DEAD END GENE POOL Discussion with author Wendy Burden!

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Wendy Burden, author of DEAD END GENE POOL, to our Spring Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions for one hour beginning at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Wendy.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Wendy and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far:

Here’s a comment from Lisa at Lit and Life, followed by a question from me:

One thing I found really interesting was how Wendy’s grandmother just threw money away in some ways (like buying prescription eyeglasses and then just tucking them away in a drawer) but was so tight with money in other ways (like stiffing the cabbies).    Any idea why she was that way?

From Nancy at Bookfoolery and Babble:

I’m curious who is on the cover of the book. Wendy’s mother or grandmother?

From Gaby at Starting Fresh:

Wendy comes across as so witty, intelligent, and spirited in the book.  Is she willing to tell us more about her life after the book ended?  We know that she’s owned and been a chef at Chez Wendy, but who did she marry?  Why did she decide to live in Oregon?  How is she raising her children?  How does she fill her days (aside from writing and touring)?

So many of us dream of money to become financially independent, have the mortgages paid off, take any job that we want, etc.  How has she chosen to shape her life and what makes her happy?  What would a perfect day for her be like?

Who does she like to read?  What is she reading now?

From Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza:

Is your irreverant, and often hilarious sense of humour, a way of covering up any pain you experienced in your unconventional upbringing?

From reader Vance Lancaster:

1. How much wealth was left when your grandparents died and how was it distributed? Did the fact that your brother was a co-executor of the estate affect the distribution or cause any problems?

2. What happened to each of the homes owned by your grandparents? Are they still standing? If so, do you know who owns them now and have you ever re-visited them?

3. I assume that most of your grandparent’s art collection went to MOMA. Was any great art left to you or your brothers or to your uncle? If so can you tell us who got what?

4. What is your most cherished item left to you by your grandparents? Is there anything that you coveted that went to someone else?

5. I understand that one of your uncles is alive and living in CT. Are you in contact with him? Can you describe his life today? Do you know if he has read the book and, if so, what was his reaction?

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

6. At the end of the book, you discover that Charles Thomas, your mom’s lover, contrary to what your mother told you is still alive. Have you made any attempt to contact him or has he reached out to you since the book was published? Have others that knew your mother or grandparents reacted strongly to the book?

7. Are your mother’s ex-husbands alive and are you in contact with them?

8. I understand that you have two daughters. Are their lives, in any way, similar to yours with your siblings. Do you recognize any of the traits of your relatives in them?

Edited to add:

From Ash at English Major Junkfood:

Did you write these as individual essays and then pull them together for a book, or did you know when you were writing that you wanted this to be a cohesive memoir?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Wendy and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!


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

Summer Reading Series: August Selection

coverMari and I are super excited at the response we’ve received for our Summer Reading Series!  If you missed it, you can read more about it HERE.  The books for June and July have been snapped up already, but you still have a chance to get your hands on the book for August, Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens!  A Skype call with the author is in the works for the discussion too.  You won’t want to miss it- Shawn’s really funny and smart and it’s bound to be a great time!

Shawn has generously donated 20 copies for our August 18th discussion, so if you are interested in Two Years, No Rain and can come back to Books on the Brain to talk about it in August, drop me an email with your address and “Two Years, No Rain” in the subject line.  We’ll get it in the mail right away.  

Shawn Klomparens will be on tour with TLC Book Tours in July and August.  Read more about that HERE. And if you are a Twitter-er, be sure to follow him.. he’s on a constant search for the Tamale Lady, which I don’t fully understand, but it’s pretty funny.

Two Years, No Rain will be released in June.  In case you miss out on the freebies and want to read with us, you can pre-order it now on

Here’s a synopsis of the book:

An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming… 

Hope you will read with us!

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!

Giveaway and Q & A: Immortal by Traci Slatton

Jennifer at The Literate Housewife is starting an online book club in September, and the first reading selection is Immortal by Traci Slatton!  I have 2 copies of Immortal to give away (I received 3, but selfishly, I’m keeping one!).  I ask that you only enter the contest if you’re interested in participating in Jennifer’s online book club.  All you need to do is leave a comment here by Friday, August 15th.  

**edited to add:  If you sign up for Jennifer’s book club, she’ll send you a fancy handmade bookmark.  She rocks!

The publisher sent me a Q & A with the author to use along with the giveaway, so here goes:

About the Book

Q&A for Traci Slatton
Author of Immortal

Tell us about your book, Immortal.

Immortal is a rags-to-riches-to-burnt-at-the-stake story. It’s a journey of spirit and an education of the heart. That said, it’s the story of a mysteriously gifted street urchin who undergoes the darkest moments possible and still goes on to find true love, deep friendship, hope, faith, and ultimately the deepest secrets of his origins.

Why did you write this book?

I love to tell stories! I was working on a non-fiction book about science and spirituality. (Piercing Time & Space, ARE Press, Virginia Beach, VA: 2005.) It was fascinating research, but I found myself longing to write fiction, to create characters and wrap myself around adventure, conflict, and obstacle. Story lust drove me.

The book takes place in Florence during the Renaissance: What inspired you to choose this setting?

This goes back to the previous question. Renaissance Florence is a character in this novel–it’s inextricably interwoven into the story. It’s why I wrote THIS book. More explicitly, I am married to Sabin Howard, who is one of the foremost classical figurative sculptors working today. ( Think Michelangelo’s work: that’s what my husband’s work resembles. Moreover, Sabin is half-Italian; his mother is from Torino and he is completely fluent in the language. So, for him, Renaissance Italy is alive and well. It’s a part of our everyday discourse. I was always interested in Renaissance art but it’s become a passion because of living with Sabin.

