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Posts Tagged ‘book club’

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?

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.

Reader’s Guide: SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Grisham_Sycamore Row John Grisham takes you back to where it all began. One of the most popular novels of our time, A Time to Kill established John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller. Now we return to Ford County as Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tensionin Sycamore Row.

Questions for Discussion

1. How is the novel shaped by the place in which it’s set? How would the story be different if it were set elsewhere? In a big city? In the North?

2. How is the novel shaped by the era in which it’s set? How would the story be different if it occurred today? How would the existence of cell phones and the Internet change this story?

3. If Seth is of sound mind and not unduly influenced by anyone, why do you think he attempts to right his family’s wrongs in this manner—through a posthumous letter and a holographic will— knowing that it will provoke such intense conflict? Are his actions considerate of Lettie? Are they unfair to his family? Do they put Jake in an unnecessarily difficult position? In the same situation, what would you have done?

4. Do you think the verdict—all five parts of it—was correct? Do you think Judge Atlee’s modification of the verdict was fair?

5. Do you think Judge Atlee was a good judge? In the instances where he allowed legally questionable evidence to be presented, did he make the right choices?

6. On page 92, Lucien and Jake debate the differences between the Carl Lee Hailey trial and the upcoming Hubbard trial. Jake tells Lucien, “That was all about race. This is all about money.” Lucien replies, “Everything is about race in Mississippi, Jake, don’t ever forget that.” Who do you think is right? Are they both right?

7. How does the theme of forgiveness shape this novel?

8. Public opinion can play a significant role in influencing juries and, therefore, verdicts—but public opinion isn’t necessarily shaped by objective facts. How did gossip, exaggerations, rumors, and out- right lies (both printed and spoken) shape the trial outcome?

9. What role did memory play in the legal proceedings? For Lettie? For Ancil? For the jury?

10. What did you learn about the legal process in reading this novel? Did it change your perception of lawyers or America’s judicial system?

11. Who in this novel exhibits selflessness? Who exhibits selfishness? Are there characters who exhibit both? Who is the hero of this novel?

12. How responsible are we for the actions of our ancestors?

Book clubbers! Be sure to stay in touch with John Grisham on his Facebook page. You can also learn more about his events and upcoming news on his website!

Reader’s Guide: A WEDDING IN PROVENCE by Ellen Sussman

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Sussman_Wedding in Provence“Utterly charming and wildly romantic.”—Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

…And that’s just one bit of praise about this summer’s romantic feast for the senses. A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman

When Olivia and Brody drive up to their friend’s idyllic inn—nestled in a valley in the Mediterranean town of Cassis—they know they’ve chosen the perfect spot for their wedding. The ceremony will be held in the lush garden, and the reception will be a small party of only their closest family and friends. But when Olivia and Brody’s guests check in, their peaceful wedding weekend is quickly thrown off balance.

If this is on your reading list, then we hope you’ll check out these questions and topics for discussion from your friends at Random House Reader’s Circle. Happy Reading!

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. A Wedding in Provence starts by introducing a happy couple on the way to their idyllic wedding. How did this affect your expectations for the book? Were you nervous about how events would unravel?

2. Nell is clearly a loose cannon. What were your initial thoughts when she decided to bring Gavin to the wedding? Did you think he was dangerous, or just a fun-loving, spontaneous stranger?

3. Were you surprised when Carly took off with Gavin? Why or why not?

4. In many ways Carly is Nell’s opposite, but the two sisters end up attracted to the same man, however briefly. Is it possible that they aren’t actually as different as they seem? Do you think they share any other qualities?

5. At the beginning of Chapter Sixteen Olivia and Emily are discussing Nell’s vulnerability. Was Emily’s advice to Olivia helpful? How would you have suggested Olivia manage her daughters’ differences?

6. After learning that Sebastien cheated on Emily, Olivia is clearly rattled. She says “We’re brave old fools…. We still choose love when we know everything that can happen,” (pg.19). Do you think a marriage can survive infidelity?

7. What did you think of Sam leaving Fanny after fifty-five years of marriage and refusing to come to Brody’s wedding? Were you surprised when you found out why?

