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Editor Spotlight: Porscha Burke on Maya Angelou

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Angelou_HisDayisDone Random House editor Porscha Burke shares a slice of her experience working with Dr. Maya Angelou and the publication road to her latest, His Day is Done: A Nelson Mandela Tribute.

As usual, Maya Angelou preferred to travel via tour bus for this trip to New York—not surprising given her affinity for entertaining and her close-knit relationships with her staff. The atmosphere on Dr. Angelou’s bus felt like a family vacation: laughter and merriment, clothes and hangers strewn here and there, and itineraries and event schedules prominently placed on the table—her assistants always have it together.

That evening’s air was particularly festive. It was Doctor’s big night: the National Book Awards, where Toni Morrison would present her with a lifetime achievement award. Dr. Angelou looked absolutely regal, wearing a fitted, floor-length, black-lace gown and her signature shades, her close-cropped silver mane flawlessly coiffed—not a strand out of place. She was anxious to get the evening started as she sat on the bus, parked just outside the awards venue. I was called in: “Ms. Burke, Dr. Angelou is ready to see you now.”

Among the jokes and laughter, the reminiscences from her long career, compliments of “You look fierce,” from one woman to another, and check-ins from her longtime assistant, Dr. Angelou whispered something in my ear. She had written a poem in tribute to Nelson Mandela, having been asked to do so by the State Department. She didn’t want to think about losing yet another dear friend, but she certainly wanted to lend her talent, to share her gift in tribute to a man who gave his all in service to the international community and delivered justice to the doorstep of the oppressed not just in his native South Africa but around the world.

I wasn’t to speak about the poem at all—it was to be kept under wraps until the day of Mandela’s death, when the State Department would publicly release it. Truth be told, I questioned if that day would ever arrive: Mr. Mandela seemed almost immortal, recovering from one illness after another over the past few years. Surely this poem would be on the State Department’s shelf for years to come.

But on Thursday, December 5—only weeks after Dr. Angelou’s award-winning evening—we all received the news that the icon for equality among humans of all races had indeed passed away. Within moments, the world was abuzz with quotes from Mr. Mandela’s speeches and memoirs, activists and celebrities recalling their moments meeting the beloved world leader. The chatter in the Random House offices was equally heavy; I made note of his passing to my marketing colleagues sitting nearby and sat head in hand, thinking how I might also acknowledge the great life of such an important figure.

Phrases like “R.I.P. Mandela” and “Your legacy will never die, Madiba” were trending on Twitter, and yet none of those felt quite right for me. After all, I wouldn’t dare call a historical legend by his common name, and an “R.I.P.” just seemed so trite. But among the flood of quotes and Instagram photos, I came across something on Dr. Angelou’s Facebook page, a link to a YouTube video: her poem, HIS DAY IS DONE. Along with millions of others, I watched it and was stilled.

“The news came on the wings of a wind / Reluctant to carry its burden. / Nelson Mandela’s day is done.”

Dr. Angelou’s signature rich vocal tones, full of meaningful cadences, punctuated images of Mandela as they moved across the screen: a photo taken during his return to Robben Island, showing a man pensive, victorious, and strong; Mandela surrounded by young children, his youthful smile betraying his crown of stark white hair; seated majestically in an armchair, his fingers and hands bloated from illness later in his life; stoically standing next to F. W. de Klerk, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize; his victory pose—arms raised in triumph after winning the South African presidential election.

“We will not forget you. / We will not dishonor you. / We will remember and be glad / That you lived among us / That you taught us / And / That you loved us / All!”

Among the throngs moved by Dr. Angelou’s tribute was my boss, our group’s president and publisher, Gina Centrello, who e-mailed me late Sunday night with a link to the video: “Have you seen this? Beautiful. Let’s discuss.” Riveted by the lyricism of Dr. Angelou’s tribute and the arresting accompanying images, she would sit down several people in her office to view the video over the course of the day.

In publishing, sometimes things happen with such alacrity you can be thrown off kilter. After all, I’ve chased book projects that took months to acquire and others that required more than a year’s worth of editing and production work before having their day on the shelf. But we’d contacted Dr. Angelou’s agent by 10:00 am that Monday, had a deal in place by 10:45 am, and within 24 hours, had a typeset manuscript and photo list ready to transmit to production.