Also, Florence between 1300 and 1500 was an intense and extraordinary place, almost unequalled in history. Art, philosophy, learning, commerce, banking, and government were all burgeoning and concentrated into this small city, making it the center of Europe. Out of Florence radiated invention and innovation. One of the popes called it “The fifth element of the universe.” Only Paris between the two world wars comes close to the fervor of creativity that was taking place in Florence during the Renaissance. It’s a powerful time to write about.

How did you come up with a protagonist like Luca?

I wanted a character who would meet and make an impression on my two great Renaissance heroes: Giotto and Leonardo. This character had to be the kind of man who could inspire love, lust, envy, admiration, and riveting hatred in other people. And he was going to face terrible challenges, so he had to have personal resources to help him through. And his suffering would make him humble and give him a hunger to love and be loved.

Lucas plays many different roles – orphan, companion, healer – throughout the story, which do you personally relate best to?

Perhaps to the healer and the companion. I was a hands-on or spiritual healer for many years, and Luca gets to do what I always longed to do: lay hands on and cure someone completely, even bring a dying man back to life.

I have four daughters, and in the best moments of parenting, there is a companionable aspect to it. There are moments when all the little stuff falls away, all the blah-blah-blah about messy bedrooms and parties and grades and allowances and health concerns, and my children and I are friends, laughing together. Even my little one, who is 3, sometimes sits and chats with me as if we were two good buddies. I treasure those moments.

Luca meets da Vinci, Botticelli…“immortals” whose impact on society is still apparent. Can you talk to us about some of those figures, and the way they still shape modern society?

They have left a legacy of art and ideas which is the foundation of western civilization. Petrarch, who is a friend of Luca’s in Immortal, articulated the notion of the individual self (see Ascent of Mount Ventoux) on which we built the United States: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” This is a radical change from the earlier systems of society, and it came out of the Renaissance. The great Cosimo de Medici who led Florence from 1434 to 1464 established the Platonic Academy, which formulated the ideals of humanism which are now axiomatic in our worldview. Even our pop philosophy, eg The Secret, has its roots in Pico della Mirandella’s Oration on the Dignity of Man: “O highest and most admirable felicity of man to whom it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills!”

The great artists like Leonardo and Botticelli left us ideals of beauty that are still unparalleled. Leonardo left behind a prototype of a polymath genius as the highest aspiration.

Part of what makes Luca’s story so beautiful is the time period it is set in and the people he encounters. Do you think it would have had the same significance had it been placed at another time, such as the present?

Renaissance Florence is such an integral part of the story that it’s hard to say. I am, however, considering bringing Luca back in a future book that is set in Paris between the two world wars. Readers who love Luca can stay tuned…

Luca witnesses many important historical events throughout his life. What kind of research did you conduct for these?

I read a million books (okay, maybe a hundred), searched on-line, spoke with friends and relatives with extensive historical knowledge (my husband is a Renaissance sculptor and my father-in-law is a history teacher with a PhD), and I corresponded with, or spoke to, a couple of professors. I also like the History channel for shows on history! And we visited Italy several times, spending much time in the Medici chapel in Florence and the Pinacoteca Vaticano in Rome.

No one but me is to blame for inaccuracies, distortions, and out right fallacies.

What are your future writing plans in writing?

I am working on the sequel to Immortal right now.

Any advice you could give to beginning novelists out there?

Persist! And know who to trust with your work.

Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

It took me awhile to write this review, because I needed some time to digest the material and consider it’s aftertaste before talking about it.

At first bite, I smiled. Witty, charming, pleasantly humorous, this was a book I hoped to savor. In Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir by Ruth Reichl, we discover the truth about fancy shmancy eateries as the former restaurant critic for the New York Times goes undercover at 21, Le Cirque, The Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and more.

Ruth comes up with the idea to dine in disguise shortly after accepting the job at the Times. During a flight from LA to NY, she meets a woman who recognizes her and tells her that her picture is in every kitchen of every fine restaurant in Manhattan. Alarmed at the amount of information this woman knows about her, Ruth comes to the realization that if she is going to be able to judge these establishments fairly, they can’t know she’s there. Being well known can get you the best of everything-excellent service, the very best table, choice cuts of meat, the biggest berries in your dessert. Ruth was much more interested in the dining experience of the average person, the masses who would likely be reading her reviews.

With the help of an old friend of her mother’s, who happens to be an acting coach, Ruth takes on various personas ranging from flamboyant, raven haired Brenda, to petty, snippy Emily. Her elaborate disguises include wigs, theater makeup, thrift shop costumes, and alterations in her voice and personality. Each persona she takes on gets different treatment in the elite restaurants she reviews. This truly becomes restaurant as theater, but what else would you expect in New York?

The constant stream of lavish meals, continuous consumption, and ever more cantankerous personas grew tiresome for me to read about. Does every fine restaurant in New York serve a signature version of foie gras and crème brulee? It would seem so. It all becomes a bit tiresome for Ruth as well, who after 6 years decides to make a career change (with a nudge from a dying friend and from her son, Nicky, who just wants his mom to eat dinner at home now and then).

The end of each chapter has tasty-sounding menus that I am anxious to try. I found Garlic and Sapphires entertaining, but ultimately, it left me feeling hungry rather than satisfied.

Garlic and Sapphires

Ruth Reichl is the current editor of Gourmet magazine.

Garlic and Sapphires was the November selection at Planet Books.

For other reviews of Garlic and Sapphires, visit Beastmomma and Care