Survey Says…

images2What are book clubs reading? How often do they meet? Do they enjoy speaking with authors? These are a few of the burning questions on the minds of publishers and authors, and on the 2009 ReadingGroupGuides.com survey. Their goal is to identify trends and topics that are of interest to book groups, so they can provide resources needed to enhance book group meetings and discussions. Please note: The survey is only open to readers who are in book clubs.

But here’s the best part.. as a token of their appreciation, ReadingGroupGuides.com will award all participants (US and Canada only) with a free book from their publishing colleagues. See the full list of 28 titles here, each of which would be a wonderful choice for a book group discussion.

The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete. 15 minutes of your time for a free book.. sounds like a pretty fair trade-off to me.

So if you’re in a book club, get moving! The survey will close on April 30th.

In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 24

 

logoMolly from Litlovers.com stops by to share her views of how book clubs are saving the world.. take it away, Molly!

 

Saving the World—One Book Club at a Time
Molly Lundquist
LitLovers.com

 On any day of the week, all across the US, men and women (well, mostly women) meet in homes, libraries, Y’s, churches—any where with lots of chairs—to talk about books … and just maybe to make the world safe for democracy. 

How’s that?  

bookcoverIn a 1995 essay (later book), “Bowling Alone,” Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam traced the decline of American civic life since the 1950’s.  He pointed to decreased voter turn out, lower public meeting attendance, fewer people serving on committees or working for political parties.  

He even found a decline in bowling leagues, despite the fact that the number of bowlers has actually increased!  Turns out, people are bowling alone. 

It’s because we’re staying home, according to Putnam.  We’ve have isolated ourselves in far flung suburbs, we spend evenings in front of our TVs (now computers)—and with the majority of women in the workforce, it all spells less time and energy for civic involvement.

The repercussions matter, said Putnam, especially for a country whose form of government—democracy—depends on active citizen participation. 

But lo and behold, along comes our book club movement—and it is a movement, make no mistake!  No one knows for sure, but the number of people involved in book clubs has been estimated at anywhere from 10-25 million…and the number continues to grow!

Bless Oprah!  Clearly, she has helped trigger the movement.  But it’s not just Oprah:  it’s our own yearning.  The question is…what are we yearning for? 

My take is that we’re yearning for a richer, deeper communal life.  Talking to friends about sports, the kids, the job…or our latest bargain at the mall can take us only so far—we want more substance in our discourse. 

And books give us more, especially when we TALK about them.  Book discussions spur us to ponder, out loud, our connection to the greater world.  We ask ourselves and each other:  what makes a better life, what are our dreams and expectations, what kind of world do we wish to live in…with what kind of people? All these ideas are the things book clubs talk about.

And then there’s the way books broaden our perspective, enabling us to reach out across time and space to understand other people in other cultures. Again, we explore these issues with each other, exchanging views and changing minds. 

It seems to me book clubs are helping to reverse the trend that worried Putnam.  Because of book clubs, we’re re-entering communal life, we’re talking about substantive issues, we’re engaging with ideas—and with one another.  

Not to be too cute about it—but I think book clubs are saving the world!

Interview and Giveaway: Laura Fitzgerald, author of One True Theory of Love

images-1Recently I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors, the wonderful Laura Fitzgerald.  Laura is the author of the bestselling book Veil of Roses, and a new novel, One True Theory of Love (reviewed here), which just came out in February.  Even though she is really busy promoting her book and going to book signings and festivals, she took the time to give me very thorough and thoughtful answers to my questions.  Please enjoy this interview, and leave a comment if you’d like a chance to win her new book!  

BOTB:  If you had to describe your new book in one sentence, what would that be?

Laura:  One True Theory of Love is a story about the redemptive power of second chances in life and love.

51svuaqeq5l_sl500_aa240_BOTB:  You mentioned your very own book club recently read and discussed One True Theory of Love.  What was that like for you? 

Laura:  It was incredibly fun, because it was such a celebration of a big goal achieved and these are great women with whom to celebrate. It was also a great discussion of the book’s themes of second chances and the changing nature of relationships. All in all, it was a fun night of much wine, great discussion, and laughter.

