood Queen official bonus book selection for April. If your book club is interested in an author visit with Amy Bourret, please go to, click on the “Book Clubs” tab and fill in your information.



Kathryn Casey, Author of
The Killing Storm

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…(Kathryn is also a cast-member in our skit on Saturday—but more on that next week…) Cheers! BCC

Why Authors Love Book Clubs

By Kathryn Casey

On January 13, a collection of authors, young and old, bestsellers and not-yet bestsellers, novelists, memoirists, the famous and the obscure will overrun the historic, small town of Jefferson, Texas. The grand event is the Pulpwood Queens’ annual Girlfriend Weekend, a four-day extravaganza of books, a celebration of reading and literacy.

We will arrive via plane and car, toting our laptops and smart phones, happy to be invited. The chance to socialize with readers and our fellow authors is not to be missed. This will be my third GF weekend, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months. I even have my costume ready, hanging in my office closet, waiting for the final night, the Big Hair Ball. I won’t divulge exactly which character out of literature I will be on that all-important night, but let it suffice to say that I shall be grinning from ear-to-ear.

In truth, there aren’t many events I allow to remove me from my computer and my current manuscript for a full four days, but this is one that’s not to be missed. Any author in the know lucky enough to be invited packs his or her suitcase and makes the trip. Why? That’s easy: the Pulpwood Queens. Picture a room full of best friends, women of all ages intent on supporting each other, promoting literacy, and having a darn good time. Women who love to read!

The truth is that it’s easy for writers to forget why we write, to trick ourselves into thinking that we’re working for our agents, our editors, or ourselves, or for the joy of searching for a perfect sentence, paragraph, chapter, or plot. But that’s not the objective. We write because we hope others will find value in what we’ve written. Above all else, we want to forge a connection, enlighten, reveal our vision of the world, or simply share a good story and bring enjoyment. (In my case, since I write mysteries, I’d also like to scare you a bit.)

How do we know if we’re succeeding? The best way is to personally interact with readers, to talk to the source. What better venue than at book clubs, especially Girlfriend Weekend, where we’re able to hobnob with those who are reading our books?

So, I love book clubs. I thank all of you who participate in one. And I’m sincerely looking forward to Girlfriend Weekend. I’ve become friends with many of the PQs I’ve met in the past, and I’m hoping to renew those relationships and make new ones.

On a lighter note, Girlfriend Weekends aren’t just educational but entertaining. Here’s just a sample of what I’ve learned at the last two:

1)    I can still dance the funky chicken, if perhaps with somewhat less posterior motor action.

2)    PQ founder Kathy Patrick is not only an inspiration but makes a dynamite cheese spread.

3)    That Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet author Jamie Ford is rather dashing with my red feather boa draped around his neck.

4)    That Man of the House author Ad Hudler actually looks comfortable with his face painted green (a la The Wizard of OZ).

5)    And that Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On! author, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, really can dress to look like a rainbow.

I can only imagine what I’ll discover this year!

If you’re attending GF weekend in Jefferson make sure you say hello. If you can’t make it but you’re a member of a book club, I may not be able to attend your meeting, but I’d love to discuss my books with your club. Just contact me via my Web site,, to make arrangements for a 20-minute phone event. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Kathryn Casey is a best-selling true crime and mystery author. Library Journal named her most recent book, THE KILLING STORM, the third in the Sarah Armstrong mystery series, one of the best books of 2010. And Kathy Patrick just selected it as the Pulpwood Queens’ Main Selection for July, 2011.


Ad Hudler,

Author of Man of the House

        Ad Hudler is one of my favorite FaceBook Friends! He is always so entertaining that I look forward to his wall posts each day. You may also remember him as the guy who painted his face green and arrived at the Pulpwood Queen’s ‘Over the Rainbow’ Ball earlier this year, dressed as The Great and Powerful Oz—complete with the curtain! Well, he just got back from his whirlwind “Tailgate Tour”—you know—one of those tours where, “If it’s Tuesday, This Must Be Baton Rouge”—visiting a kazillion book clubs and helping them celebrate his latest novel, Man of the House. And from the posts and pictures I’ve seen from his excited book clubs fans, I believe his tour could’ve also been called “The Ad-miration Tour”!