8. Throughout the novel Olivia and Brody are faced with numerous obstacles that threaten to ruin their low-key wedding weekend. From Nell’s surprise guest, to Carly’s disappearance, to Sebastien’s infidelity, which do you think caused the biggest stir? Why?

9. Of all the characters in the novel, which one did you most sympathize with?

10. Even though Olivia’s big day is the backbone of the plot, the narrative rotates between her perspective and each of her daughters’. Was there ever a time when you felt drawn to one of the three points of view more than the others? If so, when and why?

11. As Olivia and Brody get ready to commit to marriage, they witness their friends and family struggling with relationships. Is their love tested by these struggles? Do you think it’s hard to say yes to love when we know everything that might go wrong in a marriage?

12. Of all the themes present in this novel – love, loss, starting fresh – which resonated with you the most? Why?

Stay connected with Ellen on Facebook and Twitter!

Reading Guide: MOTHER DAUGHTER ME by Katie Hafner

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Hafner_Mother Daughter Me Last week, Katie Hafner’s Mother Daughter Me went on sale in trade paperback. We are excited to share these questions and topics for discussion with you below.

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. Do you find Hafner’s mother to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Do you think the author herself is a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

2. Hafner often finds herself in the middle of arguments between her mother and her daughter. Do you think it was possible for her to effectively mediate, while also working out her own difficulties with her mother?

3. Money plays a significant role in the book. Discuss why money can be such a flashpoint for families. Why do you think it was a point of contention in Mother Daughter Me?

4. Objects, such as the piano, also held great emotional significance throughout. Did the piano and other gifts carry different meanings for Hafner and her mother? How did their different understandings of the symbolism of those tangible objects lead to conflict?

5. Hafner is a longtime journalist who turned to memoir writing. How do you see her skills as a journalist employed in the writing of Mother Daughter Me?

6. Memory—and the presentation of memories—can be tricky when writing memoirs. Many of Hafner’s childhood memories emerge during sessions with the therapist Lia. Others surface when she finds letters and other documents from the past. How do you think Hafner handles the reliability of her own memo- ries, especially from her early childhood? How do you think she handles the issue of memory when her recollections differ from her mother’s?

7. In its piece on Mother Daughter Me, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of children of parents who drink, “While their parents black out and forget, they remember, and their memories, their stories, matter. More than assigning blame, this is Hafner’s point—and her memoir is a brave manifestation of it.” Do you agree with the writer? Do you think Hafner steers clear of assigning blame? To what extent do you think it is necessary make a parent confront the details of a difficult past?

8. After Hafner’s husband, Matt, dies suddenly, Hafner tells the reader, she quickly does everything wrong. Instead of waiting to make any big changes, she acts hastily and, as she admits, inappropriately. What is your opinion of Hafner’s hasty decision to make large life changes? Are you sympathetic?

9. Bob, the man Hafner starts to date during the year chronicled in the book, is an anchor of sanity and stability throughout the book. How do you think Hafner was able to let another person into her life in during this year of such chaos and tumult? What role did you see Bob playing as he entered the family?

10. Hafner discusses the difficulty that subsequent generations often have in not repeating the mistakes of their parents, especially when it comes to inflicting trauma on one’s children. Do you think Hafner succeeds in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma that her own mother was unable to break?

11. Hafner discusses the long-term effects of divorce on children, citing Judith Wallerstein’s book The Legacy of Divorce. Why do you think she chooses to discuss divorce at such length, when alcohol might seem to be the bigger problem?

12. Hafner’s father comes off as a complex, much-loved, but muted character in the book. Why do you think Hafner chose to keep him in the background of the narrative?

13. Do you think Hafner has created a balanced view of herself and her mother? Was she even in a position to do so? Are there examples of why or why not?

14. Why do you think the author’s sister had a life that was so deeply troubled, while Hafner herself, despite coming from the same background, was able to make different, healthier choices earlier in life?

15. Despite being in many ways a typical, occasionally difficult teenager, Zoë also shows herself to be surprisingly adult and insightful at times. What role do you think she plays in the choices that Hafner makes once Zoë’s grandmother comes to live with them?

16. Hafner describes in detail her relationship with her daughter, and the fierce attachment between the two. What do you think drew them so close? Does their bond add to the challenges they faced that year?

