Review: Beach Trip by Cathy Holton

imageDB.cgiYou might think Beach Trip by Cathy Holton would be a light, fun, summertime romp, based on the cover and the description, but it really isn’t that.  I’d call it women’s fiction, which to me means it’s a bit more serious than chick lit, and a lot less fluffy than what I think of as a beach read. 

The story is about Lola, Mel, Sara, and Annie, college roommates and close friends who get together some 20 years later, in their 40’s, for a week at the beach.  Life has taken them in completely different directions since their college years, but they still have a bond. 

Alternating between the past and present, we get to know the women as they were and are.  Lola- rich, beautiful, married to the very controlling Briggs, is sweet but childlike- she seemed medicated and in her own little world during the week at the beach.  Mel, the wild one, is a twice-divorced writer and a breast cancer survivor who gets the women talking over margaronas.  Sara is an attorney whose marriage is suffering under the strain of a difficult medical diagnosis for one of her children.  Annie is an empty nester and uptight clean freak with secrets of her own.  I related most to Sara, a former career woman with a long marriage and a couple of kids, whose life isn’t perfect, but I found Mel to be the most interesting of the four.

The women don’t connect immediately at the beach- they definitely have their guard up- and it takes almost the entire trip before they have any meaningful conversation with each other.  I doubt they would have been friends without their shared history- they are friends because they’ve known each other forever.  But as the week wears on and the secrets start coming out, their friendship grows and changes to allow for the mature people they’ve become.  

So much of the first 3/4ths of the book is made up of the women’s inner dialogue- being around their old friends brings on a flood of memories- so much so that I kept thinking, are they ever going to really talk to each other?  They are all so self involved!  But then, finally, they do talk and share their lives with each other.  That’s when the book starts to get really good. 

I like when a book can surprise me, and there are a couple of big twists in Beach Trip.  The ending was great- it totally made the book for me!  One twist 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).  The end, though, really took me by surprise.  If you’ve read the book, don’t give it away!  It’s a great ending. 

I’d recommend Beach Trip to anyone who likes women’s fiction.  For more thoughts on Beach Trip, follow Cathy Holton’s TLC Book Tour.

Beach Trip: More to Discuss

flower summer seriesWell 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 questions. Please come back if you’d like to ask her something, or just to say hello.

More questions for readers:

imageDB.cgi1.  The women drink too much on more than one occasion. Do you think the alcohol helps their conversation flow, become more honest, or just cause hangovers?

2.  Mel’s betrayal of Lola in college surprised me, considering she seemed to be the most free thinking of the four friends. Why do you think she did it? If you were Lola and you found this out during the trip, would you have been quick to forgive her?

3.  Mel is still looking for love. Do you think she can be satisfied with her life the way it is?

4.  Do you think the four friends treated each other as the people they are now, or as the people they were in college? When you are with people who have known you ‘forever’, do you feel like you revert back to old habits and old dynamics within the friendship?

5.  Mari asks: Did Lola really need to go to such extremes in the end? 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? (Mari, I edited your question to avoid a major spoiler).

Questions for Cathy, with her answers:

Margaronas- real or made up? Have you tried them?

“Yes,  Margaronas are real…and surprisingly good, although the recipe sounds vile  (and you don’t want to go anywhere after sampling.  My husband and I usually just sit around and giggle.)”

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?

“I used to start with the characters and put them into conflicting situations.  But over the years, I’ve changed.  I still start with the characters but I think a lot about plot now before I begin writing.  I’ve been reading Kate Atkinsons’s series about Detective Jackson Brodie; I like the mystery element to those novels and the way the entire story only comes completely into view in the last few pages.   I knew I wanted that same element in Beach Trip; you don’t really understand the novel in its entirety until that last piece slips into place.”

Are you reading anything right now? What kinds of books do you enjoy? What books can you recommend? 

“I’m reading Alice Munro’s short story collection, “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You,” and Brock Clarke’s novel, “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.
 
I like books that entertain, amuse, or so captivate me by the writer’s style or imaginative plotting that I can’t put the book down.  Literally.  I don’t like mindless reading.  I want to be engaged and challenged.  I love Alice Hoffman, Peter Carey, Hilary Mantel, Alice Munro, and Kate Atkinson.  My favorite Southern writers are George Singleton, Lewis Nordan, Flannery O’Connor, and Ellen Gilchrist.”

