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Posts Tagged ‘book club’

Win a copy of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

LanguageFlowersComing to paperback April 3rd!

A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

What inspired Lisa See to write Dreams of Joy

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

see_lisaHaving written a number of reader’s guides to my books, I thought it would be fun to delve into Dreams of Joy from a different perspective by showing you some images that inspired me as I wrote the novel, as well as explain some of the decisions that went into the publication of the book. I’ve selected a few sentences from Dreams of Joy (and included their page numbers so you can find them easily) and then given you an image that inspired me to write those lines. Several of these are travel photos that I shot in China and some are posters from the Great Leap Forward. I’ve also included a couple of things, which, at first glance, may seem not to have anything to do with the novel, but they have everything to do with how I approach writing, how I do my research, how one thought can open a whole new world to me, and the pure serendipity that sometimes happens in the creative process.—Lisa See

“The houses themselves are lovely—with tile roofs, nicely painted façades, and iron grillwork in art deco patterns covering windows, as peek-throughs for doors, and as decoration along the eaves and around mail slots.” (page 23)

Shanghai-houseShanghai house

A lot of my job as a writer of historical novels involves seeing past what something looks like today to what it looked like long ago. This isn’t very hard for me. I grew up in Los Angeles. I drive down streets and through neighborhoods and see things as they were, not as they are. I prefer that old Los Angeles to the one here now. And who wouldn’t? An orange grove is so much nicer than a strip mall, after all. Some might say I look through rose-colored glasses. Maybe I do, but I consider that ability a gift that has allowed me to visit a poor village, such as Tongkou in Hunan province, and see past the poverty and decrepit buildings to what it must have been like in its heyday when Snow Flower and Lily lived there in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It’s allowed me to visit Hangzhou—a city of six million—walk around West Lake, and imagine Peony living in her family’s seventeenth-century compound for Peony in Love. And it’s allowed me to explore Shanghai, come across a little walk street, and see past the laundry, the public toilets on the corner, and the electric wires all over the place, to a house that could be only Z.G.’s elegant home.

“Now I’m to do calligraphy for this man—my father? Why do my artistic skills matter?” (page 28)

CalligraphyCalligraphy

If I’d known I was going to write a sequel to Shanghai Girls, I would have set up Joy as an artist or at least as a girl with artistic tendencies. Fortunately, as I looked back through Shanghai Girls, I saw that her calligraphy was so good—“uncorrupted”—that neighbors asked her to write couplets for them to hang on their doors at the New Year. That was enough for me, since calligraphy has a long tradition as one of the main art forms in China.

Lantingji Xu, literally “Prologue to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion,” is probably the most famous piece of calligraphy in China. It was written by Wang Xishu in 353 and commemorates a famous drinking and poetry-writing party. Centuries later, in the Tang dynasty, a Buddhist monk named Huaisu (737?799) wrote an autobiographical essay in which he talked about his love of calligraphy, his search for different calligraphic models to emulate, and his untrammeled life. Although he was a monk, Huaisu loved to drink and was celebrated by his peers for his alcohol-fueled bursts of calligraphy. What makes his calligraphy so memorable and beautiful is that the characters get looser and wilder the more Huaisu had to drink.

As you can see, much of the appreciation for calligraphy comes from the back story. This example of calligraphy was painted by Tyrus Wong, my grandfather’s closest friend, the artist who created the ambiance for Disney’s Bambi, kite maker and flyer (yes, think about Z.G.), and now the oldest Chinese-American artist at 101 years of age. He has inspired me in so many ways and I love him dearly. Here, Tyrus has written Gold Mountain, the Chinese name for the United States, with ink and brush.

“Then we pick up our bags and begin a long, slow hike up a path, over a small hill, and down into a narrow valley, where elm tress provide shade.” (page 32)

Huangcun-villageHuangcun village

When I began Dreams of Joy, I knew that I wanted about half the story to take place in Shanghai and the other half to take place in a small village. As I looked at the map of China and all the different provinces I could chose from, I started thinking about the nature of Chinese written characters and how much depth they have compared to English words. For example, we might read the word pond and conjure up a small body of water with maybe some trees dotted around it. But when you look at the Chinese character for pond, you think of all the magnificent poems, arias, and plays that have featured ponds. Did Li Bai write one of his rollicking drinking poems by a pond? Was there a righteous battle by a pond? Is there an exquisite painting of a lovesick maiden gazing at her reflection in a pond? As I considered the depth of Chinese characters and what they can evoke, I decided to set Dreams of Joy in Anwei province, because it is known historically for its poverty, droughts, floods, and famines. It’s also where Pearl S. Buck set The Good Earth. Other people might not know all these allusions, but I would.