17. The mother-daughter relationship is inherently complicated, which Hafner makes very clear in the book. What are your thoughts on what makes the mother-daughter bond so complex, and often so fraught?

18. Toward the end of the book, Hafner states that instead of feeling the need to act as the constant pleaser and appeaser, she can finally “have relationships with all of the people that I love without having to connect the dots between them.” Does this insight seem like a good life lesson? Is there a contradiction in loving two people while knowing they may never reconcile? How does Hafner confront this question?

Stay up to date with Katie on Facebook and Twitter

Reader’s Guide: PERFECT by Rachel Joyce

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Joyce_PerfectPerfect is one of the best book club picks for 2014.

This spellbinding novel from Rachel Joyce, the author who brought you The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, will resonate with readers of Mark Haddon, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving. Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.

Perfect is a poignant and powerful book, rich with empathy and charged with beautiful, atmospheric writing.”—Tana French, author of In the Woods and Broken Harbor

We have the book club questions to get your chat started. Trust us, you’ll have a lot to talk about with this one!

1. The attempt to achieve perfection is central to both Diana’s and Byron’s behavior. Has the novel changed your perception of what it may mean to be ‘perfect’?

2. Rachel Joyce portrays time as a slippery and unpredictable concept. Has this affected your attitude towards the ways in which we measure the paths of our lives?

3. Responsibility is a theme that plays a key part in the novel. Who do you believe holds the greatest responsibility for the accident?

4. Is Jim’s mental illness the inevitable result of the events of his childhood?

5. Diana says, ‘I’m beginning to think chaos is underrated.’ Do you agree?

6. Byron identifies the moment at which he no longer considers himself to be a child. How does the novel question traditional definitions of childhood and parenthood?

7. Rachel Joyce writes beautiful descriptions of Cranham Moor and the English landscape. What is the significance of the natural world in the novel?

8. What is the significance of class in the relationship between Beverley and Diana?

9. Several characters struggle with depression and obsessive-compulsive behavior in the novel. How effectively do you feel mental disorders are portrayed?

10. Diana believes that the course of her life is determined by destiny. What part does spiritual belief play in the novel, and do you agree that our actions cannot influence our own fates?

11. Seymour and Andrea Lowe express strong views about feminism. How does Rachel Joyce represent the role of women in the novel?

12. How does Rachel Joyce represent the different time periods of the novel? Are there echoes from 1972 in the present or is it a world and time that has disappeared without trace?

13. Diana is lonely despite having a family and friends; Jim experiences intense loneliness. What do you think makes people feel connected to each other, and what creates fulfilling relationships?

14. Byron and James Lowe are best friends as boys, and the employees at Mr Meade’s café form bonds of kinship. How does Rachel Joyce represent friendship, and what do you think it means to be a true friend?
Who is the most powerful character in the novel, and why?

15. Eileen and Jim are damaged, in different ways, by their pasts. To what extent do you feel their private pain is transformed through the act of sharing?

Connect with Rachel on Facebook!

Reader’s Guide: ANDREW’S BRAIN by E.L. Doctorow

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Doctorow_Andrew's BrainThis brilliant new novel by an American master, the author of Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate, and The March, takes us on a radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once in his life, has been the inadvertent agent of disaster. This book hits bookshelves today and we have discussion questions to kick off your book club discussion!

For more information visit the author’s website.

1. Near the beginning of the story, Andrew says that he is indirectly responsible for Briony’s death: “indirect—not directly causal.” How might he have reasoned that he was responsible for her death? Do you agree that Andrew ultimately has a hand in it, or not?

2. Andrew switches back and forth between telling the story in the first person and the third person, sometimes describing what happened to him, sometimes describing what happened to “Andrew.” Why might he do this switching back-and-forth? Did you notice any patterns in the moments at which Andrew switched from one form of narration to another?

3. In speaking to “Doc,” Andrew says, “Your field is the mind, mine is the brain.” What do you understand to be the difference between mind and brain, within the context of this book? Would the meaning of the title have changed for you, if it was called Andrew’s Mind instead of Andrew’s Brain?