         We at figured Ad would have some book club stories to tell our readers, and he did not disappoint… Oh, and if your book club is reading Ad's humorous novel, be sure to check out our Fun and Festivities column for a great icebreaker game you could play at your meeting! 


Being an author definitely has its perks: For starters, you can work, uninhibited, in your underwear. Also, you’re very close to a refrigerator all day long (oops: that’s a bad thing, too), and it’s easier to get the laundry done because you’re home all day.

But my favorite part of being an author is connecting with readers – especially through book clubs. Having written four novels, I’ve visited hundreds of book clubs, either in person or via Skype or speakerphone. Recently, I finished a Tailgate Tour, in which I drove my F150 to chapters of the Pulpwood Queen book-club group that had chosen my newest novel as their July read. I breezed through six states in as many days, and the Queens treated me like a King. (Thanks, ladies!)

Now and then, you meet a book club that defies description. Recently, I visited one in Louisiana that was comprised of women of all ages, ranging from their early 20s to nearly 70. (This is unusual in book clubs). Over the course of two hours these women examined my characters and me more thoroughly than a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. I left, having learned much about myself and my work.

Still, I wondered how and why this group was different. And then someone told me: several women in the group were engineers. Aha!  Of course! It made perfect sense. My male engineer friends are always intrigued with how and why things work. Well, wouldn’t it make sense that their more-sensitive female peers would approach novels and their characters and relationships in the same manner? They would disassemble a novel and scrutinize its parts, right? All in all, a fascinating, enlightening experience.

Still, I’ve detected some similarities, some templates of book clubs over the years:

Cosmo-and-Tequila Girls: Usually, these book clubs meet on Friday or Saturday night. Often, they are composed of young mothers who desperately need a break from their kids who have ridden them hard all week long. The author’s challenge in these groups is to speak loud enough that he can be heard over the whir of the blender and clanking of the cocktail shaker. A lot of times the members talk more about their husbands and problem teachers at school than about my book, which is okay with me as long as someone serves me a Cosmo or three. Mascot: Paris Hilton

The Professors: These book clubs usually only serve wine (and usually red), and they meet in the afternoons because there’s generally a lecture or art exhibit they want to see that night. Several of the book club members belong to the American Association of University Women, and there are at least four women with graduate degrees in the group. As readers, they are deep and critical, and they’ll say things like, “I think there are some inconsistencies in chapter five. Your protagonist wouldn’t have _________; it is out of character for him to do so.” Usually, these book clubs choose weighty, serious literary titles, and they’ve chosen one of my funny novels as their lite summer read. The copies of their books are filled with questions, scribbled in the margins. Mascot: Madeleine Albright

The Shrinking Violets: Sometimes you get a book club that is very quiet. Once, three book clubs from Knoxville, Tennessee decided to read my entire collection of work (four novels), then invited me up to discuss them over a fancy luncheon in the Cherokee Country Club. I was really looking forward the event, thinking it would be fascinating to get other peoples’ take on my largely autobiographical novels. These women were going to help me make sense of my life. It was going to be as good as FREE THERAPY – right? But the luncheon turned out to be just that: a luncheon. Only one woman asked a question: “Do you like to write in the morning or in the evening?” When this happens I have to wonder: Is it me? Did I make them mad or scare them in some way? Was I scratching myself down there and not even aware of it? Mascot: Queen Elizabeth.

So … which of these best describes your book club? The above descriptions are the extremes. Are you a little of each? Does your group’s behavior depend on the type of book you’re reading that month? Are the margaritas going to flow as freely when you’re tackling something weighty and sinewy like a Wally Lamb book?

All I can say is, when it comes to book clubs, viva la difference!  Thanks for keeping us writers thinking and engaged. Thanks for your comments and thoughts and suggestions to help make our work better.

Oh, and thanks for the martinis, too.

