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A Note from Susan Lewis

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

No Place to Hide_LewisSusan Lewis, author of the novel, No Place to Hide–an intimate and deeply moving story of one woman’s desperate attempt to escape a troubled past–and the haunting mystery she’s forced to confront–has written a letter to readers about the joys of writing the book. Read on…

Dear Reader,

The question I’ve been asked most frequently since I began the research for this book, and throughout the writing of it, is, “How on earth did you, a Brit, come to choose Culver, Indiana, for a setting?”

It’s a good question, given that my experience of living in the States has, to date, all been in Los Angeles, and the US cities I’ve visited are all major centers in their
own ways.

However, I never seem to tire of reading about smaller towns and communities in the States, particularly those in the Midwest, when I get a real sense of who and what America is really all about. As I’m British, it would be hard for me to do full justice to that without going to live in a small town for a considerable period of time, so in this instance I enlisted the help of a dear friend in LA, Chip Mitchell, to set me on the right road.

It took no time at all, for when I asked Chip if he could recommend a small town in the Midwest to set my story, he immediately put me in touch with his aunt and uncle, Dorry and Channing Mitzell, who have a long history with the Culver Academies and continue to live in Culver. I had no idea at that time what an absolute jewel of a place he was connecting me with, how unusual and inspirational it would turn out to be, or how enthusiastically his family and their many friends in Culver were going to embrace the story. Actually, I shouldn’t really have been so surprised, as I’ve met many Americans during my travels around the world, and so have much experience of just how engaged and even gallant they can be. (I’ve been rescued from many a tight corner by an American, from Morocco to Manila, but that’s for another time!)

So I traveled to Culver, hoping and praying that I was doing the right thing. After all, I’m not American, and the way of life in the Midwest was surely going to be very different from anything I’d experienced in the States to date. I needed to have no fear. Within minutes of arriving I found myself standing on a secluded beach at the top end of town, gazing out at the mesmerizing waters of Lake Maxincuckee toward the glittering, multimillion–dollar homes on the far shore. (If you’ve already read the book, you will know that it is from this spot that I chose to begin the story). It was impossible not to be moved by such a peaceful and yet intriguingly different setting from the one I’d envisaged in my mind’s eye. There was already something about this place that was getting to me.

Within a very short time I found myself, thanks to the Mitzells, actually meeting characters I’d already devised in my head: Susie Mahler, owner of Café Max and real estate agent; Jeff Kenney, editor of the Culver Citizen; Wayne Bean, chief of police; Marcia Adams, writer and longtime resident of Culver; and Sallie Jo Tardy Mitzell, who so generously took time from her busy schedule in Indianapolis to cruise us around the lake in her boat and introduce us to her family’s dreamy cottage on the South Shore.

Among the many experiences and enlightening conversations I enjoyed during my stay, there are two that stand out as firsts for me: giving a talk to a creative
writing group from the Culver Girls Academy, wonderful students, an absolute privilege to spend time with. And the invitation to be part of an exercise that would never happen in Britain, and one can only feel sad that it does in the United States: shooter training at the local elementary and high schools. That really was a surreal experience.

Another surreal but totally divine experience was Dorry Channing’s coffee cake, so good that it has a mention in the book, and I can only hope she bakes again the next time I’m in Culver.

Though many of my earlier books have whole chapters set in various parts of the States, this is the first time I’ve located so much of a book in a place I didn’t know before. I’d love to write more set in America, so I’m very interested to know how well, or not, you feel I have portrayed this small town and the mainly fictional people I’ve used to bring it to life.

A very warm thank-you for reading this one, and  I hope it’s left you interested enough to explore some more of my books.