Look for more photos in the back of the Dreams of Joy paperback!

Win a copy of Ellen Feldman’s novel NEXT TO LOVE!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Next to Love TPFor fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave set during the years of World War II and its aftermath.

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

Vaclav & Lena: A Reader’s Guide to Haley Tanner’s novel

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Vaclav&LenaVaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac. But one day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel sleight of hand. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out. In Vaclav & Lena, Haley Tanner has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection.

1. Discuss the relationships between storytelling, lies, and magic in Vaclav & Lena. How do these concepts interact in the novel’s climax?

2. Lena’s disappearance is a sore point between Vaclav and Rasia. Do you think Rasia made the right choice by remaining silent about it?

3. Early in the book, Vaclav has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself and in his future as a magician. Do you think this is merely naïveté, or is it a necessary attribute for someone to make their dreams come true?

4. Discuss the challenges of immigration in the book. How does language play a role in assimilation for Vaclav and Lena? How does Rasia try to connect with her Americanized son?

5. Rasia and her husband, Oleg, seem to have had very different experiences in immigrating to America. What factors have contributed to this difference in their experience?

6. How would you describe the dynamics of Vaclav and Lena’s relationship at the start of the novel? How do those dynamics shift when Lena becomes friends with the popular crowd and Vaclav volunteers to do her homework for her? How do they shift again when Vaclav and Lena reconnect as teenagers?

7. Discuss the novel’s settings. How does the Russian émigré community of Brighton Beach have an effect on Vaclav and Lena? How does the fantastical world of Coney Island?

8. How would you describe the nature of Rasia’s relationship with Lena?

9. In reporting Lena’s situation to the authorities, is Rasia acting solely in Lena’s best interest, or might she be acting to protect her son?

10. Why do you think Vaclav, at seventeen, resists sex with his girlfriend?

11. Discuss the chapter headings. How do they interact with the rest of the text?

12. How does Lena’s trauma manifest itself when she is a child? A teenager? Do you think her wounds can be healed?

13. Ekaterina tells Vaclav that she did the best she could for Lena. Do you think this is true?

Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter: A Reader’s Guide

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Blood Bones & Butter TP 150dpi

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Miami Herald • Newsday The Huffington Post • Financial Times • GQ • Slate • Men’s Journal • Washington Examiner • Publishers Weekly • Kirkus Reviews • National Post • The Toronto Star • BookPage • Bookreporter

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.

1. What does food mean to the author? How did your particular attitude toward food develop?

2. What challenges do writers and chefs share? Are they unique to those professions?

3. What saved the author from a life of substance abuse and crime?

4. Gabrielle Hamilton’s mother-in-law is a central figure in her book. Why did she become so important for her? Do you have someone equally important in your own life?

5. Being invited by Misty Callies to prep for a large dinner party and, later, to work at her restaurant were milestones for Gabrielle Hamilton. Why were these experiences significant for her?

6. Gabrielle Hamilton writes about her ambivalence in wedding her husband. Why do you think she married him? Have you ever felt similarly about your own relationships?

7. Getting one’s needs met is a recurring theme. How do you think Gabrielle Hamilton feels about this and how has it influenced her journey?

8. Is Blood, Bones & Butter a funny book?

9. Many have commented on the “honesty” of the book, suggesting that such candor and intimacy are uncommon. Are readers mostly responding to the way Gabrielle Hamilton writes about her own family or does that “honesty” manifest elsewhere? What is her point or objective in being so forthcoming? Do you think you would be so upfront in your own memoir?

10. Did you like/not like the ending and why?

Jane’s Bookshelf: Food Books As Delicious As Any Good Meal

Monday, January 30th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

In my book group, we start by eating dinner, catching up, and then we turn to our discussion. Our suppers are pot lucks, and despite no planning, they’re always delicious: someone made a soufflé for our discussion of Madame Bovary; another member brought panacotta one hot summer night. Eating is not only a wonderful way to bond, but also to be exposed to new tastes and cultures. And over the years I have learned that books about food are just as satisfying.