Ad Hudler  


Ad Hudler as the Great and Powerful Oz,
and signing his book for the BCC at PWQ Girlfriends' Weekend
(If you look carefully, you may notice that the gals at Beauty and The Book gave him a couple of pink and purple hair extensions—what a sport)

Ad visiting The Jackson Mississippi
Pulpwood Queens book club
during his Tailgate Tour

Marcia Fine,

Author of Stressed in Scottsdale

At the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Conference last month, I met a charismatic and high-energy author, Marcia Fine. She was part of a group of us who seemed to stick together all weekend enjoying the workshops and great speakers. Although Stressed In Scottsdale is Marcia’s latest endeavor, I am currently reading her historical fiction novel, Paper Children - An Immigrant's Legacy —and loving it! I asked Marcia if she would like to write a little something for Book Club Cheerleader readers—so here you are:

I love to read! Our book group is all women who are only children save one, so a book was our best friend growing up. I didn’t go anywhere without something to read. Still don’t. I even read the back of cereal boxes at breakfast.

I didn’t have many career choices growing up so like many of us, I could only choose from: secretary, nurse or teacher.

My parents insisted I go to college and wouldn’t let me take typing in high school because I’d miss band practice (I looked stunning in the quasi-military grey uniform made out of heavy wool, a five-pound hat with a plume and nurse’s shoes.) If I missed band practice that meant I wouldn’t be able to march in the Orange Bowl Parade on a hot Florida night behind the horses. So no secretarial/ shorthand pool for me!

Nursing was out because my mother said I couldn’t touch strange men’s private parts—so becoming a teacher was my only option.  After choosing English as my subject, I spent the early part of my career teaching students how to love the written word. And to spell correctly. And put in punctuation.

But I always wanted to write. It took a number of career changes (kept the same husband along the way which was much harder!) until I got to my goal. As an author of five novels I write in two different genres: historical and satire.  The historical novels take longer to write because I do extensive research—even visiting the countries of my character’s origins.

Paper Children - An Immigrant's Legacy is based on letters my grandmother gave me from her family who were trapped in Poland during WWII. She called her precious relics, “Paper Children.” That novel has been a finalist in three major contests. The Blind Eye, First Prize winner from the Arizona Author’s Association, is a parallel story of an aunt protecting her niece in 15th century Spain and Portugal, and a contemporary Cuban-American woman who sees her life with a jaundiced, satirical view., Boomerang and Stressed In Scottsdale are part of a series about Jean Rubin, a multitasking mama who deals with a distracted husband, a nagging mother, self-important kids and lots of issues from academic freedom to the environment.  Stressed In Scottsdale won First Prize in the Humor/Satire category from the Arizona Publishing Association, as well as Second Prize (Silver) for Women’s Fiction from the “Living Now” Awards.

All of the above means I have plenty to talk about! Especially to Book Clubs—who ask the best questions. They like to know what’s fiction and what’s not in Paper Children (I travel with family pictures and some of my grandmother’s accessories), am I as stressed out as Jean Rubin (some of the time), and how did I do research in Portugal when my topic is 500 years old (I visited ancient sites and archives.)  I love to share how I find my material and make them laugh. I’m never more at home than when I’m speaking to a group who loves books and reading. Sometimes my husband wonders where I’ve been all evening. When I tell him I’ve been “bonding” over books, he smiles and says, “Only you.” But I know there are thousands out there just like me!

Be sure to check out the Book Club Cheerleader interview with Marcia about her book club, The Spicy Cashew Book Nuts, in our Book Club Close-up column, as well!


M.L. Malcolm,
Author of Heart of Lies

         I met so many wonderful writers at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend’s Weekend last January! One author, M.L. Malcolm, approached our table and introduced herself. She was wearing the most beautiful hat I’d ever seen—I had to remind myself to quit staring at it and listen to what she was actually saying. Well, we chatted for quite some time and then I kept bumping into her the rest of the weekend. On a recent trip to LA to see my son, we got together again, and I was amazed to discover what a rich experience she has had with book clubs! I asked M.L. Malcolm to write about it for Book Club Cheerleader readers—be sure to note the special offer at the end!