-Susan

No Place to Hide by Susan Lewis Discussion Questions

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

No Place to Hide_LewisFleeing her native England with her three-year-old daughter, Justine Cantrell gives herself a new name and a new life in America. In a quiet midwestern town on the shores of glittering Lake Maxinkuckee, Justine hopes to recapture the fleeting days of happiness in the long-ago summers she spent with her grandmother. And though her memories of that time are scant, Justine knows they must have shared a special bond. After all, the power of her grandmother’s love has pulled her back to this haven in search of a new beginning.
But fate has other plans. The more Justine gets to know the small town and its people, the more she realizes that her grandmother had her own devastating secrets—secrets that will soon threaten Justine just as surely as her own dark memories.

If you’ve been reading with your book club or on your own, let these questions help you get thinking about the novel…

1. The subject of violence among children is central to the plot of this novel. Discuss violence in schools. What causes it? How can it be stopped?

2. How well do you feel Susan Lewis captured life in America? How does her experience living in Britain color her view of American life? Does her “outsider” status afford her unique insight, or are there elements of midwestern life that must be lived to be understood?

3. What do you think of Justine’s decision to leave England? Would you have done the same in her position?

4. Who surprised you most in this novel? Why?

5. Justine’s memories of England and of summers spent with her grandmother in Indiana are driving forces in this novel. Describe the function of memory and the past. How do Justine’s memories influence her decisions?

6. Both Justine and Grandma May kept carefully guarded secrets. Compare and contrast their secrets and their motivations for hiding them. In what ways are Justine and her grandmother similar? How are they different? Are there any parallels between their experiences?

7. Discuss Justine and Matt’s relationship. What were its primary strengths? Weaknesses?

8. Discuss the themes of prejudice and bullying among schoolchildren that come into play in this novel. What, if anything, could have changed in order for Ben’s experience to be different?

9. How would you describe Justine as a mother? How is her relationship with Tallulah different from her relationship with Ben? How is it similar? Did Justine inherit any parenting styles from her own mother?

10. What is the community in Culver like? How do Justine’s friends in America differ from her friends in England? Are there any particular qualities they have in common?

11. The theme of escaping the past is prominent in this novel. Can we ever truly escape the past? Is it possible to have a fresh start, or do we always carry our emotional baggage with us?

Reader’s Guide: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
RHRC: What do you love most about writing?
MVP: While I fall absolutely in love with my characters, losing myself in their stories (these are often as much a surprise to me as to anyone), most of all I love the words: the way a beautiful sentence feels on your tongue, the delightful surprise of a startling and lovely simile or metaphor. I simply love words.
RHRC: What are some of your favorite books and authors?
MVP: Magical realism has always been my favourite genre. I like to think there’s more to reality than our five senses show us. My favorite author, above all others, is probably Alice Hoffman. I love the magic in her tales, along with the acute realism of the worlds she creates. Other favorite magical-­realism authors include: Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O’Neal. Other favorite authors, who don’t write specifically in that genre, include: Erica Bauermeister, Maggie O’Farrell, Ann Patchett, Tracy Chevalier, Carey Wallace, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, Neil Gaiman and Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve just finished The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields, which I found to be a beautiful book. I’m always on the look out for new authors, so if we share similar tastes and you have any recommendations, please get in touch!

9780804178983Meena Van Praag’s new novel The Dress Shop of Derams is a captivating story of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires. Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry,, and Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Read Random House Readers Circle’s exclusive conversation with Meena below!

Random House Reader’s Circle: What do you love most about writing?

Meena Van Praag: While I fall absolutely in love with my characters, losing myself in their stories (these are often as much a surprise to me as to anyone), most of all I love the words: the way a beautiful sentence feels on your tongue, the delightful surprise of a startling and lovely simile or metaphor. I simply love words.

RHRC: What are some of your favorite books and authors?

MVP: Magical realism has always been my favourite genre. I like to think there’s more to reality than our five senses show us. My favorite author, above all others, is probably Alice Hoffman. I love the magic in her tales, along with the acute realism of the worlds she creates. Other favorite magical-­realism authors include: Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O’Neal. Other favorite authors, who don’t write specifically in that genre, include: Erica Bauermeister, Maggie O’Farrell, Ann Patchett, Tracy Chevalier, Carey Wallace, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, Neil Gaiman and Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve just finished The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields, which I found to be a beautiful book. I’m always on the look out for new authors, so if we share similar tastes and you have any recommendations, please get in touch!

