Summer Reading Series: Beach Trip Discussion Questions

flower summer seriesHello Summer Readers!

Our first read of the summer is Beach Trip by Cathy Holton, and what a great way to kick off the summer! Cathy will be answering any questions you might have here on Tuesday, June 16th, so leave your questions in the comments. I’ll compile them into another post to be published on Tuesday. She will be answering your questions in real time at 4 pm PST so if you’re interested in discussing Beach Trip with her, come back then! Here is a synopsis of the book, and following are discussion questions. Please feel free to leave your answers here.

imageDB.cgiA reunion of four friends becomes a cathartic journey into the past in Cathy Holton’s luminous new novel.

Mel, Sara, Annie, and Lola have traveled distinct and diverse paths since their years together at a small Southern liberal arts college during the early 1980s. Mel, a mystery writer living in New York, is grappling with the aftermath of two failed marriages and a stalled writing career. Sara, an Atlanta attorney, struggles with guilt over her son’s illness and her own slowly unraveling marriage. Annie, a successful Nashville businesswoman married to her childhood sweetheart, can’t seem to leave behind the regrets of her youth. And Lola, sweet-tempered and absentminded, whiles away her hours–and her husband’s money–on little pills that keep her happy.

Now the friends, all in their forties, converge on Lola’s lavish North Carolina beach house in an attempt to relive the carefree days of their college years. But as the week wears on and each woman’s hidden story is gradually revealed, these four friends learn that they must inevitably confront their shared past: a failed love affair, a discarded suitor, a betrayal, and a secret that threatens to change their bond, and their lives, forever.

Darkly comic and deeply poignant, Beach Trip is an unforgettable tale of lifelong friendship, heartbreak, and happiness.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)? Was there one you identified with more than the others?

3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?

4. Did the end surprise you? Was it satisfying?

5. Which character do you think changed the most from college to mid-life: Lola, Mel, Sara, or Annie?

6. What did you think of the men in the book?

7. Have you kept in touch with close friends from high school or college? Do you still get together?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Beach Trip! Thanks for reading along with us! xoxo, Lisa and Mari

UPDATE:  Find more to discuss HERE

43 Responses

  1. I guess I’ll start! I really enjoyed the book, although I’ll admit it took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, I loved it.

    I probably identified most with Sara. She seemed the most stable to me, plus I’m really nothing like the other 3.

    I liked the story line from their college days the most. On their actual beach trip vacation I didn’t feel like they were really relating to each other much until the night on the water, when they were smoking pot and all the secrets started spilling out. That was probably my favorite part.

    The end was great!! For once I did not see a twist coming- I can usually spot them a mile away. I was sad and disappointed, and then HAPPY again!! GREAT ENDING!

    I think most of the characters were pretty fixed in personality from college days to present. Lola sort of seemed like she had a lobotomy!! I hated her mother and Briggs for what they did to her and Lonnie just before her graduation. Sick and criminal.

    After the trip I’d say Annie changed the most, maybe due to her makeover, but I loved how she came to realize that she needed to have Agnes Grace in her life in a bigger way.

    I liked the boat captain guy a lot (Mike, was it?). For a while I thought maybe April was his daughter- I thought that might be a twist, but obviously I was wrong- and I always kind of thought he and Lola were an item.

    I’ve only kept in touch with a couple friends from HS and college, but because I’m on the other side of the country now it’s more email/Christmas card relationships than anything else. It’s hard to keep up with people you never see.

  2. Hi Lisa! Thanks again for inviting me to participate in The Beach Trip’s blog tour! Ok, here we go . . .

    I have to say I felt the same as you – it took me awhile to get into the story. Although I did enjoy learning about their college days, I felt at times it was a bit long. Once it got going though I did like it.

    I’d have to say Sara was my favorite character. I can relate to her personality much more than the other girls. But I also think they all gave up on Lola and assumed they knew certain things about her. I know she was a little different, but I liked her alot too.

    My favorite part of the book was when they finally started letting down their guard and sharing their secrets. I was sorry it didn’t take place sooner.

    I was happily surprised by the ending! It gave a nice twist to the story.

    I think its pretty clear that Annie changed the most. I was glad for her that she came to some realizations in her life and allowed herself to see that she DID have a wonderful husband and family that she should be proud of. It was nice to see her let go of the past and see what was right in front of her.

    As far as the men, I liked JT and Captain Mike the most. I felt right away that he and Lola had a thing going. I also thought maybe April was his daughter at one point. He seemed like the perfect guy for Lola.