We were ready to go.

Having worked with Dr. Angelou on her two previous books, I was familiar with how she’d like to be queried (carefully and reverently, of course!), and after our magical night at the National Book Awards, I felt I understood what was important to her about this tribute: to help the world find the words to pay homage to an iconic figure whose very life was so much bigger, more impactful, more important than any 140 characters or post or quote we could come up with on our own.

Let’s face it, without an expert publishing operations team, these things don’t happen, especially not in one-tenth the time it usually takes to produce finished books. Our top-notch production and managing editorial staff worked tirelessly to get this project done, and the legendary head of our design department personally designed the book, making it even that much more special.

Finished books were due to arrive while our offices were closed for the holiday break. I couldn’t wait until we reopened to see how the books came out, so I went to the office that very day to see first-hand just what we’d pulled off. The small cardboard box of books was waiting on my desk. With the eagerness of a kid on Christmas morning, I opened and discarded the packaging and cradled the hardcover book, which was almost the size of a 5×7 photograph. My fingers traced the title, engraved in gold foil on the cover. I oohed and aahed at the sepia-toned photographs: regal, indeed. Holding this small but magnanimous project in my hands—welling with pride at the balance of images and text—I was thrilled to know we were helping others commemorate and participate in this historic moment. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention as I considered schoolchildren possibly reciting this poem during Black History Month, just as I had “And Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman.”

Mandela’s day may be done, but the gift and glory of his life and legacy will live on eternally. And I will be forever grateful to Dr. Angelou, to my publisher, and to my amazing colleagues and publishing team for allowing me to have a hand in producing a powerful tribute book for an icon by an icon.


Michelle Richmond’s GOLDEN STATE Playlist

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Richmond_Golden State “A breathtaking read and one I’ll not soon forget.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife

Golden State began with the idea for a single scene: a husband and wife at the end of their marriage, spending their final night together in a San Francisco radio station, where the husband works as a late–night deejay. As the story developed, the one thing that remained constant in my mind was the sound of the music from the radio station. Early drafts of the novel contained a number of songs that didn’t make it into the final draft. Here are the songs that, for me, capture the spirit of the novel and of the place that has become my home:

Admiral Radley, “I Heart California” California has inspired many great songs over the years, and, like “California Dreaming,” this one is a personal favorite. The product of a one–off local California indie super–group combination, comprising members of Grandaddy and Earlimart, this song is an unapologetic celebration of the true spirit of California.

Josh Rouse, “Sweetie” This one comes from Rouse’s 2007 record, Country Mouse City House. For me, the best love songs contain just a pinch of melancholy. When I picture Julie and Tom working through their complicated relationship, I always hear this song and think of Rouse’s great line “crooked couple standing side by side / Is that you? Is that me?”

Tom Petty, “California” Like Julie, Tom Petty is a transplant to California from the South. For years, his identity was intertwined with his birthplace in Gainesville, Florida, and his stories seemed to emanate from there. Listening to his albums over the years, I’ve always been interested to hear how his southern identity has slowly evolved and reconciled itself with his adopted home. With the short, direct, and brilliant “California,” from 1996, the evolution seems complete. This song is highly personal for me. Like Petty, my roots are deeply southern, but I have made my home and my adult life on the West Coast.

Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit in the Sky” Another California transplant, Greenbaum moved to California at the age of twenty–three. He wrote and recorded this classic four years later in San Francisco. A Jewish kid from Massachusetts, Greenbaum reportedly penned his fun, funky, celebratory “friend in Jesus” song in less than fifteen minutes. By some accounts, he was never really sure what the song meant. I can never figure out what it means either. I don’t know what it would’ve been like to live in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, but I imagine that the vibe was very similar to what is captured in this song.