[Click to read more]

Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for The Dress Shop of Dreams

Friday, December 12th, 2014
1. Etta’s dresses give their wearers a magic push to go after their dreams. Have you ever had an item of clothing that especially inspired you to take action that you might not have otherwise? Or perhaps someone or something gave you a push to do something that you might not have initiated on your own?
2. Why do you think Etta’s magic doesn’t work on her?
3. Cora’s father tells her the chemical formula for love is “One proton of faith, three electrons of humility, a neutron of compassion and a bond of honesty.” Do you agree? Would you add anything to this equation?
4. Dylan’s letters bring comfort to many lonely fans of the Night Reader. Do you think that justifies his duplicity?
5. Another possible title for this book was The Night Reader, after Walt and his special secret. Does it change the story for you if you think of Walt as the main character? Which of the characters do you most identify with?
6. On page 142, Cora tells her grandmother that “all the great leaps are made when a scientist thinks of something she can’t yet prove, then dedicates her life to trying.” All of the characters in this book have to make leaps of faith to get something they want. What are some examples?
7. Do you think Etta made a mistake when she decided not to tell Sebastian about their daughter? Would you have made the same decision? Are secrets inherently wrong or sometimes justifiable?
8. Should Henry have fought for Francesca even when she told him she didn’t love him anymore? Do you think she was right to send him away?
9. At the start of the novel, Cora protects herself from pain by focusing on numbers and lab work. But all of the novel’s characters have ways of hiding from their feelings. What do you think these characters are afraid of? Do you ever notice yourself or others around you strategically avoiding difficult truths?
10. As he reads, Walt notices similarities between himself and the characters in his books: he identifies with Emma in Madame Bovary, Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Are there other great literary figures you would compare him to? What about Etta? Cora?
11. On page 37, Etta thinks: “It’s a great shame . . . that the heart cannot feel joy without also feeling pain, that it cannot know love without also knowing loss.” Do you agree that it’s true that we cannot love without also suffering?

9780804178983


Meena Van Praag’s The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires. Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry,, and Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Discuss this “bighearted, beautiful” novel with your book club this holiday season! (Susan Wiggs)

1. Etta’s dresses give their wearers a magic push to go after their dreams. Have you ever had an item of clothing that especially inspired you to take action that you might not have otherwise? Or perhaps someone or something gave you a push to do something that you might not have initiated on your own?

2. Why do you think Etta’s magic doesn’t work on her?

3. Cora’s father tells her the chemical formula for love is “One proton of faith, three electrons of humility, a neutron of compassion and a bond of honesty.” Do you agree? Would you add anything to this equation?

4. Dylan’s letters bring comfort to many lonely fans of the Night Reader. Do you think that justifies his duplicity?

5. Another possible title for this book was The Night Reader, after Walt and his special secret. Does it change the story for you if you think of Walt as the main character? Which of the characters do you most identify with?

6. On page 142, Cora tells her grandmother that “all the great leaps are made when a scientist thinks of something she can’t yet prove, then dedicates her life to trying.” All of the characters in this book have to make leaps of faith to get something they want. What are some examples?

7. Do you think Etta made a mistake when she decided not to tell Sebastian about their daughter? Would you have made the same decision? Are secrets inherently wrong or sometimes justifiable?

8. Should Henry have fought for Francesca even when she told him she didn’t love him anymore? Do you think she was right to send him away?

9. At the start of the novel, Cora protects herself from pain by focusing on numbers and lab work. But all of the novel’s characters have ways of hiding from their feelings. What do you think these characters are afraid of? Do you ever notice yourself or others around you strategically avoiding difficult truths?