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

“I think that, initially, each character comes from the author’s own psyche.  But the way that character grows, changes, or reacts comes from some place else.  Writers are like big sodden sponges; we soak up bits of dialogue, atmosphere, the way people walk, talk, or express themselves in groups or alone.  And later all these bits, these observations, come through in the writing.  I don’t consciously create characters based on people I know.
 
I have a special fondness for Mel in this novel.  She has a fearlessness, a certainty of purpose in her life that I admire.  She understands early on that she can’t “have it all”, that in her life, at least, the desire to be a writer takes precedence over everything else.  I think it’s a dilemma many writers face; do we sacrifice family for the discipline and solitary demand’s of a writer’s life? Or can we, indeed, have it all?”

Do any of these characters resemble you in any fashion?

“My mother says she sees “something” of me in both Sara and Mel.   Certainly I identify with Sara’s love of her family, her desire to be a good wife and mother (and feeling, sometimes, like she’s not quite up to the mark.)   I also identify with Sara’s more quiet, introspective character.   I share Mel’s dark sense of humor; and certainly the fact that she’s a writer, has wanted to be a writer since an early age, parallels my own life.”

Mel-very abrasive and harsh at times…where did draw her from? People that you’ve encountered in your life?

“People either really seem to like Mel, or they don’t.  She’s entirely fictitious.  Mel is a strong, intelligent woman and she makes no apologies for who she is.  She says what she thinks and is brutally honest.  I kind of like that aspect of her personality.  She is overbearing at times and I think were it not for her sense of humor, I’d have a much more difficult time with her.  She makes me laugh, so I forgive a lot.  She’s had to grow up tough in order to survive Leland, but it’s that toughness that helps her later through the difficult time of her illness. ”

I love the dynamics surrounding these women and how after 20+ years apart they fell right back into perfect sync with each other…do you have any friendships like that?

“You know, it’s interesting, but my entire high school class seems to have discovered Facebook at the same time.  So I’ve gone through almost thirty years of sporadic Christmas cards and emails to suddently reconnecting with this group of friends I had throughout grade school and into college.  When we talk to each other now, it’s as if we’re sixteen again; we fall back into the same patterns of friendship, the same slang, the same playful or antagonistic relationships.  And it’s really lovely.  It makes me feel youthful and optimistic again.”

Where did the idea for Beach trip start?

“It started over a martini night with some friends (imagine that.)  One of the women was talking about a beach trip she takes every year with some of her college friends.  She was describing how much fun it was, how they all acted like girls again; and then she mentioned quietly that it always got a little tense towards the end of the week because there was something between two of the women, some incident that had occurred in college that everyone else had forgotten about, something that only surfaced after a week of drinking and constant togetherness.  

And that got me wondering what it could be, what could go unsaid for so long and yet still crop up years later when the women let their guard down.  It got me thinking about friendship and memory and forgiveness, of the importance of honoring the past and yet letting it go, too.”

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

The Sunday Salon – May 31, 2009

TSSbadge3It’s quiet around here today- the hub’s out of town on business and daughter #2 went to a sleepover birthday party last night.  Daughter #1 is still in bed, so it’s just me and the dog, hanging out.  And of course, lots of book bloggers are out of town at BEA.  The silence is deafening!

images-1This has been a good week for reading.  I finished Truth & Beauty, read and reviewed The Virgin Suicides, got about 2/3rds of the way through Beach Trip for our Summer Reading Series, and read about 100 pages of The Local News for an upcoming TLC tour.   My youngest and I started reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan together for our newly formed mother/child book club, inspired by Julie at Booking Mama.  Our first meeting will be in July with 11 kids (boys and girls) and 9 adults- we’re excited.  It’s amazing how much reading you can do when you turn off the tv.

9780316025270_154X233A lot of books made their way into my hands this week.  I received The Art of Racing in the Rain from Harper Collins- it was a win from a book club website.  I also won The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society from Random House.  Both ‘Racing’ and ‘Guernsey’ are books I’ve been wanting to read since they first came out; I can’t wait!  Love Begins in Winter, a collection of short stories by Simon Van Booy, also came from Harper Collins.  I’m not sure about this one.  I love short stories, but in looking over the book I’m not in love with the author’s style.  I was going to use it for a Teaser Tuesday post, but the sentences are all super short and choppy, and not just in one area.  I looked at probably 20 sample pages.  So I don’t know.  The Skinny:  Adventures of America’s First Bulimic by Rayni Joan came from the author, and last but not least, Sheri from A Novel Menagerie let me borrow Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea.  I’m really looking forward to that one.