    I keep in touch with only a few girlfriends from school, but they both live in different states which makes it hard to see each other. But we email and send cards.

    I’m looking forward to seeing other reader comments about the book. Thanks again Lisa!

  3. […] I had a productive week of reading this last week. Tomorrow I hope you’ll come back to read my review of Beach Trip by Cathy Holton, along with a guest post by the author. If you have already read this book and want to discuss it, Lisa at Books on the Brain is hosting the Summer Reading Series and Beach Trip is the book for June. The first set of questions can be found HERE. […]

  4. I’m with Lisa in that I had a hard time getting into this book.

    I can’t say that I had a favorite character or particularly identified with one. In college I was probably more of a blend of Sara and Mel.

    The ending was my favorite part of the book because it did take me by surprise. I had figured on the J.T. thing early on in the book and was pretty sure that Mike and April weren’t an item nor were they working for Briggs. So I really thought that Holten wasn’t going to be able to surprise me.

    Annie changed a lot over the week but it really seems like Lola had changed the most without any one realizing it.

    I don’t see many friends from high school any more but I do still see several college friends on a regular basis. It’s great to have people in your life that have known you for so long–we’re now starting to go to each others’ children’s weddings. Now that can may a gal feel old!

  5. i haven’t read this…but i love the whole idea of a summer reading series! (actually, i think i may be involved in one with you next month?!? lol).

    this book looks like a quirky beach read with a great ending. i just read a book with such a boring and predicatable ending! great questions and i can’t wait until next month when i can partake officially!

  6. I did enjoy the book but had trouble getting through the middle of the book, I kept wanting the pace of the novel to pick up.

    I actually didn’t have a favorite character. I liked all the women for different reasons and really enjoyed their interactions with each other.

    My favorite part was the twist at the end. Very Sleeping with the Enemy…

    My best friend and I have been friends since the sixth grade, but we probably would not go on a beach trip to catch up because we talk almost every other day!

  7. 1I loved it!!!

    2. I liked Mel. She was brave enough to escape her past. Sure, she made her share of mistakes but I admired her.

    3. I loved all of the last day at the beach.

    4. I was a little surprised. I had hoped for an ending like that. I was pleased with how it ended.

    5. Lola and for the better!

    6. Briggs stank! Leland was pitiful. I liked JT and Mike.

    7. Not really.

    Thanks for the chance to read this and join in the discussion!


  8. Question for Cathy:
    What is your writing process? Do you start with an outline and stick to that or do you start with an idea with no idea where it will take you? Or do you, like John Irving, know how the story will end and tailor it to that ending?

  9. […] sorting through what I did/didn’t like about it. I’ll be discussing it tomorrow at Books on the Brain. I’m hoping to write the review today– I meant to yesterday, but instead, I picked up […]

  10. Question for Cathy:

    Where do your characters come from? Are they based on people you know or part of your imagination? Do you have a favorite character?

  11. 1. Sorry, I thought it was just okay. There were some moments that were brilliantly written and very enjoyable, but overall it had a very slow pace and I had difficulty keeping interested.
    2. My favorite character was Mel – Her personality and background was a little more complex than the others which helped make her more real to me. I didn’t particularly identify with any of the women. At the beginning of the book I was surprised how they interacted with each other – I’m not sure I would have agreed to go on a week long trip with any of them : )
    3 & 4. I guess the ladies’ last night on the boat would be my favorite part. I had waited what seemed a long long time finally learn about each woman’s well kept “secrets.” The twist at the very end caught me by surprise – it was like something from a movie.
    5. They all evolved at lot. I thought Annie’s transition from good girl, to naughty college girl, to perfectly scheduled church-mom, to business woman, to mature more-open-minded-relaxed-adopting-a-foster-child mom was a significant evolution. But on second thought, maybe Lola’s change from total helpless dependency to clear-minded independence qualifies as the most extreme change.
    6. The men were interesting. Briggs was an excellent villain. JT & Mike were great likeable heroes.
    7. I keep in touch a few friends from college and law school. I regret having lost contact with others. I love the idea of a week long beach trip reunion with them.

  12. 1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
    I really enjoyed it. In fact, I had no problem getting into it once I opened the book!!

    2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)? Was there one you identified with more than the others? I identified with a few…Annie-because I tend to be a little OCD, Sara- because I like to stay home and not venture too far from my safe zone.