10. As he reads, Walt notices similarities between himself and the characters in his books: he identifies with Emma in Madame Bovary, Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Are there other great literary figures you would compare him to? What about Etta? Cora?

11. On page 37, Etta thinks: “It’s a great shame . . . that the heart cannot feel joy without also feeling pain, that it cannot know love without also knowing loss.” Do you agree that it’s true that we cannot love without also suffering?

Thanksgiving Recipes: Laura McHugh’s Grandma’s Stuffing

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

This week, we’ve invited a few of our authors to share their favorite Thanksgiving recipes with you. Whether they’re family tradition or the product of a frantic internet search, we’re excited to hear and share with you what these writers have on their tables on this holiday season. Today, Laura McHugh, author of The Weight of Blood, shares her grandmother’s recipe for stuffing (my personal favorite part of Thanksgiving!).

My grandma passed away just after I graduated from college, and I’ve now lived half of my life without her. That doesn’t seem possible, as she is with me each day in a hundred small ways, andmchugh_grandma[1]especially in the kitchen: her dented measuring cup; the rolling pin with the broken handle.

Every Thanksgiving we make Grandma’s stuffing, and we do our best to get it right. She never wrote down her recipe, so we work from memory. It is a group effort. My sisters and I hover around the stove like a team of surgeons about to perform a risky operation. Our brothers stand back, requesting status updates and begging us not to screw up. We remind each other to be generous with the sage, to mix in the egg with bare hands. We fret over turkey drippings. We always think we won’t have enough bread and we always end up with too much.

When it comes out of the oven, I take a test bite, hoping that it will transport me back to my grandma’s tiny kitchen in Keokuk, Iowa, where she let us tear the bread and crack the eggs. When the stuffing turns out right, there is nothing better. We serve it with reverence, like communion wafers. We rejoice as though we have done something miraculous. We eat the scraps left on our children’s plates—they don’t quite grasp its importance. When it is right, it is more than stuffing; it is a certain kind of magic, like Grandma is still with us at the table.

Recipe: Grandma’s Stuffing

1 loaf of dried or toasted white bread

1 small onion, chopped

1 stalk of celery, chopped

2 eggs

Turkey drippings

Dried sage

Salt and peppermchugh_stuffing[1]

Tear the bread into pieces and place in a baking dish (kids love to help with this part!). Sprinkle a generous amount of sage over the bread. Cook onion and celery until tender. In a mixing bowl,combine cooked onion and celery with two beaten eggs, more sage, and a little salt and pepper. Add this to the bread and mix with your hands. Pour turkey drippings over the stuffing, adding enough to make the bread moist, but not soggy. Feel free to sprinkle on some more sage, because Grandma was right, you can never have too much. Bake approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Request a live chat with bestselling author Lisa See for you and your book club!

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Lisa See credit  Patricia WilliamsChina-Dolls
In her beloved bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the strong bonds between women, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in the New York Times bestselling book CHINA DOLLS, which is about Asian-American nightclub performers of the 1930s and 1940s, she returns to these timeless themes. The San Francisco Chronicle praised the novel, stating,“China Dolls plunges us into a fascinating history and offers an accessible meditation on themes that are still urgent in our contemporary world. The women’s story explores burning questions about the possibilities of friendship, the profound effects of betrayal, the horrors of prejudice and the nature of ambition—especially female ambition. . . . These Asian artists were true pioneers, breaking ground, chasing vast dreams, subverting stereotypes simply by appearing onstage against the odds. Here, in CHINA DOLLS, they have found another stage of sorts, another place to rightfully shine.” The Washington Post said,“This emotional, informative and brilliant page-turner resonates with resilience and humanity,” while O Magazine called CHINA DOLLS “a spellbinding portrait of a time burning with opportunity and mystery.”

Lisa’s novels make excellent book club discussions, and now you can request Lisa to join your club meeting with a live chat!