It was also a bit weird, because everyone was asking me about my husband’s forearms and are they as sexy as Ahmed’s in the book…That’s been the one big difference between Veil of Roses and One True Theory of Love. With the main character in Veil of Roses being from Iran, no one suspected there was anything of me in her. But with this second book, I’m being asked that question a lot: How much of Meg is you? And, of course, there’s a lot of me in both Tami and Meg, as there is a lot of me in every character I write. I’m all over my books, hiding in plain sight. 

n225748BOTB:  I’ve read on your website that the idea for the book came from a book club meeting you attended for your first book, Veil of Roses.  Can you tell us about that?

Laura:  Well, I was quite far along in my writing of this other story that just wasn’t working out – I couldn’t get the main character to be likable, and the story itself was so different from Veil of Roses in tone and temperament that I was coming to the sad conclusion that it wasn’t the right “next book” for me. This realization was confirmed as I met with three book clubs in Wisconsin in the course of a week. 

The clear message was they like the “make you laugh, make you cry” flavor of Veil of Roses. The book I’d been working on was a straight “make you cry” type of book. Also, in each book club, members were going through huge life changes, falling in or out of love, mourning the deaths of loved ones, and just in general fighting the good, hard fights that life presents us. And it just struck me how much courage it requires to build yourself back up after life has knocked you down. We like to believe our happy ending is out there, waiting for us – that no matter how bad things are, if we just try harder, or try AGAIN, good things will happen and we’ll be happy. That’s not always how it works – but this deliberate optimism is what helps us move forward. 

I hate to sound existential, but I believe the happiness can be found in the struggle. Life is richer for going after what you want when there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. It just is. 

BOTB:  What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you since becoming a best selling author?  How has it changed your life? 

Laura:  I can’t and won’t downplay how nice it is to forevermore get to be referred to as “national bestselling author,” but the life-changing part of it comes down to the fact that I had a hard-to-achieve goal and I achieved it – writing a novel good enough to be published at a time when no one cared whether I did it or not. I now get to spend my days doing what I love, in a way that is perfectly suited to my skills, wants and personality. I am figuring out how to tell great stories, and after years and years of work learning my craft, I am almost at a point where I feel I’m hitting my stride with my writing. It’s exciting for me personally to feel with some confidence that the next few books are going to be a culmination of a lot of work on the backend, and that the best is yet to be. 

To repeat: Life is richer for going after what you want when there’s no guarantee of a positive outcome. I feel like I’m walking on a tightrope and to stay on it requires every ounce of skill I have, plus some luck. It’s a position I love to be in. 

BOTB:  Do you write with a particular audience in mind, or do you just write what you like?  

Laura:  Pretty much all my stories center around women who have to summon the courage to do something that is hard for them to do in order to get their shot at happiness — it’s a proactive approach to life and ultimately very affirming. We save ourselves, and we find ourselves in the broken pieces. I firmly believe that. My audience is any woman who needs that message. 

BOTB:  What is the writing process like for you?  Do you treat it like a job- writing for a certain number of hours a day- or do you wait until inspiration strikes?  How do you manage to get anything done with two young kids at home? 

Laura:  Writing is my job, absolutely. I have an office that I go to Monday through Friday while my kids are at school. I’m at this phase in my life where I’d spend twice as much time on my writing if I could – seven days a week, probably, but I’m acutely aware that my kids won’t be this age forever. My top value at the moment is maintaining balance and it’s a constant struggle. So I leave my writing at the office and spend the rest of the time with my kids. And husband. And friends. (And on facebook.) 

BOTB:  Can you tell us about your workspace?  Do you have interesting things on the walls or on your desk to spark creativity?  

Laura:  I rent an office a few miles from my house, and it’s mine, baby – all mine. No phone, no internet connection, no husband, no kids. I don’t like clutter, so I keep my desk clear, with only a great view of the Catalina Mountains in front of me. I’ve got Ethan Allen furniture – desk, reading chair and bookshelves. I have three prints on my walls – two simple and artistic photographs, one of a book with its pages spread open and one of a cup of coffee shot from above (I love both coffee and books). I also have a print of Mark Twain with one of his quotes: I find it usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. This has significance to me because I believe in doing a ton of work behind the scenes to make my writing come out smooth and easy. I’m a big planner and thinker and having my office – which I think of as my “pretty little prison cell” allows me the space and time to do both. And then to write, of course. 

BOTB:  You mentioned that you’re writing a sequel to Veil of Roses.  I’m so excited about that!  What will it be called, and when can we expect to see it in stores?  

Laura:  I’m working very hard to make this sequel even better than the first book. In addition to learning what happens after Tami and Ike’s wedding, I’m delving into the lives of two other characters from Veil of Roses – Tami’s mother, and Rose. 