    3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?

    4. Did the end surprise you? Was it satisfying?
    Yes, totally surprised me and I think it worked.

    6. What did you think of the men in the book? Shows us that everyone has their weaknesses and faults.

    7. Have you kept in touch with close friends from high school or college? Do you still get together?
    I have kept in touch with a lot of my high school friends but not really anyone from college.

  13. WOW – I’m impressed with the number at comments and our discussion doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow!

    Thank you everyone for making our Summer Reading Series such a success. I’ll check back tomorrow to catch up with all the comments.

    I like other bloggers/readers do not like to write less than stellar reviews. I’m so appreciative of author/publisher support. I kept waiting for this book to speed up a bit but the ending makes up for any slowness in the middle. It’s been a long time since I was surprised like this. With so many great books out this summer, I’m not sure I would pass this one on as a must read but its ok.

    I did enjoy the ending twist and it did sit with me. I wonder if I would be able to remain in contact with someone who did what Lola did. An interesting question to ponder, did Lola really need to go to such extremes? If I allow myself to think about Lola and/or if one of my friends did something like this I might think they were cowardly. Life can be tough but is love worth losing everything? Did I miss something?

    When thinking about the characters and who changed the most from college to the present, I would answer this by saying Lola changed the least. She’s still worried and comes across as a weak person (evident from the statement above), she needs to find courage.

    I have kept in touch with a few friends from high school and college. We never get together since we no longer live near each other. Technology has made it so easy to stay in touch.

  14. One thing that sort of bugged me was that the characters didn’t really start talking about their lives in the present very much until their last night. If I hadn’t seen my good friends in years, I’d want to do that kind of catching up immediately, esp. since the women all knew the husbands back in college too. I was surprised they weren’t asking each other more in depth questions and interacting more at the beginning of the trip, but maybe that was how it needed to be to propel the plot? Anybody else feel that way? Or did you think that was realistic? Maybe I’m the only nosey one who would jump in with 20 questions as soon as my friends hit the island? (As you may have noticed, I like questions..)

    • Lisa,

      I’d figured that just enough superficial chat about their lives happened off-page to satisfy them about each other’s lives. They really were pretty preoccupied with themselves at the beginning of the book. It wouldn’t have taken much to convince them that there wasn’t anything important in anyone else’s life.

    • I would have thought there would be more “catching up.” It seems so guarded right now. I am not finished so maybe this will come to light.

    • I did feel like for women that wanted to spend this time together, they certainly didn’t seem to have much to talk about.

  15. Hi everyone! I’m still reading this and loving it!

  16. Hi everyone! I’m still reading this and loving it! I skipped past the other comments so I wouldn’t catch a spoiler before I get to the end. I did want to pop in quick to say hello and I’ll be back. I was outside reading this today in my hammock and it was the perfect place to be. I could feel the sand and surf! I’m really looking forward to this discussion.

  17. Well, now that I have “officially” finished the book and posted my review, I thought I’d jump right in here!

    Unlike a lot of you, I got immersed in the book right away – I was in the mood for a book like this, and Cathy’s writing was easy to read and hooked me immediately.

    My favorite character was Mel – I liked that she dared to be herself even when everyone else was following the traditional paths in life. I also could relate to her childless status around a bunch of people who had kids – I never was able to have kids, and it *is* hard to be in a group where everyone is a mommy!

    My favorite part of the book was the “aha” moment when we figure out what happened to JT. I didn’t see that coming for some reason and I loved it!

    I loved the ending – I get tired of books that don’t end well…and so I was very pleasantly surprised by the twist.

    Annie, to me, was the most changed. She had begun questioning here conservative, right wing positions…and I think began to see how structuring her life so rigidly took away from the joy of just “being.” Her being able to open her heart and home to a child in need, and I think to have that second chance to play with a kid, told me she had really changed.

    The men really played second fiddle to the women for the most part. Obviously, Briggs was an unlikeable character. I liked Mike…and JT. Otherwise, it is hard for me to remember the other male characters.

    I have kept in contact with one of my friends – she and I were best friends in high school and we still email and get together (although she is on one coast, and I’m on the other). I didn’t have a lot of high school friendships…I was pretty shy then. My college friends were “couple” friends I had with my first husband (we married right out of college) and we stayed in close contact for a number of years. But when we divorced, I lost touch with a lot of those friends – which was sad for me, but I think that happens a lot.

