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Posts Tagged ‘Lisa Van Allen’

Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for The Night Garden

Friday, October 17th, 2014
1. Olivia Pennywort has a unique condition that causes anyone she touches to develop a rash. What would you do if you had Olivia’s condition? How would you cope if you knew there was no way to get rid of it?
2. Olivia keeps her condition a secret at the risk of being perceived as a monster and driving everyone she knows away. What do you think would happen if Olivia was more open about her condition? Is she right to fear the public’s reaction?
3. Because of her condition, Olivia believes she “would be wrong to expect more of her life than what she had” (page 27). Even though she has everything she needs to survive, do you think this is an acceptable attitude? In what ways can expectations shape how you live your life?
4. At the start, Sam’s condition has stripped him of the ability to feel. If you had this condition, which sensations do you think would be the most jarring to lose?
5. When she was younger, Olivia chose not to be with Sam because she was hurting him, even though she still loved him. Did she make the right decision to break up with him? Should she have told him the truth? What would you have done?
6. Sam comes from a family of rescuers and feels pressure to be a rescuer as well. In what ways can a positive family legacy be both a blessing and a curse? To what extent should a person attempt to live up to a family legacy? What happens if this legacy comes at the expense of carving an individual path?
7. A central theme in the novel is temptation, or the idea of desperately wanting what we know may be bad for us or for others. Is there a right way to deal with temptation? In what scenarios would it be okay to give in?
8. Another core theme is the importance of touch. How important is touch and feeling for a happy life? Is it possible to find happiness without it? Do you think you could?
9. Olivia is appalled that her father knew she was becoming poisonous and did not try to stop it. What makes Arthur’s act so reprehensible? Do you think it’s possible to atone for such a destructive act? How would you go about making things right?
10. When Sam comes to rescue her out of the poisonous garden maze, Olivia realizes that “when a person could find happiness, she should seize it without question, without a single thought for the future, and with a steady resolve never to become bitter once it was lost” (page 307). Does her reasoning make sense? Is this the best way to live your life?
11. When the boarders ask Olivia what they will do without the maze, Olivia replies, “The only thing that stands in the way of your inner wisdom is your fear of it” (page 312). Do you agree with Olivia? Why do you think it’s so hard to figure out what we really want?
12. If you had a magical maze that could help you figure out what to do, what would you want it to help you with?
13. Why do you think Gloria continually tries to change the Pennywort farm? What do you think her actions suggest about how we respond to what we don’t understand?

9780345537836Lisa Van Allen’s novel, The Night Garden, is a luminous novel of love, forgiveness, and the possibilities that arise when you open your heart.

Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies : a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. But the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonder: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?

Chock full of questions about love, family, and secrets, this novel is sure to keep your book club talking. Check out some of our suggested discussion questions to get going!

1. Olivia Pennywort has a unique condition that causes anyone she touches to develop a rash. What would you do if you had Olivia’s condition? How would you cope if you knew there was no way to get rid of it?

2. Olivia keeps her condition a secret at the risk of being perceived as a monster and driving everyone she knows away. What do you think would happen if Olivia was more open about her condition? Is she right to fear the public’s reaction?

3. Because of her condition, Olivia believes she “would be wrong to expect more of her life than what she had” (page 27). Even though she has everything she needs to survive, do you think this is an acceptable attitude? In what ways can expectations shape how you live your life?

4. At the start, Sam’s condition has stripped him of the ability to feel. If you had this condition, which sensations do you think would be the most jarring to lose?

5. When she was younger, Olivia chose not to be with Sam because she was hurting him, even though she still loved him. Did she make the right decision to break up with him? Should she have told him the truth? What would you have done?

6. Sam comes from a family of rescuers and feels pressure to be a rescuer as well. In what ways can a positive family legacy be both a blessing and a curse? To what extent should a person attempt to live up to a family legacy? What happens if this legacy comes at the expense of carving an individual path?

7. A central theme in the novel is temptation, or the idea of desperately wanting what we know may be bad for us or for others. Is there a right way to deal with temptation? In what scenarios would it be okay to give in?

8. Another core theme is the importance of touch. How important is touch and feeling for a happy life? Is it possible to find happiness without it? Do you think you could?

9. Olivia is appalled that her father knew she was becoming poisonous and did not try to stop it. What makes Arthur’s act so reprehensible? Do you think it’s possible to atone for such a destructive act? How would you go about making things right?