As yet, it hasn’t been titled. I’m calling it GONE TO PICK FLOWERS, but that’ll likely change. It should be in stores by next summer (2010).

BOTB:  Laura, THANK YOU for your time and generosity!!  I loved your book and am so thrilled to be able to offer a copy of it to one lucky reader!

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Laura’s new book, One True Theory of Love, leave a comment here by Tuesday, March 17th.

One Last 100K Celebration Giveaway: Things I Want My Daughters To Know by Elizabeth Noble

9780061122194Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope you are canoodling with your honey and staying warm!

For this final 100K Celebration Giveaway, Danny from HarperCollins looked over my blog and thought my readers would be interested in the book Things I Want My Daughters To Know by bestselling author Elizabeth Noble!  It seems appropriate since I talk about my preteen girls so much.  

There will be a Book Club Girl On Air show occurring online on Tuesday, February 17th, at 7 pm with Elizabeth Noble on www.authorsonair.com.  It’s an interview with the author where book club members can call in or write in with questions about the book.  Pretty cool!

6a00d8341c9ac653ef010536f1eeee970b-120wiHere’s a little information about the book:

How do you cope in a world without your mother?

When Barbara realizes time is running out, she writes letters to her four daughters, aware that they’ll be facing the trials and triumphs of life without her at their side. But how can she leave them when they still have so much growing up to do?

Take Lisa, in her midthirties but incapable of making a commitment; or Jennifer, trapped in a stale marriage and buttoned up so tight she could burst. Twentysomething Amanda, the traveler, has always distanced herself from the rest of the family; and then there’s Hannah, a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood about to be parted from the mother she adores. 

But by drawing on the wisdom in Barbara’s letters, the girls might just find a way to cope with their loss. And in coming to terms with their bereavement, can they also set themselves free to enjoy their lives with all the passion and love each deserves?

This heartfelt novel by bestselling author Elizabeth Noble celebrates family, friends . . . and the glorious, endless possibilities of life.

My Daughters, My Loves

My Daughters, My Loves

Sound good?  For a chance to win a copy of Things I Want My Daughters to Know, leave a comment by Saturday, February 21st, telling me something that YOU’D like your daughter (or future daughter, or niece, or random young girl) to know.

As for me, there are a million things I want my girls to know, not the least of which is how to behave themselves!  But also how much I love them and how much being their mom has changed me forever.  Happy Valentines Day to you and yours!

Guest Post and Giveaway: Sheri from A Novel Menagerie says, “Yeah, I’d Praise Book Clubs!”

My book club met on Sunday and we had the great pleasure to welcome a new member, Sheri from A Novel Menagerie!  She and I met through our children last summer, who by sheer coincidence were not only in the same unit at Girl Scout camp, but in the same cabin 2 years in a row.  The chances of that are so slim- one year they went in August, the next year June, one year they were in a sampler unit, the next year a horse unit- all with hundreds of other kids.  It almost seemed that fate was pushing us together.

At first Sheri was kind of stunned that we hit it off, because she says she “never gets along with other women”.   We bonded over our children (we each have two wild preteen girls- hers are twins, mine are “Irish twins”), we both have one brother named Bill (who, by yet another coincidence, attends our church), complicated relationships with our sisters, experience with insomnia (hers, and my husbands), our OCD tendencies, and of course, BOOKS!   I showed her my blog and told her about the book blogging community.  Sheri asked a million questions.  I sent her on her way with a few extra books I had hanging around.  She went home and started her amazing new blog, A Novel Menagerie, that very day.  If you haven’t seen it, you must go check it out.  She hosts memes, challenges, contests, and reads about 5 books a week (and I’m not even exaggerating!)  She also started an online business called BookCharming.com and makes these adorable floss book marks.  She has so much drive and energy and honestly, I don’t know how she does it all!

So when she asked me about my book club, I sadly told her that it was “full”.  We had what seemed the right amount of people (12) and the club had agreed that we wouldn’t be inviting any more.  But then, in January, someone dropped out.  I mentioned it to Sheri and before the words were out of my mouth, she was saying YES!  So here she is, with impressions of her first book club meeting.  Welcome, Sheri!

Yeah, I’d Praise Book Clubs!

My constant whining about not being in a book club was more than Lisa could bear.  Month after month, the nagging became like nails scratching on a chalkboard.  She had no choice.  Find a spot for me or listen to 11 more months of “poor me.”  I think she chose wisely…yes, she is indeed a smart girl!