4. Andrew says, “What else can we do as eaters of the fruit of knowledge but biologize ourselves?” Does the quest to “biologize ourselves” contain pitfalls or dangers? How might it relate to the tension, within the story, between the biology of the brain and the more intangible aspects of the mind?

5. Andrew describes the Wasatch mountains as ruling the town, as a “mountain bureaucracy” that negotiated the light and colonized the townspeople. Why might Andrew have decided to describe the mountains in such specific and unusual terms, as a “bureaucracy”? How might this connect with Andrew’s later experience with a different kind of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.?

6. When Andrew connects Briony to the brain graph machine, he says, “I saw things more intimately Briony’s than if I had seen her undressed.” What does he mean by this? What are the implications of this “cephalic-invasive” voyeurism for Andrew and Briony’s relationship?

7. Mark Twain is a recurring motif in the book. Why do you think Andrew is so drawn to Twain? Think of when Andrew refers to the “imperial outrages annotated by MT in the last years of his life.” Twain lived through a different imperialistic era in America (the late 1800s and early 1900s), but how might this resonate with “imperial outrages” in Andrew’s own lifetime?

8. Andrew describes the possibility of a human yearning for a group brain, a larger social mind: “Perhaps we long for something like the situation these other creatures have— the ants, the bees— where the thinking is outsourced.” He mentions that this kind of thinking “brings us to politics.” What does he mean by this? How might this relate, specifically, to his encounters with the White House later in the book? What are other instances, in the book and in real life, when humans are drawn to this kind of “group brain” phenomenon?

9. Briony seems to transform Andrew. He speaks of how “watching her lifted me into a comparable state of happiness.” How do you think Briony manages to rescue Andrew from his “cold clear emotionless pond of silence”? What is it about her that inspires such life in him?

10. Andrew also remarks about Briony that he finds “redemption” in “the loving attentions of this girl.” Then, at the very end of the book, he describes how Mark Twain found a different kind of redemption in the world, when his children “remember this tale and laugh with love for their father.” What is similar about their two kinds of redemption? What is different?

11. How does love transform Andrew? Is it a permanent transformation, or is it temporary? Andrew describes love as “the blunt concussion that renders us insensible to despair.” He also describes the happiness that stems from love as a feeling “possibly induced by endormorphin, the brain’s opiate.” Why do you think Andrew gravitates towards physical metaphors to describe the power of love?

12. By the end of the story, how much did you trust or believe in the literal truth of what Andrew was saying? Did your attitude towards his narrative reliability change at all, over the course of the novel?

Author Spotlight: Thanksgiving Recipe from Laura Andersen, author of THE BOLEYN DECEIT

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Andersen_The Boleyn DeceitFeeling stressed about making the perfect festive dessert for your holiday guests? Do you need something simple and delicious for those last minute people who decided to come to your home on Thanksgiving? Fear not! Laura Andersen, author of the recent Boleyn Deceit, shares both a special Thanksgiving memory and her favorite recipe with us today: Pumpkin Crunch Pie Cake.

It is an ideal dessert for any fall day, and, if you are anything like us, then you love pumpkin-flavored treats.

Thanksgiving Recipe and Memories

My favorite Thanksgiving food is Whatever Someone Else Cooks.

Do you respect me less now?

In fact, one of my favorite Thanksgiving dinners was served in a London restaurant at the end of a ten-day trip with my husband. Sure, I missed my children, but what was not to love about London and fish pie and steamed syrup sponge with warm custard? Not to mention no cooking or dishes. It’s the closest I’m ever likely to come to knowing what a Tudor feast might have been like for the nobility: all the work borne by others, all the pleasure mine alone. If it were up to me, I would spend every Thanksgiving Day in a London restaurant or visiting Hampton Court and its beautiful Tudor kitchens—or preferably both! Boleyn Deceit - Tower of London

All that said, there is one recipe I look forward to making multiple times every autumn. This year, I actually made it on September 1st, reasoning that autumn was near enough upon us as made no difference. Being me, it’s a simple recipe. If you can’t go to England this Thanksgiving, this is a tasty second-best.