M.L. Malcolm, Book Club Buccaneer


          I receive a short communication, usually in a digital format, but occasionally by phone.  Most of the time the message comes from a person whose name I do not recognize.  It’s better that way, I think.  Better for my contact to reach out to me anonymously before getting too involved; once I’ve agreed to accept the mission and have received my instructions, there’s no turning back for either of us.


          At the designated time I get into my car, catch a plane or a train, and head to the rendezvous.  Despite having undertaken dozens of similar assignments, every engagement is a new adventure, different in every detail, and I try to prepare accordingly.


          As I approach my destination my heart pumps faster.  I double-check my coordinates.  I arrive.  I put on my hat.  I’m M.L. Malcolm, novelist and Book Club Buccaneer.  I’ve been invited to visit another book club, and I am THRILLED to be there!


          Even before my first novel was published I was a huge book club advocate.  My own book club experience grew out of a “play group” made up of five professional-women-turned-at-home-Moms and our five toddler boys.  The play group disbanded on the day we sent our darlings off to kindergarten.  At our official “farewell” lunch one of the other Moms turned to me and asked, “Why don’t we start a book club?  We can each invite a couple of friends, and meet once a month to talk about books.”


          She called me just two hours later.  “Have you talked to anyone about the book club yet?”


          “Yes,” I replied.  “It’s amazing. I’ve already talked to four people who practically leapt through the phone line they were so excited about the idea.”


          “Well, we’d better stop there,” she said. “That makes fourteen people already signed up.” 


          That group became the S.O.F.A. Babes of Atlanta.  (S.O.F.A. stands for “Save Our Flannel Attire.”  Yes, it’s a long story, and yes, I’d be happy to share it.  Just email me if you want to hear “all the gories,” as my Aussie friend says.  But I digress….)


          At first we S.O.F.A. Babes were a friendly bunch, but not necessarily a tightly-knit group of friends; in fact the bonds of friendship within our group sometimes shifted like the path of an aggravated electron circling the nucleus of an unstable atom.  But the focus of our interaction was always our love of books, and our desire to share them with people with whom we felt comfortable.  Meeting regularly to discuss books gave each of us a sense of community, an experience sorely lacking in modern life.  Through our mutual love of reading, the synergy of our individual relationships created an entity that was much more than the sum of its sometimes discordant parts.  Over time the S.O.F.A. Babes became more than just a reading group.  We were there for each other during many personal trials and tribulations, including the death of one of our members from cancer.  Being a member of that group enhanced my life in inestimable ways.


          When my first novel was published I made a determined effort to reach out to book clubs.  I’ve spoken to clubs that have just started, and to others that have been going strong for years.  One of my favorite clubs refers to itself as, “A Drinking Club with a Reading Problem.”  Another one of my favorites is, “The Burned Out Sisters,” who live near San Diego.  These women all lost their homes in the devastating Scripps Ranch fire in 2003, and formed a cooperative to help negotiate with insurance companies, construction firms, and the governing powers that supervised everything while they rebuilt their homes.  When their houses were finished, they decided that they all liked each other so much, they didn’t want their regular meetings to end.  So, they formed a book club.  I’ve been invited twice to visit with “The Burned Out Sisters,” and feel privileged to now call some of these wonderful women my friends.


          Not every book club is made up of soul sisters or life long friends, but my experience has taught me that books bring people together in wonderful ways.  And being in a book club often gets you out of your comfort zone in terms of what you normally like to read, so that you expand your literary horizons (one of the few positive modes of expansion available to “women of a certain age”).   In addition, participating in a book club is something you do for yourself, at a time in life when many women spend much of their time doing things for others.  A book club can function as a social and intellectual oasis.


          Of course, I’ve also met with book clubs that include men, and that’s enjoyable, too; but I’ve found that men are almost always too shy to talk about sex when there are women in the room, and that women are often hesitant to discuss politics when men are in the room, both of which, depending on the book, can put a real damper on the conversation!