So, after finagling me into the book club, I immediately purchased every book on our reading list.  I was bound and determined to know each book inside and out, be ready for any question, and be worthy of the book club.  The books arrived:

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Sarah’s Key

The Invisible Wall

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Our first meeting:  Oscar Wao.  Now, this book is a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Of course, then it must be good.  And, it was.  But, the book was somewhat of a grueling read.  It was not an easy book to get through.  As I spewed out of my mouth in the book club meeting:  

It’s like childbirth; you are not really enjoying it when you’re going through it.  But, once it’s over with you’re glad you did it.  

That’s it.  They’re giving me das boot.  No.  Wait.  Ellen agreed.  Whew!  Let me go back in time to explain.  

So, like a little Nervous Nelly, I walked down the street with Lisa to the book club meeting.  They aren’t going to like me.  I won’t fit in.  I didn’t read the Reader’s Guide questions thoroughly enough.  I wasn’t even sure how I completely felt about the book.  I walk into Ellen’s home.  Immaculate.  Oh, I am such a sub-standard mother.  Ellen would never even sit on my couches.  I’m going to have to host my meeting at Lisa’s house.  There were a few people to meet and… (can you hear the angels singing?) WINE!  I thank God Jesus was into wine!  It’s a goodie that God makes sure is around for me!  Everything looked great.  There was food, wine, the immaculate house.  I was making conversation with whoever would talk with me.  Let’s see if I can remember all of their names (whoever I forget, please forgive me):

bc-bluebirdEllen

Diane

Elaine

Sara

Lisa

Sheri (that’s me)

Orchid

Maggie

Valerie

Tammy

So, Lisa thankfully sat by me during dinner and helped me to remember who’s who, names, etc.  The meeting soon started and Orchid (and her amazingly cool hair) led the meeting.  She read aloud.  But, she read a passage that was written in partial Spanish.  When she said the passage aloud, she said it entirely in English.  <Enter my big mouth> 

bc-sunset“Do you speak Spanish?  I mean, I can read it, but not speak it.  And, well…” (God, Sheri shut up!)

Yes, she did.  And, my inappropriate outburst led into a discussion about the foreign language in the book.  (Thank God!)  The conversation continued and it seemed like we all had something to say. 

My SELF observations:

1. I am the only dumbass who didn’t know that the splotch on the cover was the face of Oscar with a wing coming out of the back of his head.

2. I am the only idiot who thought that Oscar shouldn’t have quit on Yunior when Yunior was trying to help him lose weight.  

3. I’m the only deranged person who didn’t feel sorry for Oscar.  

4. I talk too much.

5. I don’t know enough.

6. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks my thoughts are “spot-on.”  No, that’s not a maybe.  It’s a for sure!

9780312370848My GROUP observations:

1. They were lovely women who really enjoyed this opportunity to get together and discuss their love for books. 

2. These were some INTELLIGENT chicks!

3. There is a common, invisible thread that ties them together.  They appreciate this book club and each other.

4. If I bribe them with my AWESOME Key Lime Martinis, they may let me come back again.  I hope so because I’m almost done with Sarah’s Key.

5. Lisa is my friend!

If I could only talk to intelligent women about the books I read ALL DAY LONG.  It would be like Heaven.  I wonder if I should try to find a job in the book industry.  I’m turning into a one-dimensional person… BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS.  Maybe I need to be in 4 book clubs… one for every Sunday.  Yes, that might cure my itch!

Thank you to Lisa for letting me smuggle my way into the group and share my neurosis with her readers.  

Sheri is donating 2 beautiful BookCharming.com Book Marks to my 100K celebration.  The first one is the Bluebird design, and the 2nd one is Sunset.  Gorgeous, right?  She’s so flippin’ talented!  This chick has skills!!  I’m going to throw in our book club’s next selection, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay to go along with the beautiful book marks.  Leave a comment by Friday, February 20th for a chance to win.

To read Sheri’s review of Sarah’s Key, click HERE.  I had to skim it because I haven’t read the book yet.  Hope I finish it before next month’s meeting!!

Matrimony Giveaway

cover150x229Matrimony by Josh Henkin is a much read, reviewed, and revered book around the blogosphere. Josh is a great guy and an author that really understands and appreciates the time and effort we book bloggers put into our blogs and our reviews. He is so supportive of bloggers and has done a great job of marketing his book online. He is generous with his time, offering author chats (by phone and in person) to book clubs all over the country. He loooooves getting feedback on his book and sitting in on discussions!