  18. Our group of 8 college girlfriends of 30+ years have selected this book for our “Book Club on the Beach” for our trip to the Dominican Republic (leaving Friday)!
    So, yes I have kept up with these gals regularly and we have a great time when we’re together (and even when we’re not).
    Met the author at our local bookshop this past week which was such fun!
    I enjoyed the book. Identified most with Sara. Liked Mike and JT.
    Hope you enjoy the read!

  19. Without reading through the replies so far:

    1) I did enjoy the book. I liked to think about it between times reading it. However, it never kept me reading until the last possible moment, and it never pulled me back to it. I was surprised that it took me as long as it did to read it. I’m still trying to figure out why.

    2) I think my favorite character was Mel. I liked the Mel had made her own decisions and lived with them, for better or worse. In many ways, the other woman had let life happen to them. As a person, I liked Sara best. She’s the one I would be interested in hanging out with in real life

    3). I think my favorite part in the book was when we found out Tom’s past nickname :-).

    4) The ending was not a surprise to me, I saw it coming. Well, not EXACTLY how it happened, but more or less. It was moderately satisfying. I wish we’d been able to see a little more into Lola’s brain.

    5) Lola’s big change happened when she had her “breakdown”, and then at the very end. The intervening time almost didn’t happen for her. Annie only really started growing after her kids were gone. Hopefully this vacation pushed her further along the path. Sara grew up and followed the path set out for her. She had challenges, and worked to meet them. Mel changed the most while still staying the same. They had such different kinds of growth I don’t know that I can really say which was the “most”

    6) The men were mostly flat. Since they were largely off-stage supporting characters, that was fine. I think I would have liked Tom if I’d met him. I don’t know about any of the rest.

    7) Nope, I haven’t kept in touch with close friends from the past. I wish I’d had those kinds of friendships. I think that was both a push and pull of the book for me.

    I’ll be back tomorrow!

  20. Wrighty, I’m jealous! Really… a hammock, sand, surf?

    Think of me in land loacked in Omaha (it’s raining this morning).

  21. […] it! BookwormMari on Summer Reading Series: Beach …Diane on Tuesday Teasersimbookingit on Summer Reading Series: Beach …Holly on Review: […]

  22. Thanks for the opportunity to participate!

    Like others have said, it took me awhile to get into the book. Overall I enjoyed the book even though it isn’t the sort of book that I typically read. I am glad that I read it but it will not rate amongst my favorite reads.

    I like the flashbacks to their college days more than the present day tale of their beach trip. I felt that we got to know the characters a lot better in the flashbacks than in the present day narrative.

    The end didn’t really surprise me. I saw the Lola/Captain Mike twist coming from a mile away and knew that they would somehow make their escape together. Maybe I just read too many books and have seen too many plot twists. 😉

    I went to an engineering school where most of the students were men so I didn’t have too many female friends in college. I am still in touch with the few close female friends I had then, some more so than others. Its been a few years since we all got together. When we do it is mostly for weddings, baptisms, etc.

  23. 1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
    It took me awhile to get into the bit. I am from NC was distracted by some of the name changes for places. For example, why did you change Bald Head to Whale Head?
    2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)? Was there one you identified with more than the others?
    I seemed to identify with parts of all the main characters but not one in particulr.

    . Did you have a favorite part in the book?

    4. Did the end surprise you? Was it satisfying?
    The end did surprise me. It was very satisfying because finally Lola was happy. Quite honestly I did expect to find out that her son was Lonnie’s.

    5. Which character do you think changed the most from college to mid-life: Lola, Mel, Sara, or Annie?

    Mel learned how to forgive her father.

    6. What did you think of the men in the book?
    Not impressed with Briggs at all but Mike and JT are good people.
    7. Have you kept in touch with close friends from high school or college? Do you still get together?
    I am in touch with a few people from college and high school thanks to Facebook. Many of my friends are out of state so that limits get togethers.

  24. Hey all.. I love the comments. I am still reading. For me the book caught my attention right away. I love it. I don’t have a favorite character yet but I think I am an Anne type. (but have to say I am letting a lot of the neat freak stuff fall by the wayside these days).

    I love all the comments and Thank you Lisa for hosting this great conversation. I hope it lasts all week and longer.

    I can tell some “stuff” is going to happen. there is a lot of foreshadowing and I like it .. gives me something to look forward to.

    I am in very “light” touch with my first and forever best friend through Face Book and she is pretty near but I think we both really have changed a lot. I do have a group of women that I get to get together with every few years and it is really special.