Scorpions, “Wind of Change” Written by Klaus Meine during a trip to Russia in 1989, this song celebrated the imminent fall of the USSR. Since then, of course, it has become an anthem for
large–scale movements that topple unjust regimes. At the heart of Golden State, for me, is the idea that huge, unexpected political and social shifts often seem inconceivable and impossible until the moment they happen. More important, though, this song rocks. I dare you to listen to it without feeling inspired. Long live the Scorpions.

The Mendoza Line, “Aspect of an Old Maid” As the radio plays throughout Golden State, I wanted to establish the melancholy soundtrack of mature breakup songs. No one does a bittersweet, super–complicated breakup song like the Mendoza Line. If we lived in a world where all things were fair, the Mendoza Line’s classic album Lost in Revelry would have sold as many copies as Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This is one of their later songs, and it comes from their last disc, 30 Year Low.

Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando, “Perfect Day” Though the Lou Reed original of this song is a classic, I’m always drawn to this version by MacColl and former Lemonhead Dando. You can find it on MacColl’s disc From Croydon to Cuba.

Steve Forbert, “Goin’ Down to Laurel” I can’t imagine anyone other than Steve Forbert being able to write a great song about Laurel, Mississippi. I first saw Forbert at Mercury Lounge in New York City, then at Maxwell’s in Hoboken (which now, sadly, is closed). Years later, I saw him play at a little church in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. Forbert has a gift for writing heartbreaking songs and delivering them with his unforgettable voice. He’s another musician with one foot in the South (he’s from Meridian, Mississippi) and one foot in the wider, urban world.

Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells, “The Copper Top” For me, this is one of the saddest songs ever written. Everything is getting older.

Dire Straits, “Telegraph Road” Lasting more than fourteen minutes, the storytelling in this song covers a span of well over a hundred years and tells the tale of a single Detroit, Michigan, road from beginning to end. When I first started writing Golden State (which was originally titled California Street), this song was on a mix disc in my car. At the time, my son, in the back seat, always wanted the volume louder, and whether we had arrived at our destination or not, we always had to sit there until the song was over. Someday I will clean out the car, and when I do, I hope to find this disc among the Tootsie Roll wrappers and lost tubes of lipstick—and in working order.

Badly Drawn Boy, “The Way Things Used to Be” Quick, obvious songs of infatuation (think early Beatles) have never done it for me. I’m always drawn to songs about long, messy, complicated relationships (isn’t that the only kind of relationship worth having?). In that category, this Badly Drawn Boy number is one of the best.

Elbow, “August and September” What can I say? I love cover songs, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a cover of the nearly–as–good original by The The, and I found it seven years ago on a Q magazine 1986 tribute disc. It’s another sad breakup song, and although it didn’t make the final edit of Golden State, it always seemed to fit in well with the sound the novel made in my head.

Graham Parker, “Anniversary” Another song celebrating a long relationship. The words are so nice and happy; why, then, does the song sound so ominous and desperate? During the early period
of writing Golden State, I had a CD in my car with a collection of Graham Parker songs, and -the mood and spirit of this one, “You Can’t Be Too Strong,” and “Haunted Episodes,” seemed to seep into the mood of the book somehow.

Johnny Cash, “Further On Up the Road” Johnny Cash singing a Bruce Springsteen song about graveyard boots and looking for a light up ahead . . . what could be better?

Lambchop, “Let’s Go Bowling” This one is from the 1994 Lambchop album with the confusing mix of two different titles—-I Hope You’re Sitting Down and Jack’s Tulips. Although the record was their debut, it appeared with a rustic, world–weary sound that made it seem like it had been around forever. The story is a nice, foggy piece about a couple on a trip to Greece, taking pictures, wandering through the ruins of their life.

Lesley Spencer, “Childhood Revisited” My husband frequently plays this song while doing the dishes. I often hear it oozing out of the kitchen, working its way downstairs to my writing room. I love instrumentals that somehow tell a story, as this one does.

Mark Mulcahy, “A Smack on the Lips” How does love happen? What’s the magic, unnamable thing that brings two people together? I was twenty–four when I met my husband. We’ve been together for most of my adult life. While my husband is definitely not Tom, and Golden State is “purely a work of fiction,” as they say, the passion and stability of a long–term partnership is something that, fortunately, I know well. If you want to tell your spouse you’d do it all over again, play this song!