Just fill out the form below with your request. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

To learn more about Lisa See and her books, visit LisaSee.com
Find Lisa on Facebook and Twitter.

Enter for your chance to win a copy of THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Joyce_Harold Fry “When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.”—Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

Visit Rachel Joyce’s Website

Enter to win a copy of Diana Gabaldon’s THE SCOTTISH PRISONER

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

A captivating return to the world Diana Gabaldon created in her Outlander and Lord John series, The Scottish Prisoner is a masterpiece of epic history, wicked deceit, and scores that can only be settled in blood.

London, 1760. For Jamie Fraser, paroled prisoner-of-war, life is coming apart at the seams. In the remote Lake District, where he’s close enough to the son he cannot claim as his own, Jamie’s quiet existence is interrupted first by dreams of his lost wife, then by the appearance of an erstwhile comrade still fighting to rally the Irish. But Jamie has sworn off politics, fighting, and war. Until Lord John Grey shows up with a summons that will take him away from everything he loves—again. Lord John is in possession of explosive documents that expose a damning case of corruption against a British officer. But they also hint at a more insidious danger. Soon Lord John and Jamie are unwilling companions on the road to Ireland, a country whose dark castles hold dreadful secrets, and whose bogs hide the bones of the dead.
Gabaldon_Scottish Prisoner

A conversation between Anna Quindlen and Diane Keaton

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Keaton_Then AgainAnna Quindlen: The first thing I have to ask you about is the structure of the book, because it’s so much more like the way we think about things, as opposed to the linear way in which books like this are usually constructed. I kept wondering whether you pictured it that way from the beginning or if that’s what developed as you were writing.

Diane Keaton: It kind of goes back to the idea of collage. I had mountains of correspondence, my mother’s endless journals, my father’s few letters, scrapbooks, photo albums, and my own half-baked journals. I didn’t really have an approach. I just randomly started reading one of Mother’s journals. After I finished it, I found one of my own I had written the same year. So I read that too. Then I started editing Mom down, then me, and after that I began to write in response to both of us. I began to compare and contrast our lives. It helped. The book became a kind of editorial process
I felt comfortable with. Of course, the result was a mess, but I sent it to my editor, David Ebershoff, anyway. He would encourage me and always say, “Diane, remember, writing is rewriting.” I took his advice. Rewriting was like memorizing a script; I just kept going over it, and over it and over it again. It was like the old Repetition Game I learned when I was studying acting with Sandy Meisner—you keep repeating until something new comes. Part of the Repetition Game requires spontaneous response to your partner’s behavior. It was easy to respond to my mother. She was the most important person in my life.

AQ: Were you astonished when you realized how much writing your mother had done on her own without any thought of publication or pay?

DK: I think about it all the time. I think, “What would it be like if I had read the journals before she was gone, before I started to write Then Again?” I miss her. Now that I know so much more about her intimate experiences and longings, it breaks my heart. (more…)

Win ELIZABETH THE QUEEN in time for Mother’s Day

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Smith_Elizabeth the QueenStill looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift?  Haven’t had time to go shopping?  Well, look no more because Random House Reader’s Circle brings you a late-breaking giveaway with the chance to win a copy of ELIZABETH THE QUEEN by Sally Bedell Smith just in time for May 13th.

Copies of the book will be sent overnight to your address so you will receive them with enough time left to put a bow on it.  Enter here for your chance to win.

About the book: In this magisterial new biography, New York Times bestselling author Sally Bedell Smith brings to life one of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic women: Queen Elizabeth II.

From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

In ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet the thirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad, and the constant scrutiny of the press—as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends.

Compulsively readable and scrupulously researched, ELIZABETH THE QUEEN is a close-up view of a woman we’ve known only from a distance, illuminating the lively personality, sense of humor, and canny intelligence with which she meets the most demanding work and family obligations. It is also a fascinating window into life at the center of the last great monarchy.

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