    I love the entire premise of this book. I can’t think of anything more healing and empowering that a group of girl friends away for the weekend.

  25. Hi There –

    I did enjoy the book and found it a great light read for the summer.

    Typically, I am a writer’s dream reader and never catch any of the foreshadowing that author’s typically write in their books. However with this one, I picked up on all of them! Although I didn’t know Lola would do what she did in that cove, I sensed something was coming. The book was somewhat predictible to me for some reason. I kept wanting to tell the characters to just come clean already! Ha!

    Like many of the other readers, I related most to Sara because she seemed to be the most normal of the group and was the most real with the rest of the women. The others seemed to hold things back until the last night when they were able to let down enough t(with the help of pot and alcohol) to be honest.

    I definitely like the premis of the book – a good girls weekend can’t be beat. This one did make me jealous since they were on the ocean and having cocktails daily!

    Thank you so much for organizing this summer bookclub! I love that I can participate in a bookclub while I am on vacation!

    • Thanks, Jill, for your comment! Just FYI I edited it slightly to take out the spoiler about the ending. Hope you’re ok with that!

  26. 1. I liked it but I thought the idea was unoriginal. There were so many characters to keep track of I had to keep a list nearby. But I was interested in finding out each gal’s secret.

    2. I think Sara was the most reasonable character and I liked her. But I loved Lola for her vulnerablitiy and her quarky, head-in-the-clouds way. I wondered why they kept letting her go off on her own when they knew her to be a wanderer.

    3. My favorite part was finding out about Sara’s connection to JT. I was happy for her that life had giving her what she wanted.

    4. The surprises in the book were what saved it for me. I’m not easily surprised by much but it happened several times in Beach Trip. I especially enjoyed the ending. It suited the character and gave the book a happy ending.

    5. I think that Anne was the most changed, not in action so much as in her inner questions about life and changing views about what is important and what actually makes her happy. But I agree with Sara above that commented that Lola probably made the biggest change by the end.

    6. The men were too predictable and stereo-typed but I thought that about the women too.

    7. Not too much. I moved alot and made many friends for a year or two and then moved again. But Facebook has allowed me to get back in touch with alot of them again.

  27. I’m a little late getting to the discussion. I really liked the book. It was easy to read, but it wasn’t all light and fluffy. I think my favorite character was Lola. I really felt for her in her powerlessness with her mother and husband. I loved the ending. It was exactly what I wanted to happen. I also think that Lola was the best friend to all the women, she loved them all even with thier flaws.

  28. Did it bother any one else that Annie was doing so much for Agnes when she also had a sister? I could understand bonding with a child but I would feel like I couldn’t do for one sibling without doing for the other as well.

  29. Thanks, Lisa, for doing this! I liked the book, but I thought parts dragged as others have said. I didn’t really feel like I knew the characters till the end, although I kept hoping I would get to know them better as we went along. Mel was, by far, the strongest character–the others I came to know very gradually. I really liked the end and didn’t see it coming at all!

    Overall, an enjoyable read that I would recommend with reservation. I would tell my friends to stick it out till the end because the end makes it all worthwhile. A perfect beach read!

  30. […] the conversation has gotten off to a great start (check out the comments HERE) but now, let’s go deeper! REMINDER: Author Cathy Holton will be here at 4pm PST to answer our […]

  31. […] the conversation has gotten off to a great start (check out the comments HERE) but now, let’s go deeper! REMINDER: Author Cathy Holton will be here at 4pm PST to answer our […]

  32. […] was obvious to me from the beginning (I’m not sure I’d even call it a twist, but then in our Summer Reading Series discussion, several people said that their favorite part was when it was revealed, so I guess it was a […]

  33. […] was obvious to me from the beginning (I’m not sure I’d even call it a twist, but then in our Summer Reading Series discussion, several people said that their favorite part was when it was revealed, so I guess it was a twist). […]

  34. […] was obvious to me from the beginning (I’m not sure I’d even call it a twist, but then in our Summer Reading Series discussion, several people said that their favorite part was when it was revealed, so I guess it was a […]

  35. Lisa, I’ve added a link to this discussion in my review of “Beach Trip.”

  36. […] you get a chance, stop by TLC Book Tours where you can check out the "Summer Reading" discussion on Beach Trip and more discussion on Beach […]

  37. […] June 16th:  Books on the Brain – Summer Reading Series […]

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