The Handsome Family, “A Thousand Diamond Rings” Albuquerque’s Handsome Family seems to know a thing or two about complicated relationships. For me, this one and “So Much Wine” are classics.

Richmond Fontaine, “A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses” I would love this great Portland band even if we didn’t share a name. “A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses” is a weird one, almost spoken word. It’s a nice tribute to the importance of being able to remember the high points in a relationship, especially when you are at a low point.

Woodpigeon, “Enchantée Janvier” Canada’s Woodpigeon was an infatuation I had during the early versions of Golden State. If you’re in need of a great, uplifting song, this is it.
Tracey Thorn, “Sister Winter” This is a pretty cover of the lesser–known Sufjan Stevens not–exactly–happy Christmas song.

Billy Idol, “Sweet Sixteen” I fell head over heels for Billy Idol as a fifteen–year–old girl in Alabama. My bedroom was pretty much wallpapered with pictures of him. It was like running into an old crush when, quite by accident, he walked into Golden State. This song goes a bit further than his others—-it’s catchy and hummable, yes, but also sad, with an indescribable vein of melancholy weaving its way through. For years, I thought this song was about a guy who’s in love with a sixteen-year-old girl. Only recently did I come to realize that this is a song about the long haul, about a man who has loved the same woman for a very long time, and who now feels the threat of losing her.

WAKE by Anna Hope, a Debut Novel

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Hope_Wake “Wake is a tender and timely novel, full of compassion and quiet insight. The author gives us a moving and original glimpse into the haunted peace after the Great War, her characters drawn by the gravity of the unmarked, the unknown, and perhaps, finally, the unhoped for.”—Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee

Anna Hope’s beautiful and brilliant debut novel, Wake, hits bookshelves today! We have a special audio sneak peek for you now. The author reads part of the opening scene. Listen here!

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

“Wake is a compelling and emotionally charged debut about the painful aftermath of war and the ways—small, brave, or commonplace—in which we keep ourselves going. It touches feelings we know, and settings—dance halls, war fronts, queues outside the grocer’s—that we don’t. I loved it.”—Rachel Joyce, author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author Feature: 5 Books Robin Black Loves

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Black_Life Drawing Happy Valentine’s Week! We are kicking things off full of love for books and sharing our love for books. Random House Reader’s Circle author Robin Black shares 5 books she loves right now. Her upcoming novel, Life Drawing, is on sale July 2014.

Solace, by Belinda Mckeon

Solace is always now the first novel I recommend, especially to Americans who are less likely to know about it than are people in McKeon’s native Ireland where it won a slew of awards including being named Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year 2011 at the Irish Book Awards. It is a book about loss (this is going to turn out to be a theme in my list, I’m afraid) but also about gains – if that makes sense. In my own work, I am always trying to convey that balance between grief and the spirit, the determination that makes the unendurable endurable. Set largely in the Irish countryside, the book is also a fascinating look at that milieu, certainly an unfamiliar one to me. Just a great, beautifully written book.

The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

When I recently read The Sense of an Ending, I had no idea the book’s own ending would come so soon. I was reading an e-copy, not tracking pages, and didn’t realize it is well under 200 pages long. I say this, not because its brevity is by itself a virtue – not exactly – but because what Barnes accomplishes in those pages is simply extraordinary. It is a neat puzzle of a book, a kind of clockwork-precise meditation on certain kinds of love, of attachment, of loss (that word again!), of self-delusion, but though an extremely precise, well-structured book, it left me, in all the best ways, with a sense of how messy life is, how full of misunderstanding and crossed wires. It has the feel of a magic trick, a kind of “How on Earth did he do that?” book.

Ancient Light, John Banville

What is remembered and what invented – for any of us? That’s the question at the heart of Ancient Light, and it’s a question that fascinates me, both as a writer and as a person (though those aren’t entirely different things). I think that for many of us, at a certain point in life, you begin rerunning the oldest reels of memory, constructing your own narrative, trying to make sense of it all. Ancient Light, about an “older” actor, newly cast in a role after a time away from his career, explores all these issues of permanency and its opposite when it comes to knowledge of our own distant – maybe not so distant – past.