10. When Sam comes to rescue her out of the poisonous garden maze, Olivia realizes that “when a person could find happiness, she should seize it without question, without a single thought for the future, and with a steady resolve never to become bitter once it was lost” (page 307). Does her reasoning make sense? Is this the best way to live your life?

11. When the boarders ask Olivia what they will do without the maze, Olivia replies, “The only thing that stands in the way of your inner wisdom is your fear of it” (page 312). Do you agree with Olivia? Why do you think it’s so hard to figure out what we really want?

12. If you had a magical maze that could help you figure out what to do, what would you want it to help you with?

13. Why do you think Gloria continually tries to change the Pennywort farm? What do you think her actions suggest about how we respond to what we don’t understand?

Reader’s Guide: Recommended reads from the author of THE NIGHT GARDEN

Friday, October 10th, 2014
I’ve always had a fascination with poisonous plants. I think it started when I was a little kid and my siblings and I used to play in the woods, swinging from vines and carving forts out of thick brambles. A bush of small red berries grew “down back”; they were bright, tempting little things, but we were told under no circumstances were we allowed to eat them. We didn’t, of course. But sometimes we liked to pretend they were food, tossing them into fake salads as we provisioned ourselves for grand journeys into imaginary lands. I’m not sure that I ever stopped wondering what those berries would taste like—everything about them said, Eat me!, as if they might make a person grow very tall or very small.
As an adult, of course, a person encounters other kinds of temptations, the allure of things that we know are bad for us but that we cling to or desire anyway. The allure of poisonous plants never stopped calling to me. And so when my wonderful editor asked for my next proposal, I decided it was time to indulge in my fascination—from the safe distance of the written word!
Alas, only about half a percent of the research I did actually ended up in the story (the characters demanded most of the book’s “real estate,” and rightly so). But there’s a great, fascinating world of folklore and science surrounding poisonous plants out there, and if you’re curious, or if you’re just looking for your next read based on something that sparked your curiosity in The Night Garden, here are a few books I’d recommend.
Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne—This was the tale that started it all, twenty years ago when I first read it in high school. The story is about a beautiful and mysterious woman who flits about an enchanted Italian garden and can kill insects with her breath. “This lovely woman . . . had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them, that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence. Poison was her element of life. With that rich perfume of her breath, she blasted the very air. Her love would have been poison!—her embrace death! Is not this a marvellous tale?” I loved the concept, and wanted desperately to love the story, but for various reasons, I just couldn’t. The ending got me. (You should read it, seriously. It’s short, and worth discussion). For a very long time, the story haunted me, even bothered me—I thought about it again and again over the years. The Night Garden was, I suppose, an effort to reconcile my feelings about the story as well as a chance to indulge my curiosity about poisonous plants.
The North American Guide To Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas—I bought this book when I first started getting serious about The Night Garden, and I left it sitting on the dining room table one day when my husband got home. He picked it up, looked at me, and asked, “Is there something I should be worried about?” For many years he’s been incredibly patient on walks through the woods with me as I’m constantly stopping to either consult my various guidebooks or take pictures for future identifications. This book is a bit too big to cart into the woods, but it’s a great read for a serious-minded student of poisonous and dangerous plants.
Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart—If you’re looking for a wild, fun, fascinating, thrilling, unbelievable read about all the incredible factoids in the world of dangerous and obnoxious plants, this is your book. I adored it, front to back. It’s a brief, highly readable look at the science and stories that emerge when humans and plants collide. Oh, and apparently the author has a garden of poison plants, which just proves the adage that life is stranger than fiction.
Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley—I read this book as one of many that I hoped would give me a glimpse into farm life. Some of my own family members were farmers, and I have childhood memories of running through the fallow fields of an old family farm that has since been sold to a developer. Atina’s book is intimate, emotionally generous, authentic, and engaging. The story of how she lost a farm to urban expansion is heartbreaking, but her family’s perseverance is an inspiration. I think of her often when I’m in the grocery store and looking at the produce section, wondering (at her prompting) why it’s the organic vegetables that get labeled, instead of the other way around. This book was a huge eye-opener and if you’re interested in farm life, the organic food movement, and environmentalism, give this a read.
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman—One of my favorite books in recent years, this short story collection traces the life of a Massachusetts town from its frontier settlement days to the present. It’s chocked full of folklore with hints of magic—and to me, these stories feel quintessentially American. I swear, reading it fills your nose with the smells of forest soil and freshly sawn wood. This is on my keeper shelf to read again and again.
Thanks for reading The Night Garden. I would love to hear from you by email on my website (www​.WriterLisaVanAllen​.com) or on my Facebook page. And if your book group reads this story, please be in touch! I may be able to Skype or call in.