          Perhaps one of the reasons that my “clubbing” has been so successful is that I write historical fiction with a lot of depth, so that my books provide a lot of good fodder for conversation.  My first novel, “Heart of Lies,” is set in the tumultuous time between the two World Wars.  It’s about a young Hungarian, Leo Hoffman, who inadvertently involves himself in an international counterfeiting scheme.  Falsely accused of murder, he flees with his lover to Shanghai, the only place he can go without a passport or a visa, only to discover that the gangsters who run the decadent city from the shadows do not intend to let him outrun his past.


          Because everything that happens in the book is based on actual historical events as well as my husband’s family history, and because the characters are often forced into situations where survival requires them to make choices that are never cut-and-dried, there’s always a lot to talk about.  Controversy begets conversation.  When readers find out that the book is based on by real events, they often become willing to share their personal stories, which as an author I find fascinating and inspiring.  In addition, I always encourage extreme candor, and I love provocative questions; my interaction with readers invariably enables me to improve my writing.


          My second novel, “Heart of Deception” won ForeWord Magazine’s silver medal for Historical Fiction Book of the Year in 2009, and will be reissued by Harper Collins next year.  It continues the story of Leo Hoffman and his family, so I’m hoping it will inspire lots of good conversations as well. 


          Then there’s my hat collection, which provides its own source of entertainment.  I own at least fifty hats, and love to wear them.  Despite the fact that a hatbox is an awkward piece of luggage with which to travel by plane, I seldom travel without at least one hat.  In fact, if I’m in an airport toting a hat box, there’s a good chance I’m going to a meeting or event that has to do with books!


          I love visiting with readers so much that my husband (whose previous job involved a lot of international travel) gave me all of his frequent flyer miles so that I can fly all over the country to visit book clubs.  Using these miles, I’ve been to visit over forty clubs in eight states, often visiting clubs I knew nothing about other than the fact that at least one of their members had read my book and liked it, and that the club had issued me an invitation.  I have not had one bad experience; to the contrary, I’ve met with several clubs I wish I could’ve joined!


          I’ve had so much fun visiting clubs that, with the blessing of my publisher, Harper Collins, we’ve started a new program.  It’s called, “Buy the Book, Get the Author FREE!”  I’ll visit any book club within a two-hour drive of any major airport in the U.S.  If the meeting is organized through an independent book store, my publisher will even pay for the wine!   All we ask is for a commitment to purchase 20 books.   If a visit isn’t feasible I’m always happy to Skype or conference call into a meeting, and/or answer questions in advance via email.


          If you are in a book club or just love to read, I would love to hear from you.  Please email me at, and check out my website, That’s me: M.L. Malcolm, Book Club Buccaneer: love hats, love books, will travel!

M.L. Malcolm visiting a San Diego book club

Gayle Carline,
Author of Freezer Burn


            I have a confession to make: I've never belonged to a book club.

             I love books, have loved them since childhood. When I read a good one, I like to talk about it with other people who've read it. Likewise, when I read a bad one, I like to compare notes, to figure out why it was a bad book for me. So why didn't I find a book club where I could do this kind of thing? 

             Part of the reason is because I had a "sitcom" impression of them. You know those comedies, where the main character is in a book club populated by rude, boring, or stupid people. Or the book club is fine, and the main character's spouse tries to join, with disastrous results. Always funny, but I don't want to live in episodic TV.

              Another problem was the self-imposed stress of reading a book by a deadline. Never mind that I am a voracious, speed-reader. I read The DaVinci Code in one day, for Pete's sake. If I think I might have a due date, I come undone. It's even hard for me to check books out of the library. What if I haven't read them in time to take them back?

             But the top reason why I've never joined a book club is that I've never found one at the right time in the right place. Call me lazy. (Go ahead, I've been called worse.) I need the stars to be in alignment to join anything. At least, that's my excuse for not going to the gym…

              When I got my first novel, Freezer Burn, published, a couple of people asked if I'd come and speak to their book clubs. Shoving my preconceived notions aside, I said yes. (Note to book clubs everywhere: debut authors are desperate for attention. If you invite us, we will come.)