Josh wrote a wonderful guest post for me last year about book clubs that really struck a nerve, judging from the dozens of comments and incoming links to that post. Josh encourages reading groups to think outside the box and choose titles that are a little different. He noticed that book clubs were making selections from the same 10 or 12 titles and missing out on some really interesting stuff by sticking to the tried and true. Josh, I want to thank you for that guest post, and for always providing a link to this blog whenever you refer to it.. whether that is with Shelf Awareness, Book Club Girl, Reading Group Guides, or various other interviews you’ve done. I really appreciate that! For more on Josh’s thoughts on book clubs, check out this article titled Author, Your Group is Calling, from The Philadelphia Enquirer.

So.. Matrimony. Have you read it? It’s about 2 couples: Julian and Mia, and Carter and Pilar. It’s about love and life and birth and death and everything in between. It was a 2007 New York Times Notable Book. A Book Sense Highlight Pick of the Year. A Borders Original Voices Selection. It’s quite the celebrated book!

Josh is offering an inscribed, paperback copy of his book to one lucky commenter! Just leave a comment by Thursday, February 19th. And since we’re just a couple days away from Valentine’s Day, I’d like you to finish this sentence: “Love is … “

Guest Post: Author Erica Bauermeister offers a Recipe and a Giveaway!

51be1lrnnnl_sl500_aa240_Erica Bauermeister is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients, one of my favorite books so far this year! In my review I stated that my only complaint about this delectable book was the lack of recipes. Erica, taking me seriously, wrote a guest post for me and included a recipe for Tom’s Pasta Sauce. Thank you, Erica, for the guest post and the wonderful recipe.. I can’t wait to try it!! Maybe I’ll make it for the hub on Valentine’s Day.. hmmmm.

The idea for The School of Essential Ingredients came from a cooking class I took in Seattle, but the approach that Lillian, the chef/teacher in the novel, has toward food came from my experience of living in Italy for two years. While I was there I learned to see food as a conversation between ingredients rather than a lock-step set of rules I needed to follow. At first, that dialogue between ingredients felt as if it, too, was in a foreign language along with the Italian, but over time I learned to relax, to immerse myself in the flavors and textures of the ingredients, to worry less about using recipes. In short, I learned to play with my food.

droppedimageAnd what I learned is that cooking is a very forgiving activity. Switching out one ingredient for another is a creative act, not a destructive one. Coming out from behind the protective wall of a recipe allows us to come into closer contact with the food itself. Thinking of a recipe as an ice-breaker, a conversation starter, opens up endless possibilities.

So here’s a recipe to get you started, because in her review Lisa asked for one so very nicely. A bit of background: Tom is a bit of a mystery to the other characters in The School of Essential Ingredients, who know only that he carries with him a deep and personal sorrow. It is Lillian, the cooking teacher, who instinctively knows that participating in the creation of a pasta sauce from scratch will be one way to help him heal.

I offer this recipe with the hope that you will feel invited/directed/inspired to experiment. What would happen, for example, if you grated some orange peel into your sauce? Or used chicken sausage, or ground lamb with a bit of fresh rosemary? How might those bursts of creativity affect the life of someone you love?

Tom’s Pasta Sauce

Note: For best results, use Knorr’s extra-large soft chicken bouillon cubes.
Crush the whole tomatoes in a food processor, or chop them finely by hand.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 extra-large soft chicken bouillon cube (see note)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground Italian sausage
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed (see note)
1 cup tomato sauce (more if you want)
Salt and pepper
1 pound penne pasta
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium-low heat until bubbles form. Crush the half bouillon cube into the oil and mix thoroughly. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until translucent.

2. Add ground sausage, increase heat to medium, and cook until meat is no longer pink. Add milk and simmer until absorbed. (Don’t worry if it looks strange at first; the milk will mellow the wine and make for a wonderful, lush sauce.) Add wine, reduce heat to low, and simmer until wine is absorbed. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-3 hours, covered if you want a rich, but slightly thinner sauce, uncovered if you want a thicker sauce and the smell to roam through your house.

4. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook penne pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Ladle sauce over pasta; top with grated parmesan cheese if desired, and serve immediately.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Do you play with your food? Erica would like to hear about it! She has generously offered three copies of The School of Essential Ingredients to help me celebrate my big 100K hit milestone! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of this wonderful book, all you need to do is send an email by Wednesday, Feb. 18th, to Erica at bookgiveaway@ericabauermeister.com telling her about your favorite dish. She will choose 3 winners from those entries. Please be sure to state in your email that you came from Books on the Brain. Good Luck!

<—–Oh! And please check out my left sidebar for other great 100K Celebration Giveaways!

Guest Post and Giveaway: Are You Sometimes (*gasp*) a Reading Lemming?

Kelly Simmons, author of the new novel Standing Still, is sitting in for me today!  Read the giveaway details at the end of this post:

us_coverAre you sometimes (*gasp*) a Reading Lemming? 

In a great article recently in the New York Times fiction reading has finally been declared as being on the rise.  The folks in charge of the National Endowment for the Arts credit community-based reading efforts, book clubs, and popular franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight for this turnaround. 

We should all rejoice at this news, indeed.  But . . .  popular franchises driving reading?  Ouch.   That’s like fast-food driving eating.    That’s like sequels driving movie-going.  That’s like . . . oh crap, that’s America, isn’t it?! 

ksimmons_4866One of the biggest challenges I face with my daughters is convincing them to read books that aren’t series.   (That, and convincing them that normal high school freshmen don’t wear designer dresses and drink Bellinis like they do on Gossip Girl.) But they’re young, and young readers have loved lining up numbered books on their bookshelves since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.   But what about adults?   Grown men and women so hungry for sameness, for a “sure thing”, that they read the same franchises and authors over and over and over again with a blind eye to their flaws.  (Confession:  in my youth I was a Kurt Vonnegut junkie. And you?) 

But book clubs don’t do this – they support diversity, they embrace new authors, they mix it up.    Don’t they?   Well . . .  I visited 86 clubs in 2008, promoting my debut novel Standing Still, and while I loved every minute of it (except for getting hopelessly lost in Maryland, where you apparently sometimes need to take the Beltway East when you’re heading West –who knew?)  I was truly shocked by  how many well-known titles were being chosen month after month.   It seemed only books that were heavily promoted by the publisher, heavily reviewed by lots of media , and heavily blurbed with quotes from other authors were being picked.   Worthy books, sometimes.   But very, very, popular worthy books.  And, yes, the same books did seem to be selected by every club I visited. (If I heard the words “Three Cups of Tea”  one more time I thought I was going to choke on a cinnamon stick.)  The bottom line:  in that kind of environment, I had to consider myself extremely fortunate to have been chosen by any book group at all.   Even though Standing Still, with its cynical view of marriage, its romantic view of activism and kidnapping,  its flawed, panic attack-laden main character and its ambiguous plotting and ending, is a book guaranteed to spark discussion and debate.  Even though I’d gotten some truly glowing reviews.   Even though the book clubs raved and said it was like a “simpler starker Bel Canto.”  I was flat-out lucky to be getting considered, and I was humbled down to my bones once again. 

What happened to me is by now a familiar lament.   My book didn’t have an advertising budget.  My handful of glowing reviews all arrived too late to be placed on the jacket cover (they had to be saved for the paperback.)   And no famous writer wrote me a fawning quote for my cover because I’ve never canoodled with any famous writers, other than sitting next to Tom Wolfe at an Amtrak station.    (And yes that’s how it’s done – through favors, just like Illinois politicians.  Oh, don’t act so shocked!) 

Yes, even book group members, as intelligent and independent-thinking a group as you could hope to find, are looking for guidance.   For the comfort of someone else’s belief to inform their decisions.   That’s not bad, that’s just human.   And we all do it, even those of us who know better. 

What I hope you realize, though, is the power you have as an influencer yourself.   Surely your friends ask for your opinion on what to read all the time.  And is there any point in recommending something everyone else is reading?   Don’t people depend on you to go a little deeper?   After all, when you ask a stylish friend where to get a great fitting pair of jeans for Saturday night, do you really want her to whisper “Gap” in your ear? 


Kelly Simmons, a former journalist and advertising creative director, is the author of Standing Still, in paperback February 10, and coming soon, The Bird House.   She visits as many book clubs as she can (here’s a great article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about her visiting clubs).  And she’s now offering an exclusive Book Group DVD to those she can’t.   For more information, see her website or email her at kellysimmonswrites@yahoo.com.

Now for the giveaway!  Win an autographed paperback copy of Kelly’s new book, Standing Still!  From the product description on amazon.com:  “A riveting debut novel that will appeal to fans of Sue Miller and Janet Fitch, Standing Still is a powerful exploration of the darker side of mother-hood and marriage.”