Pumpkin Crunch Pie Cake

1 (29 oz) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 yellow cake mix
1 cube butter

Mix all ingredients except cake mix and butter. Pour into greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle cake mix over pumpkin mixture. Drizzle melted butter on top. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour (or until toothpick comes out clean.) Best served warm with whipped cream.

Boleyn Deceit - Tudor Kitchens Hampton Ct

Let us know if you try to make this recipe and share with us on Facebook!
Be sure to check back with us between now and Thanksgiving for more recipes. Next up: Deb Caletti!

Reader’s Guide: THE MAP OF LOST MEMORIES by Kim Fay

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Fay_Map of Lost Memories

“Captivating . . . has qualities any reader would wish for: adventure, romance, history and a vividly described exotic setting.”—The Washington Post

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. At the beginning of the novel, Irene has strong feelings about her right to possess the scrolls and the fact that her possessing them will be in the Cambodians’ best interests. How much of this mindset is justified by the era in which the novel takes place, and could this mindset—art should belong to whoever can best protect it—be justified today? If so, how?

2. In addition, when the book opens, Irene is an ambitious—and arguably self-centered—character. Did you admire or dislike her attitudes and behavior? And if you disliked her, do you think you would have found her actions and ambitions more forgivable if she were a man?

3. Because of her complexity and unpredictable irrationality, Simone is a “love her or hate her” type of person. What traits do you feel make Simone alienating and what traits make her sympathetic?

4. Perhaps Simone deliberately killed Roger. Perhaps it was an accident. Which do you think it was, and why?

5. From the debauched streets of Shanghai to the humid landscapes of the Cambodian jungle, setting serves as its own character in The Map of Lost Memories. How do you feel that these environments shaped the characters? For example, the influence of Shanghai on Marc’s childhood, and the influence of the Cambodian wilderness on Irene ’s mindset as she treks closer toward her goal?

6. At one point in the book, Anne talks about the importance of going to the other side: “The place where one feels truly alive. Too many people surrender to a place of safety. That place where all they do is long to sleep so they can dream about living. Even if you don’t find what you think you’re looking for, darling, it ’s the going out and looking for it that counts. That is the only way you can know you have lived.” Do you agree or disagree with Anne ’s assessment of how most people live? Do you think this is what both Simone and Irene were doing over the course of the story, each in her own way? What about other characters such as Marc? Is the idea that “it ’s the going out and looking for it that counts” a motto you would live by?

7. Although The Map of Lost Memories is considered an adventure novel, it is not fast-paced. Aspects of the era—lack of airplanes, freeways, mass communications systems—contribute to how the story unfolds. Discuss how different this novel would be if set in a later time period; for example, how the existence of helicopters or the Internet would alter such a story.

8. The Map of Lost Memories is primarily Irene ’s story, and as such is told from her perspective. If you could ask the author to insert a chapter from another character’s point of view, who would it be and why?

9. Both Irene and Simone are motivated by their own ambitions to the point of betrayal. Do you feel these women would have been better off had they been honest from the start, instead of using each other to a certain extent? Consider a woman’s position in the time period and the choices (or lack thereof ) they had regarding their futures. In that sense, do you think by keeping secrets each of them were doing the best they could to protect themselves and their futures?

10. To expand on this, the novel is full of examples of blighted ambition and characters trapped by circumstance. Do you feel that unhappiness excuses the scheming behavior or betrayals of certain characters?

11. Although there are unexpected revelations about all the characters in the novel, perhaps the most surprising has to do with Henry Simms, Irene ’s beloved mentor. Did you find Mr. Simms to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

12. At the end of the novel, Irene changes her mind about where she thinks the scrolls belong. Was there a specific turning point for this decision, or was this decision the result of an evolution in her thinking? Is her change of heart selfless, or is she simply turning her initial selfish desires in a new direction?

13. Similarly, in many ways, Simone is a very different person at the end of the novel than the woman Irene first encounters at Anne ’s party. Discuss the path of her transformation. Are there any ways she essentially doesn’t change?

14. What one adjective do you think best captures the character of Irene? Were you surprised by how others in your group perceived her? What are her strengths and her weaknesses? How does your perception of Irene change throughout the story?

15. The title of the novel is The Map of Lost Memories. Discuss the power of memories as a theme throughout the novel. Why do you think the author selected this title?