Blood Bones & Butter TP 150dpiTake Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter. Hamilton is the chef-owner of the acclaimed restaurant Prune here in New York and her memoir reveals that she is as adept with a pen as she is with a skillet. She traces the path she took from a teenager who loved helping her father roast whole lambs over a spit to the kitchens of prize-winning (as well as unknown chefs) in France, Greece, and Turkey, where she learned about both cooking and hospitality; and to working side by side with her Italian mother-in-law in Italy, where love of food is their bond and shared language. What emerges is the portrait of a woman finding her way with her family, in her profession, and on the page. It’s almost as if Mary Karr had the chops of a chef or Anthony Bourdain had penned a powerful family story.

The Soul of a ChefOne of my favorite “foodie” books is Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef. He takes you to the Culinary Institute of America where he observes the rigorous certified master chef exam; my heart raced as the clock ticks away as several chefs compete over the course of ten days. Later, Ruhlman works at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, and we see a professional restaurant kitchen working at full throttle, creating and perfecting the dishes that rocketed Keller to the very pinnacle of his field. It’s a gripping—dare I say thrilling—read as he shows the emotional grit and epicurean talent needed to reach the top of America’s culinary world.

Tender at the BoneOver the course of three books, Ruth Reichl has chronicled her life in connection to food. Starting with Tender at the Bone, she explores her childhood when she discovered “food could be a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.”  This remains a constant during her years as a chef and food critic, which she also writes about in Comfort Me with Apples and in Garlic and Sapphires. Reichl’s memoirs are spiced with humor, warmth, great portraits of chefs and the meals they create.

What these authors share is the ability to make you walk in their shoes, whether at the stove or in a foreign country. As they orchestrate fabulous meals or navigate personal terrain, I’ve found they make me hungry, wanting to cook, and in that spirit I share Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe for braised chicken legs with shallots and vinegar from her new House Beautiful column. I think I’ll try it for my next book club meeting!

Win a copy of Sandra Kring’s new novel, A Life of Bright Ideas

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Life of Bright IdeasThis giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!

A secret tore best friends Evelyn “Button” Peters and Winnalee Malone apart. Now, nearly a decade later, a secret brings them back together.

Nine years ago Button and Winnalee began recording observations in their Book of Bright Ideas, a tome they believed would solve the mystery of how to live a mistake-free life. Now it’s 1970, a time of peace, love, war, and personal heartbreak. Button’s mother is dead and her grieving father has all but abandoned his children. Quiet, thoughtful Button has traded college for a sewing job in her mother’s bridal shop to help her Aunt Verdella raise her whirlwind six-year-old brother. In Button’s free time, she writes letters to the boy she loved from afar through high school, hoping he will come to love her as more than a friend.

Then, like that magical Wisconsin summer of ’61, Button is greeted with the wild, gusty arrival of Winnalee. Now a beautiful flower child, Winnalee is everything Button is not. She’s been to Woodstock and enjoys “free love,” but their steadfast bond of friendship is tested as Button begins to notice the cracks in Winnalee’s carefree façade. And then Winnalee’s mother arrives with a surprise that Button never sees coming, and the fiery determination to put things right in both families once and for all.

MWF Seeking BFF: A Reader’s Guide

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

MWF Seeking BFF

Consider these questions if you’re reading Rachel Bertsche’s irresistible memoir, MWF Seeking BFF:

1) After moving to Chicago from New York City, Rachel quickly realized that “friend-making is not the natural process is used to be.”  Why do you think it is so much harder to make friends as adults? Or do you think making friends is as easy now (or easier) than it was when you were a kid?

2) When Rachel writes her BFF “want ad,” she hears from a number of women in her same situation, all of whom are hesitant to admit they too are looking for new friends. Rachel writes, “Popular culture has made it okay to yell ‘I need a man!’ from the rooftops, so why are we still embarrassed to say ‘I want a best friend?’” What do you think? Is it easier to admit you’re looking for love than it is to say you’re in the market for friendship? Why?

3) What would your BFF want-ad look like?

4) After Rachel meets Amanda (friend-date 18) she realizes that her new friend has a blog, and they’ve each blogged about the other. How has social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) affected your friendships and the way you make new friends?

5) Rachel claims that her husband isn’t her best friend.  “A husband can fill many vital roles—protector, provider, lover—but he can’t be a BFF,” she writes. “Matt is my most intimate companion and the love of my life, But I can’t complain about my husband to my husband. That’s what friends are for.” Do you agree? Or do you think your spouse could be (and maybe should be) your best friend forever?

6) After looking at the relationship research, Rachel claims that when it comes to friends, “more is more.” Do you agree? Or do you believe in quality over quantity?