              My first book club was actually a lapsed club that had been resurrected by my friend, Joanna Keating-Velasco. My book is set in our hometown of Placentia, California, and Joanna loved reading about my intrepid heroine's travels down familiar streets to known locations as the mystery unfolds. She loved it so much that she hand sold about 30 of my books and invited everyone to her house for a "Freezer Burn Night".

             Even though I knew I'd have a good time at Joanna's, she really outdid herself in the fun department. First, she made up some questions about me and my character Peri for people to answer. The person who answered the most questions correctly received a gift basket with a Dean Martin CD, a Freezer Burn mug and a copy of the book. After that, she raffled off a large chocolate bar, which works into a joke about Peri, that she solves every case by crying, eating chocolate and slapping everyone until somebody confesses.

             In between all this, I talked about the book and answered questions, and we were fed a delightful assortment of appetizers and sweets, all prepared by Joanna's husband. It was a fun evening.

             Shortly after that event, I was invited to speak at my friend's mom's book club. I met Sue through our mutual passion for horses; we ride at the same stable, with the same trainer. I had only met her mom, Ellen, one other time and it was a funny experience. Sue told her I write a humor column for my local newspaper, and Ellen's comment to me was, "You know what you need for your column? Recipes."

            Suffice to say, I had no idea what to expect from that book club.

             Sue and I arrived on Wednesday night to the smell of something wonderfully garlic-and-tomato based in the oven. It turns out, this book club is a potluck dinner, so by the time the other 18 ladies arrived, the table was filled with delicious food. (Oh, and everyone brought a bottle of wine, too.)

             I could only assume that Sue and Ellen were the only ones who had read my book, but it didn't matter. It isn't the kind of club where everyone reads the same book and discusses it. Instead, everyone brings a book they've read recently. They take turns giving their review, then place their book on a table. At the end of all the reviews, they take turns selecting books to borrow from the table.

             I gave my report of Freezer Burn, and Ellen added that she had read it and really liked it. Everyone sounded interested and had lots of questions, so I was glad I had brought some books with me. By the end of the evening, I had sold six copies, met some fabulous women, and learned about more books that I want to read. I also ate some more yummy food.

             My advice to authors is, if you're invited to a book club, be prepared to be flexible. You may be talking to people who've read your book, or people who haven't, but it doesn't matter. Meet everyone and make conversation, just like you're at a party (but not the kind where you drink too much and pass out in the dip). Treat your book as the second thing on your priority list. The first should be the people.

BCC note: Gayle Carline is a humor columnist for the Placentia News-Times, and award-winning author of the new novel, Freezer Burn, the first in the Peri Minneopa Mysteries series.

Joyce Magnin,

Author of The Prayers
of Agnes Sparrow

            I love being a Pulpwood Queen! Besides having fun with founder, Kathy Patrick, one of the other joys is meeting many of the wonderful Pulpwood Queen (PWQ) authors—whether in person, or cyberly (yep—I just made that up—it’s now a word)…Joyce Magnin is one of the latter variety of writer, and I can’t wait to meet her in person at the PWQ 10th Anniversary Girlfriend’s Weekend in January! Her book, The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow was recently named as a Library Journal starred review
and you know how I feel about libraries! They Rock! So, it looks like Joyce rocks along with them! Here’s a little humorous piece Joyce sent especially for the Book Club Cheerleader readersand I'm sure you'll be able to relate:

Joyce Magnin's Top Ten Signs You Are a Bookaholic

10) Your "TBR" pile has gotten so large and out of control, your dining room table is in the basement and your children are sleeping on the front porch.

9) You know what a TBR pile is.

8) You stop at a red light and search for something to read.

7) You've given your husband strict orders, under penalty of no sex, that Amazon, B&N or Borders gift cards are the only acceptable gift.

6) You're last routine blood work revealed a level for ink. The only explanation your doctor has is that ink has been absorbing through your fingertips. She suggests you read with gloves.

5) You're local librarian sends people to YOU for book suggestions.

4) You've purchased Christmas/Hanukah gifts for favorite characters and only realized your mistake after you got home, wrapped them and placed them under the tree. But then again, they are your best friends.