Leave a comment here by Monday, Feb. 9th, for a single entry, or mention the giveaway on your blog (send me the link) and be entered twice.  Good Luck!

Guest Post: Author Robin Maxwell Talks About Book Clubs

It is my pleasure to welcome Robin Maxwell, author of the new historical novel Signora da Vinci, as a guest blogger today!  Robin, a veteran of many book club meetings, shares here how book groups keep her on her toes.

robinmaxwellscan9smThe world of book readership has changed dramatically since I started back in 1997 with Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.  That was the period of ascendancy of the chains, Borders and Barnes and Noble, and for Diary I went on an old-fashioned national author tour, speaking at more than 100 venues from coast-to-coast.   Now with  my seventh historical novel, Signora da Vinci, I’m on my first “virtual book tour,” reaching out online, with an emphasis on book clubs.  Not only did I sign up for two book clubbing promotions, but my publisher (who had me include a “Readers Guide” in the back of the book) did a third, and very large promotion geared to their list of book clubs.


coversignorafrontEveryone in publishing is well aware of the strength and importance of readings groups.  They are, along with literary blogs, the most vibrant aspect of the book world today. It means so much to me, as an author, that book groups are reading and discussing my novels.  I see the groups as modern-day “salons” that perpetuate culture and ensure that literature continues to survive and thrive in such uncertain times. I’ve done a number of in-person book club events, and a few remote ones — on a speakerphone from the comfort of my own home.  It’s amazing to be able to feel the warmth and excitement of the women exuding through the wires and the cold machinery.

I never feel nervous or intimidated in these situations because, first, I know my subject so well.  By the time I’m sitting down for a chat about a book, I’ve been living with it for at least two years (between research, writing, editing, publishing and promotion).  I know the characters, the period, the politics and the aesthetics like the back of my hand.   And since I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know the answer to that,” it’s rare to be caught with my pants down.  Of course, if I’ve been invited to speak, I can pretty much assume the group liked my book enough to have me there in person.  I can’t imagine getting an invitation from a club that couldn’t stand what they’d read.  I just expect that I’m walking into a sympathetic situation — six to twelve intelligent women who love to read and discuss literature, at ease in a comfortable living room.  And usually there’s a wonderful meal afterwards!

At one event —  it was a mixed group, men and women — a man, in a rather confrontational tone, challenged me to defend the actions of my protagonist, Grace O’Mally, of The Wild Irish.  She was a 16th century Irish pirate, rival to  Elizabeth I, and “Mother of the Irish rebellion” against England.  He demanded to know why, as a writer, I was sympathetic to Grace, even though after her historic meeting with Elizabeth, she had gone back on her word to the queen to fight on England’s behalf against all the world.  Grace had, indeed, agree to help Elizabeth in exchange for the release of her son from an English prison.   

This was a legitimate question, and not a simple one to answer.  I really had to think on my feet, because not only did I not want to look foolish in front of these readers, but I didn’t want to let down one of my favorite heroines of all times.  I offered the thrust of my defense — that Elizabeth was the first to go back on her word — on another crucial promise she had made to Grace.  But the man parried, refusing to back down, calling Grace a liar, and not worthy of the readers’ respect.  I thought to myself “This man may be a raging Anglophile who simply has no sympathy for the Irish, a people who had been invaded, colonized, enslaved and murdered by the English,”  but that was no defense for the question at hand.  So I went for the emotional argument.  I asked him if he was parent.  He said he was.  I asked “If it was your child locked unlawfully in a tyrant’s prison, wouldn’t you say or do anything to secure his release?  Would you make promises to that tyrant?  Would you go so far as to lie?  Grace O’Malley was one of the great patriots of Ireland, but at that moment she was a mother first.”  Maybe it wasn’t a perfect argument, but the man thought about it and backed down.  Thankfully, somebody asked another question and we moved on.

In the last book group I attended face-to-face, while we were having our lunch afterwards, and everyone was at ease, I learned something interesting about how some readers feel about the questions put forward in the “Readers Guides.”  There was quite a bit of complaint that some of the questions were either irrelevant or obtuse, or that they were only answerable by the author.  These women took pride in devising their own questions for discussion if they didn’t like the ones offered in the guide.  I think that’s wise, and if you do find yourself with an author in your living room or on the other end of a phone line, it’s all right to put forth challenging questions.  It keeps us on our toes.  That man’s question challenging Grace O’Malley — it may have been the most difficult one I’ve ever had to face, but it certainly was the most memorable.