Join the conversation with Kim Fay on Facebook!

Reader’s Guide: THE WISHING THREAD by Lisa Van Allen

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Allen_The Wishing Thread Random House Reader’s Circle has exclusive materials for you and your book club to enjoy! SARAH ADDISON ALLEN is the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, and the upcoming Lost Lake, interviews debut novelist Lisa Van Allen.

Sarah Addison Allen:  The Wishing Thread is a delightful novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the transformational power of love, and the pleasures and perils of knitting. What sparked your idea for this novel?

Lisa Van Allen:  It started with the knitting. When I knit a gift for someone, I always say a few prayers for the recipient. It’s about sending deliberate thoughts of love and kindness, along with offering a gift. So it wasn’t a far jump from there to “Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody could knit a magic spell into the fabric of a hat or a scarf so that it rubs off on the wearer?”

Of course, in The Wishing Thread, the people who go to the Stitchery looking for magic never know what they’ll get. Sometimes the spells don’t work as expected. Sometimes they don’t work at all.

Many people in the town think that the Van Ripper sisters are swindlers, preying on people who are desperate enough to turn to “magic” to fix their problems. But others think the sisters are the real deal and will defend the Stitchery’s magic, tooth and nail. Each sister in the story approaches the idea of magic in her own way.

SAA:   The way you write about magic is so unique. What are your favorite books with magic in them that have influenced you?

LVA:  I’ve always loved books that offer fun, imaginative plots along with a certain “makes you think” element—-going all the way back. As a kid I adored The Little Prince for its enigmatic characters, magical surprises, and emotionality. Recently I fell hard for Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. And, Sarah, your latest, The Peach Keeper, was one of those reads that had me sitting down thinking “just for a few minutes” and then realizing hours had gone by. This is always the sign of a great read.

SAA:  Thank you! I’m glad to be in such great company! Magic is so wonderful to write but also so tricky. I think every writer approaches writing in a different way. What are your writing habits? How do you write best?

LVA:  More and more, I find myself collecting things. I make a regular practice of writing lists with titles like “things you find that could change everything” and “reasons you might become stuck in a tree.” Sei Shōnagon inspired this habit for me when I read her eleventh–century collection of writings called The Pillow Book. She makes beautiful, breathtaking lists.

I also keep random boxes in my office of things that seem to go together somehow: pictures, objects, bits of fabric or color, anecdotes, books and pamphlets, scribbles, etc. Each box has its own kind of ordered chaos. I like the idea of all these elements marinating for a while until all the flavors marry and become a cohesive story. I have Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit to thank for this.

SAA:  I hear you have a hedgehog as a pet—-is anything else in the book based on real life?

LVA:  Ha, ha. Yes! My hedgie has quite a following. I guess you could say she was instrumental in developing the character of Icky Van Ripper, the main character’s pet hedgehog in The Wishing Thread. I’m hoping my little beastie won’t sue me for using her likeness or something like that. I’ll have to pay her off with mealworms.

But seriously, I never have models for my (human) characters. That method just doesn’t work for me. I do, however, expand on my own emotional experiences, like every writer.

SAA:  How did you get started knitting? What do you love about it?

LVA:  I actually outright refused to learn to knit for many years. I so was sure I’d hate it! But one day in my mid–twenties, an aunt finally took my shoulders and sat me down, and said “watch my hands.” A few rows later, I was hooked. There’s a scene in The Wishing Thread that definitely came right from that moment.

Of course, I had some false starts with knitting. My first scarf looked like a moth–chewed roll of lumpy toilet paper. One year, I made my brother three socks (one that was okay, one with holes, and one that could only have fit a hoof). But I’m better these days. Ravelry, a social networking site for fiber nerds, helped my technique a lot (find me as “lisava”). Knitting’s a great creative outlet for when I’m away from my manuscripts. I’m not very good at sitting still.

SAA:  Are you working on something new? Can you share anything with us about your next project?

LVA:  I can tell you that my book–in–progress box is filled with bright red plastic berries, peacock feathers, beeswax candles, pictures of farm equipment, random info like “how to make a leech barometer,” and writings about whether or not plants have feelings. It’s gonna be fun!

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