9780345537836Author Lisa Van Allen’s second novel, The Night Garden, went on sale earlier this week! To celebrate, we asked her to share some of her favorite books — and if you enjoyed The Night Garden, we think you’ll be interested in her suggestions.

I’ve always had a fascination with poisonous plants. I think it started when I was a little kid and my siblings and I used to play in the woods, swinging from vines and carving forts out of thick brambles. A bush of small red berries grew “down back”; they were bright, tempting little things, but we were told under no circumstances were we allowed to eat them. We didn’t, of course. But sometimes we liked to pretend they were food, tossing them into fake salads as we provisioned ourselves for grand journeys into imaginary lands. I’m not sure that I ever stopped wondering what those berries would taste like—everything about them said, Eat me!, as if they might make a person grow very tall or very small.

As an adult, of course, a person encounters other kinds of temptations, the allure of things that we know are bad for us but that we cling to or desire anyway. The allure of poisonous plants never stopped calling to me. And so when my wonderful editor asked for my next proposal, I decided it was time to indulge in my fascination—from the safe distance of the written word!

Alas, only about half a percent of the research I did actually ended up in the story (the characters demanded most of the book’s “real estate,” and rightly so). But there’s a great, fascinating world of folklore and science surrounding poisonous plants out there, and if you’re curious, or if you’re just looking for your next read based on something that sparked your curiosity in The Night Garden, here are a few books I’d recommend.

Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne—This was the tale that started it all, twenty years ago when I first read it in high school. The story is about a beautiful and mysterious woman who flits about an enchanted Italian garden and can kill insects with her breath. “This lovely woman . . . had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them, that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence. Poison was her element of life. With that rich perfume of her breath, she blasted the very air. Her love would have been poison!—her embrace death! Is not this a marvellous tale?” I loved the concept, and wanted desperately to love the story, but for various reasons, I just couldn’t. The ending got me. (You should read it, seriously. It’s short, and worth discussion). For a very long time, the story haunted me, even bothered me—I thought about it again and again over the years. The Night Garden was, I suppose, an effort to reconcile my feelings about the story as well as a chance to indulge my curiosity about poisonous plants.

The North American Guide To Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas—I bought this book when I first started getting serious about The Night Garden, and I left it sitting on the dining room table one day when my husband got home. He picked it up, looked at me, and asked, “Is there something I should be worried about?” For many years he’s been incredibly patient on walks through the woods with me as I’m constantly stopping to either consult my various guidebooks or take pictures for future identifications. This book is a bit too big to cart into the woods, but it’s a great read for a serious-minded student of poisonous and dangerous plants.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart—If you’re looking for a wild, fun, fascinating, thrilling, unbelievable read about all the incredible factoids in the world of dangerous and obnoxious plants, this is your book. I adored it, front to back. It’s a brief, highly readable look at the science and stories that emerge when humans and plants collide. Oh, and apparently the author has a garden of poison plants, which just proves the adage that life is stranger than fiction.

Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley—I read this book as one of many that I hoped would give me a glimpse into farm life. Some of my own family members were farmers, and I have childhood memories of running through the fallow fields of an old family farm that has since been sold to a developer. Atina’s book is intimate, emotionally generous, authentic, and engaging. The story of how she lost a farm to urban expansion is heartbreaking, but her family’s perseverance is an inspiration. I think of her often when I’m in the grocery store and looking at the produce section, wondering (at her prompting) why it’s the organic vegetables that get labeled, instead of the other way around. This book was a huge eye-opener and if you’re interested in farm life, the organic food movement, and environmentalism, give this a read.

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman—One of my favorite books in recent years, this short story collection traces the life of a Massachusetts town from its frontier settlement days to the present. It’s chocked full of folklore with hints of magic—and to me, these stories feel quintessentially American. I swear, reading it fills your nose with the smells of forest soil and freshly sawn wood. This is on my keeper shelf to read again and again.

Thanks for reading The Night Garden. I would love to hear from you by email on my website (www​.WriterLisaVanAllen​.com) or on my Facebook page. And if your book group reads this story, please be in touch! I may be able to Skype or call in.

Author Spotlight: Thanksgiving Recipe from Lisa Van Allen, author of THE WISHING THREAD

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Allen_The Wishing Thread In a pinch for a savory side dish? Never fear! Lisa Van Allen, author of The Wishing Thread, shares her grandmother’s no-nonsense and humble turnip recipe. Enjoy!