To learn more about Signora da Vinci, which is about the mother of Leonardo da Vinci, check out Amy’s review at My Friend Amy, or this terrific review at Passages to the Past.

Robin Maxwell is the author of 7 historical novels, with an 8th on the way!  Her website can be found HERE.

Discussion questions for Signora da Vinci can be found HERE.

Review: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

imagesLife as We Knew It is written as the journal of high school junior Miranda.  Life in her small Pennsylvania town isn’t perfect- her best friends are bugging her and she’s not sure she even likes them much anymore.  One has become a born again Christian and the other one is really into boys.  Her dad’s new wife is pregnant and giddy and that’s bugging her too.  She wants to start ice skating lessons again but her mom wants her to continue on the swim team.  To top it all off, there’s this “moon thing”.  At first it barely gets a mention in her journal, but then her teachers start piling on more homework about the moon.  Annoying!

An asteroid is scheduled to hit the moon on Wednesday, May 18th, around 9:30pm.  The teachers are all talking about the moon- even her French teacher- and giving out assignments about it- three different essays are due on Friday.  Why are they making such a fuss? 

When the big night arrives, Miranda’s mom makes a plate of cookies and the family gathers around CNN to see what’s going on.  Just before the lunar event, they take lawn chairs and the cookies out to their front yard, along with binoculars and a telescope.   Neighbors are barbequeing and it’s a party atmosphere up and down the street.  Miranda’s brother, manning the binoculars, shouts that the asteroid is coming.  A hush falls over the neighborhood as everyone looks skyward and sees it streaking across the sky, smaller than the moon but bigger than anything else they’d ever seen in the sky.  There are cheers when it makes impact, but then the cheers stop and there are screams of “Oh my God!”  

From Miranda’s journal:

 “But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore.  It was tilted and wrong and a three quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, large like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising.  It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible.  You could see details on the craters even without the binoculars that before I’d seen with Matt’s telescope.” 

The moon, pushed off its axis and out of its orbit, wreaks havoc on the earth’s environment.  Tsunamis destroy the eastern seaboard, killing millions.  Terrifying thunderstorms knock out power sporadically.  It’s hard to get news of what’s going on.  Miranda goes to school the next day but it’s anything but typical.  Her mom comes to get her and they race to the grocery store with hundreds of dollars in cash, buying everything in sight that they might possibly need in the foreseeable future, taking purchases to the car then returning for more.  The panic is palpable. 

As the world changes, Miranda and her family learn to survive with few resources, no heat or electricity, and a dwindling food supply.  There are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in other areas of the country and around the world, with ash traveling for miles and blocking the sun, causing temperatures to plummet and creating an Arctic winter.  We hear about many of these things as information from Miranda’s mom after she listens to the radio, etc., making it a lot less terrifying to read then it would be if Miranda were seeing things firsthand.  

Miranda is forced to grow up quickly.  She and her family are strong in the face of enormous challenges.  They are determined to survive in a world that has become unrecognizable.  They do what needs to be done to take care of themselves and each other.  Miranda amazes herself at what she is able and willing to do for the people she loves. 

Life As We Knew It reminded me of The Road in a number of ways.  There is a major, life changing, worldwide event (in The Road, we never learn what that is- in this book, we do).  The world is gray and covered in ash.  But unlike The Road,  Life As We Knew It offers hope- the world will never be the same, but perhaps they can learn to live in it.  It allows us to really know the people involved (in The Road, the main characters are referred to as ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’).  We really feel their emotions.  It was so realistic, which made it all the more frightening.  The moon event, while highly unlikely, is something we can all imagine happening. 

I was totally engrossed in this book.  Among many other things, it made me think about how woefully unprepared we are for any sort of major emergency.  It made me think about our resources and the food we eat (and waste).   It caused me to wonder about the nature of our environment, the delicate balance we take for granted every single day.  How one thing, one event, can change our lives permanently.   And how through love and determination we can survive just about anything. 

This is an amazing YA book that I would recommend for ages 13 and up.  Kids any younger than that might be frightened by it. 

I LOVED Life As We Knew It and HIGHLY recommend it!!  It would be great for book clubs, especially mother/daughter book clubs (if the kids are old enough).  Please let me know if you read it and I will link your review here.