9781439102817And I still have to buy a couple of books!  Still Alice by Lisa Genova is my book club’s July pick, and Life of Pi by Yan Martell is our pick for August.  Must get my hands on those.  I will never have enough time to read all the books in my house- unless I stop working and ignore the house, the laundry, my friends and my family for a month or so and do nothing but read.  As tempting as that sounds, it ain’t gonna happen.

Last night, though, I took a break from reading and had a movie night with my 11 year old daughter.  We watched Mean Girls and Legally Blond 2 and pigged out on cookies & cream ice cream.  It was nice spending some one on one time with my oldest.  My kids can be a handful when they’re together, but separately they are angels (well, mostly..), and I think they crave and really need time alone with me and with their dad.  They get sick of being seen as a unit and don’t always want to vie for our attention.

After my girl fell asleep I watched Rachel Getting Married with Anne Hathaway and sobbed like a baby!  The tears were just streaming out of me like a faucet, soaking my face and neck, and I didn’t even try to stop them.  I totally get why she was nominated for Best Actress for this role. She’s come a long way from The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted (loved those, too, but in a different way).

Well I hope everyone has a great week.  June, already!  It’s hard to believe.  For us that means 6th grade graduation, 2 more weeks of school, and then a gaggle of kids in and out of the house every day for 12 weeks.  I’m not ready!!!!!

Leave me a note and tell me what you’re reading this week.  Happy Sunday!

Teaser Tuesdays-May 19, 2009

tuesday-t11Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

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cholton929-390-beach_trip_coveMy teaser comes from a book that will be on tour with TLC Book Tours beginning in June called Beach Trip by Cathy Holton.  Beach Trip is also the June selection for our Summer Reading Series.  The teaser comes from page 43 in my advance uncorrected proof but may be different in the finished book.  This is a fun read so far!

“Everyone was always going on and on about passion, but Annie could see how passion might really screw up your life.  It might keep you from thinking clearly.  It might make you do things you’d later regret.”

This character Annie is an uptight neat-freak perfectionist.  This part of the book is when she is in college, mopping the kitchen floor, and gazing out the window at her roommate who is sitting in the sun making out with her boyfriend.  Annie, Annie, Annie- you’re 21, a senior in college, it’s a warm spring day- throw down that mop and go have some fun!

Summer Reading Series Kick-off!

Mari from Bookworm with a View contacted me recently about organizing an online book club with her for the summer. After several emails back and forth, our Summer Reading Series plans started to come together and take shape. We’re excited with what we’ve come up with, and we hope you will join us in the next few months to share some great beach reads!

cholton929-390-beach_trip_coveBecause Mari’s site focuses on women’s lit (book reviews, news, and she also runs the Manic Mommies book club) and Books on the Brain focuses on book clubs and all things books, we thought our blogs would be the perfect combination for hosting an online book club. We’re teaming up to connect our readers, share ideas and more.

Our June selection is Beach Trip by Cathy Holton, and what better choice to throw into your beach bag this summer? E-mail me to enter the drawing for a free copy of the book (we have 20 books to give away). Put “Beach Trip” in the subject line, but please only request the book if you are interested in coming back for the discussion! Click here to read a full description of the book. Beach Trip will be in stores tomorrow, May 12th, and the Beach Trip discussion will take place here on June 16th – with the author participating ‘live’ for an hour! I will post details for the discussion about a week before along with an email reminder to those who’ve won the book.

26317027Our July book selection is All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, written by Janelle Brown. To enter the drawing, send Mari an email with the book title in the subject line. Mari will be hosting this discussion at Bookworm with a View on July 14th.  Click HERE for a full description and author interview.

Our August selection, which will include an author call in via Skype, has been finalized, and you can read all about it HERE!

flower summer seriesMore details will follow in the upcoming weeks. We know it’s a little early to be thinking about summer, but we want to get these books into the hands of readers asap so that you’ll have plenty of time to read, and so we can have a great discussion next month!

We hope you’ll read with us!

UPDATE:  THANKS for all the emails.. all the giveaway copies of Beach Trip and Everything We Ever Wanted was Everything have been claimed!   Stay tuned for an announcement about August (coming soon!) and regular updates about our June and July discussions.  I LOVE SUMMER!