3) The vacuum cleaner has been sitting in the middle of the living room for three days because you found an unread book under the sofa and you haven't moved from the crouched position you were in when you found it.

2) You've convinced the IRS that "Book (insert last name here)" is a dependent.

1) You're Book Club is the happiest place on earth.

             Be sure to check out The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow's fun book trailer.  Joyce Magnin is a frequent conference speaker and loves meeting with book clubs in person, via Skype or telephone. To get in touch with Joyce, visit her online at,, or on FaceBook and Twitter. In the mean time, she suggests, “Be well, Eat Pie and God Bless.”

Joyce Magnin visiting book clubs

Shannon McKenna Schmidt,
 Author of
Novel Destinations

In addition to reading, I love to travel. In fact, I find the lengthy plane rides (as well as the sometimes more time consuming waits) involved with both leisure and business travel provide this slow reader with great opportunities to make concerted progress in my book reading. Shannon takes a different tack in combining these two favorite topics. Her book, Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks From Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West reads like a wonderful travelogue, sharing details of the places that our favorite author’s have introduced to us through our reading. Shannon tells Book Club Cheerleader readers about her book club and her book.

 “My book group is marking a milestone this year: our 15th anniversary. Over the years we’ve read a wide range of works—classics and contemporary, fiction and nonfiction. As it turns out, many of our discussions helped me prepare for a travel book I came to write— Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks From Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West.

 We read and discussed East of Eden shortly before I went to Steinbeck Country in California to do research for Novel Destinations, and it was interesting to have had everyone’s input on the semi-autobiographical novel. Visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was an especially moving experience having read her famous and poignant diary, another book club selection. Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, a depiction of the moneyed world of Old New York, inspired one of our best discussions ever. It’s also the world Wharton inhabited, reflected in her elegant mansion in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. 

 One of my friends and fellow book club members accompanied me to Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown. She’s a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was helpful—and just plain fun—to have her come along and offer her perspective.

 Visiting an author house is a terrific way to enhance the reading experience. Why not take your book club on the road? 2009 is the centennial of Eudora Welty’s birth. A visit to her Tudor-style home in Jackson, Mississippi, is like stepping into a time capsule. She bequeathed it to the state, and it remains much as she left it. Those who have read Welty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Optimist's Daughter, should keep an eye out for items mentioned in the story, such as a cubbyhole desk and books by Charles Dickens with “old crimson bindings scorched and frayed.” Welty’s mother once braved a burning building to rescue a 24-volume set of the British writer’s works.

 Some of my favorite literary-themed outings are Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, once home to Louisa May Alcott and the setting for Little Women and England’s Yorkshire Moors, the atmospheric backdrop of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. A book club getaway could be a trip across town or across the ocean, touring a local author house, attending a literary festival or an event at your local bookstore. And if getting away isn’t an option, a journey is only as far as away as your next discussion pick.”

 --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Kelsey Timmerman,
 Author of
Where am I Wearing

You HAVE to see Kelsey's very humorous video on Book Clubs vs. Book Signing: Click here. Of course, Kelsey reaches the logical conclusion that visiting Book Clubs can’t be beat!! But, of course, we already knew that. Here’s what Kelsey has to say as introduction: “This video is based on true experiences (even the bra lady!) at book signings and book clubs.  If you have a book club, I would love to come visit it, especially if you’ll be discussing any or all of the following: strawberry pie, cheesecake, margaritas, beer, and (oh, yeah) my book.  I would prefer to come in person, but if the distance is too great, maybe I can be there virtually (Skype, chat, phone). Email me: (a big thanks to the book club cheerleader for this video’s inspiration.)"

Click on the picture above to watch Kelsey's video on Book Clubs vs. Book Signing--It's a hoot!

Follow-Up Note on
Meg Waite Clayton,
uthor of The Wednesday Sisters: She is hot, hot, hot! Not only was “Sisters” just chosen as Target Bookmarked Club Pick for the Summer—but it’s also a Borders Book Club Selection. Congratulations, Meg—well deserved! If your reading group hasn’t read it yet—this would be a great “next book” for your reading group! Check out the interview we did on her last month, in the archives, below.


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