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.

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Guest Review: Somebody Else’s Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage

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Following is a review of Somebody Else’s Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage, reviewed by Florinda of the fabulous blog, 3R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness. Thanks, Florinda, for sharing your thoughts on this book with our readers!

 TLC Book Tour Book Talk: “Somebody Else’s Daughter,” by Elizabeth Brundage

 Somebody Else’s Daughter

Elizabeth Brundage

Viking, 2008 (Hardcover) (ISBN 0670019003 / 9780670019007)

Fiction, 352 pages

 

First Sentence: We left San Francisco that morning even though your mother was sick. (Read an excerpt from the book’s prologue.) 

Book Description (summary): In the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts a group of families is connected through the prestigious Pioneer prep school. Into this community enters Nate Gallagher, a teacher and struggling writer haunted by the daughter he gave up for adoption years ago. The girl, Willa—now a teenager and one of Nate’s students—lives with her adoptive parents, Joe and Candace, who have nurtured her with their affection and prosperity. When Willa wins a community service internship and begins working at a local women’s shelter, her friendship with Petra, a troubled young prostitute, raises questions about her own biological past. Despite her parents’ love and care, Willa can’t shake her feelings of confusion and abandonment, and Joe and Candace are too preoccupied with their crumbling marriage to realize her unhappiness. 

Somebody Else’s Daughter is filled with doppelgangers. Pairs of characters mirror each other forcing each one to confront the darker side of his or her psyche and question their own identity. Nate and Joe (Willa’s biological and adoptive fathers) both fall in love with Claire, a feminist artist who recently returned to the area. Pioneer’s headmaster Jack Heath and Joe are both fathers of teenage girls, each with his own secrets to keep. Willa and Petra (Pearl) are both orphaned girls, yet one has been given a caring home and the other turns to prostitution. 

The characters become more entwined as first scandal and then tragedy strikes. As the story draws to its gripping conclusion, each character must make a decision that defines who they are. Somebody Else’s Daughter is a suspenseful tale and a tightly woven psychological drama that examines, as Joe Golding observes, how “in a matter of seconds, based on the fickle inclinations of fate, your life could change forever.” 

Comments:  I wish I hadn’t been reading this book in the midst of my recent packing-and-moving adventure; I would have liked to be able to read it in a few sessions rather than in small chunks over several weeks. Somebody Else’s Daughter is an engrossing book, but there are quite a few characters and subplots, and having to take so many breaks while reading it threw off my momentum and sometimes made it difficult to re-orient myself to the story. I think if you have the time, this would be a pretty fast read. 

Elizabeth Brundage’s second novel covers a relatively short chronology – less than a year – but a lot of psychological and relationship territory in this story of the community around a small prep school in the Berkshires. She introduces a lot of characters, and it takes a while to see how their stories will intersect, but have faith that eventually they will. 

At first glance, the “somebody else’s daughter” of the title seems to be Willa Golding, who came to her parents, Joe and Candace, via a private adoption as a baby. Her birth parents were drug addicts, and her natural mother died of AIDS on the day of the adoption. Willa’s biological father, Nate Gallagher, has cleaned up and become a writer and teacher; when a position at the Pioneer School, which she attends, opens up, he takes it as an opportunity to get to know the girl without revealing their relationship. 

However, “somebody else’s daughter” could be Candace, Willa’s adoptive mother, who was raised in foster homes herself. It could be Maggie Heath, who has always felt out of place with her husband Jack’s family, and who seems to share an eating disorder with her own daughter Ada. It could be Claire Squire, feminist artist and single mom, recently returned from Los Angeles and living in her father’s old house after his death. It could be Petra – also called Pearl (although I think I missed the point in the book where her name changed) – a young, drug-addicted prostitute who centralizes several of the novel’s story arcs. I like the fact that the title could refer to any or all of the characters. 

I think Brundage balances character and plot development pretty well overall in this novel, and nearly every element she introduces does end up connecting to the larger story at some point. As a reader, I usually do have confidence that authors will tie things together eventually, and I appreciate having that rewarded. I thought that nearly all of the major characters had complexity and depth, and given the number of characters and storylines that Brundage is juggling here, that appeals to me. 

There were some elements of the writing that distracted me from the story at times – minor things that seem like they could have been fixed with more (careful? thoughtful? anal-retentive?) editing – but they weren’t a serious impediment to my reading, since there was plenty of story to keep me interested. Brundage does use the “f-word” quite a bit, but in a character-appropriate manner. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that she has included some disturbing scenes that may seem gratuitous at first, but really are relevant to the story, including several graphic descriptions of pornography and a scene at a dogfight (which I found more unsettling than the porn). 

Book Club Discussion Guide questions for Somebody Else’s Daughter 

This was my first time reading any of Elizabeth Brundage’s fiction, but I think I will be checking out her first novel, The Doctor’s Wife. She has a way with character and story, and I thank TLC Book Tours for introducing me to her! 

Rating: 3.75/5

 

** Buy Somebody Else’s Daughter online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, IndieBound.org, or BooksAMillion.com 

 

** Other stops on the TLC Book Tour for Somebody Else’s Daugher:

 

Monday, November 3rd: It’s All Fun & Games

Wednesday, November 5th: S. Krishna’s Books

Friday, November 7th: Mabel’s House

Wednesday, November 12th: Devourer of Books

Thursday, November 13th: All Thumbs Reviews

Friday, November 14th: Welcome to My Brain

Monday, November 17th: 1 More Chapter

Wednesday, November 19th: My New Reality

Friday, November 21st: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Tuesday, November 25th: The Friendly Book Nook

Tuesday, December 2nd: Bookroom Reviews

Thursday, December 4th: Pieces of Me