I have to admit that turnips aren’t exactly a “sexy” food. I had a high school teacher who occasionally used the phrase “as dumb as a turnip.” And although I love the word “napiform,” I’ve never really been able to get away with using it in anything I’ve written because there aren’t too many opportunities to say “shaped like a turnip.”

But my grandmother’s favorite thing about Thanksgiving was turnips. And so they will always have a special place in my heart.

My grandmother was a no-nonsense kind of woman — she appreciated simple pleasures. So it will come as no surprise that the food that she loved most on Thanksgiving was simple and unembellished.

Here’s her recipe for turnips: She simply peeled, boiled, and then mashed together equal parts turnips and potatoes. That’s it! Humble and warm, just like my gram. Lisa-Van-Allen-this-one

Do you have a Thanksgiving recipe- sweet or savory- to share with us? Let us know on our Facebook page! We have one final recipe to share with you. Tune in tomorrow for a homemade Thanksgiving staple you won’t want to miss from Nancy Thayer!

Giveaway Opportunity: THE WISHING THREAD by Lisa Van Allen

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Allen_The Wishing Thread“Reader to reader, knitter to knitter: You’re going to love this book.”—Debbie Macomber

For fans of Jennifer Chiaverini and Sarah Addison Allen, The Wishing Thread is an enchanting novel about the bonds between sisters, the indelible pull of the past, and the transformational power of love.

The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.

When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

Enter below for your chance to win!

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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Discussion Questions: THE WISHING THREAD by Lisa Van Allen

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Allen_The Wishing Thread “Reader to reader, knitter to knitter: You’re going to love this book.”—Debbie Macomber

The Wishing Thread is an enchanting novel about the bonds between sisters, the indelible pull of the past, and the transformational power of love. The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1.  The three sisters, Bitty, Aubrey, and Meggie, are each very different and have spent a lot of time apart, but despite everything they all find their way back home upon the death of the aunt who raised them. What does the novel have to say about the bonds of sisterhood?

2.  Each sister rejects, deals with, or embraces the idea of magic in her own way. Which sister do you relate to most? Are there themes in this book that run parallel with (or contrary to) the tenets of your faith community or your own personal ideas and beliefs?

3.  At one point, Aubrey thinks “if the Madness was real, then the sacrifice of being a guardian of the Stitchery was a bigger, scarier thing than any single sacrifice made in the name of a single spell.” What is the connection between the Madness and magic? Do you think the Madness will continue to follow the family after the Stitchery is gone?

4.  Why do you think Bitty started out so rebellious, but was so quick to embrace a socially acceptable lifestyle in adulthood and to distance herself from her sisters and the Stitchery?

5.  Aubrey struggles with confidence throughout the book. What do you think was the main turning point for her? What made her believe in herself?

6.  Meggie drops everything to go looking for the truth about her mother. Is there anything from your past you’d like to get to the bottom of?

7.  Why do you think Aubrey feels that she can’t give in to her attraction to Vic?

8.  The women of Tappan Square band together on Halloween Night to produce a feat of, if not magic, at the very least of remarkable artistry. What were the true effects of the yarn bombing? Do you feel the conclusion of the book indicates that magic is literally at work, that magic is something people choose to see, or that magic is what we make of it?

9.  Were you upset by the fate of Tappan Square? What does this novel have to say about gentrification?

10.  After Aubrey sacrifices Vic to save Tarrytown, she takes him back even though the Great Book in the Hall says she shouldn’t. How does she justify her actions? Was she right to take him back or should she have stayed true to her legacy?

11.  The old Stitchery is no more but something remarkable happens instead. What do you think is the legacy of the Stitchery and how does it live on?

12.  In the end, Aubrey comes to accept uncertainty. She thinks “The Stitchery had made a thing very clear to her—-a thing she did not see until now: Whatever the Van Ripper guardians had said magic was, was only a very small part of it, if it was part at all.” Do you feel this is a step forward in her understanding? Or is it an excuse that allows Aubrey to reshape tradition according to her own ideas? What are your feelings about embracing irresolution and uncertainty?

13.  What do you predict for the next generation of the Stitchery, Bitty’s children Nessa and Carson?

14.  There are many themes in this novel: sisterhood, love, civic responsibility, magic, and self–determination, among others. Which one resonated the most for you?

15.  If the sisters of the Stitchery lived in your town, what would you ask them to knit, and for whom? What would you sacrifice for your spell?

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