Bertsche_Rachel7) Have you ever been on a blind friend-date? If yes, what were the circumstances? How did you meet? If no, would you like to? Did MWF Seeking BFF warm you up to the idea of friend-dating? What parts of Rachel’s search would you be willing to incorporate into your own life?

8. At first, Rachel thinks people will find her friendship advances weird or creepy. Eventually, though, she realizes that “it’s not that people are less civilized now, it’s just that we think they are, and so we act accordingly. We don’t reach out unsolicited for fear of being rejected. We don’t talk to new people because we assume they don’t want to be bothered. But as I continue to pursue friendships, I’m constantly surprised at how receptive people are.” Are you surprised that women were receptive to Rachel’s attempts at friendship? How would you have reacted if she had asked you out?

9) Rachel makes clear throughout the book that even though she is looking for new friends, she has plenty of great old friends. What is it about our lifers that makes them so special? Did reading about Rachel’s quest make you appreciate your own lifelong BFFs more?

10) Throughout her search, people tell Rachel she can’t force friendships, they should just happen. Do you think one can successfully search for friendship, or should it always happen naturally?

11) By the end of her quest, Rachel may not have a new BFF but she says she has a “bouquet of friends.” For Rachel, the definition of BFF has changed. She realizes she isn’t as likely to talk on the phone with her best friend every night for two hours like she did when she was 15. Families, careers and responsibilities make that impossible. How has your definition of BFF, or your requirements of your friends, changed over the years?

Celebrate a new year of reading with us. Enter for a chance to win an iPad!

Friday, January 13th, 2012

RHRC-iPad-giveaway-banner-300x250

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the thousands of you who entered! We’ll announce the winner soon.

Good luck to all!
The iPad 2 that could be yours is black, 16 gigabytes, and Wi-Fi enabled, with iOS5 and iCloud. Does not include 3G or data plan from a carrier. Download books directly from iTunes and be reading in seconds!

Sweepstakes Starts: January 11, 2012 @ 12:00 pm (PST)
Sweepstakes Ends: January 23, 2012 @ 11:59 pm (PST)

Jane’s Bookshelf, Volume 1: New Year, New Books

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite new reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

The AffairEvery year, I use the holiday break as a time to try new authors, revisit favorites, explore genres I don’t often reach for, and catch up on that classic I’ve been meaning to get to. This year, my new author was Lee Child. So many people rave about this series’ hero, Jack Reacher, I had to meet this guy. THE AFFAIR is a perfect place to start since it’s the story of the events that result in his leaving the military and becoming the loner ex-military cop he’s so famous for. I loved being in Reacher’s mind as he investigates the death of a young woman in a small Mississippi town, uncovering a case that is more complex and nuanced than he’s been led to believe. And when he brilliantly outwits the bad guys who definitely don’t want to be found, I cheered, realizing that I too had become a “Reacher creature.”

lonewolfI haven’t read a Jodi Picoult novel in ages, so when an early copy of LONE WOLF (being published by Atria this spring) came my way, I knew I was in for a treat. After an accident leaves Luke in a vegetative state, his estranged son and overprotective daughter must decide his fate in a tale that is emotionally and morally riveting. Luke has spent his life working with wolves, and what you learn about wolf pack behavior resonates beautifully with the story of this family in crisis. Yes, I cried—and yes, there are some painful moments—but I couldn’t stop reading. And the ending has one of those incredible surprises that I didn’t see coming, but was so true and utterly satisfying.

Catherine_the_GreatI have always loved biography, but with so many (often shorter) books on my pile, I don’t read as many as I’d like. Robert Massie’s CATHERINE THE GREAT brings Catherine, who became Empress of Russia in 1762, completely alive in the pages of this masterful portrait, making you understand her as a woman, mother, politician, lover, and ruler. No less impressive is his account of the era’s history and the artistic, military, philosophical, and political events that she controlled for more than three decades.

MadameBovary_transLydiaDavisOnly part way through the classic, Lydia Davis’s translation of MADAME BOVARY, I’ve found myself reading it a bit differently since I’ll be discussing it with my Ladies of Lefferts book club in a couple of weeks. I cherish the conversations and camaraderie of our evenings together, which reminds me of the delightful, witty memoir by Rachel Bertsche, MWF SEEKING BFF we just published. Bertsche writes about how central the book club experience was to her while trying to forge the friendships she craved when she left behind her BFFs in New York and moved to Chicago. She’s right: the combination of delicious food and lively conversation brings people together in an intimate way. As I finish MADAME BOVARY and start 2012, I wish you many a great read, engrossing discussion, and deepened friendship.

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