Someone, Alice McDermott

I enjoyed Someone, enjoyed the story a lot, but I also admit I dip back into this one for the sheer craft of it. The particular way McDermott weaves a present day narrative with a story of the past is wonderfully effective, and, for a writer (since we writers are always on the prowl for new techniques) wonderfully instructive too. But it isn’t at all a technically flashy book, and McDermott’s insights into love, heartache – of many sorts – and also into the role death plays sociologically as well as emotionally within a community, are not only wise, but also very beautiful.

The Understory, Pamela Erens

This is the book I am reading now, soon to be rereleased, after Erens made such an impression with her recent novel The Virgins. The Understory was a critical success when it first appeared some years ago, but never found the audience it deserved. I am reading an advance copy, and so far what strikes me – as I was similarly struck when reading The Virgins – is the intelligence and certainty with which Erens evokes the world she describes. Every sentence is well-turned and accomplishes a lot. Her prose is what people like to call, “muscular,” meaning just that she does a lot with no waste. The pages positively bubble with evocative details. The narrator is a man whose psyche is peculiar – he obsessively or maybe compulsively collects sightings of identical twins, for example – yet, for all his oddity, he is immediately accessible, compelling. Only a couple of chapters in, I have a feeling that this time around a lot more people are going to know and love this book.

What 5 books are you loving right now?? Share with us on our Facebook page.

Reader’s Guide: GOLDEN STATE by Michelle Richmond

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Richmond_Golden State “A breathtaking read and one I’ll not soon forget.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Aviator’s Wife

“I haven’t read such a gripping, bittersweet, moving novel in ages. Golden State sweeps you up, whisks you away, and doesn’t let you go till the very end. Michelle Richmond, author of the unforgettable The Year of Fog, does it again.”—Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. The author uses an unconventional timeline to tell her story, moving back and forth between past, present, and earlier that morning. What elements does this add to the reading experience? How would the experience have changed had the author used a strictly linear approach?

2. How are music and lyrics important throughout the story? What does the incessancy of Tom’s voice on the radio mean to Julie?

3. Describe how Heather and Julie’s relationship changes. What are the most influential moments? If you were Julie, would you have been able to forgive Heather?

4. On page 148, Julie questions her and Tom’s relationship by saying, “Without a child, are we even a family?” Ethan undoubtedly transforms Julie and Tom’s life, but does he prove that children are necessary to have a real family?

5. On page 80, Julie wonders, “Between a marriage one chooses and a blood relation one doesn’t, shouldn’t marriage be the more powerful bond?” Does Julie find an answer to this question? Which do you think is the stronger bond?

6. What does Julie’s mother represent? Why are Julie’s memories of Mississippi and her childhood so important? Why might she reflect on them during the stress of the hostage situation?

7. The characters in Golden State grapple with the idea of things either happening for a reason or happening due to cause and effect. Julie spends most of the novel defending the latter, but which do you believe in? Why?

8. Explain Dennis and Julie’s relationship. How is it possible that Julie could feel remorse for Dennis in the midst of a hostage crisis?

9. Throughout the novel, Julie views her life as a series of beginnings and endings, rather than a continuum of learning and growing. Does this mindset hurt or help her? Does her attitude change by the end of the novel? Through which interpretation do you view your life?

10. The author leaves certain questions unanswered at the close of the story. If you were to write a sequel, how would you tie up the novel’s loose ends?

11. On page 94, Tom says, “We become so used to the way things are . . . we can’t imagine things being any other way.” What does he mean by this? How does the premise of Golden State encourage readers to imagine the impossible?

12. Of all the themes in the novel—-forgiveness, family, belief, patriotism, identity, etc.—-which was the most relevant to you? Why?

Reader’s Guide: UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY by Nancy Horan

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Horan_Under the Wide and Starry Sky Nancy Horan has had a big week. Her new novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, went on sale January 21st. The Today Show selected it as their Book Club Pick. And she has kicked off a great book tour!

If you and your book club are reading Under the Wide and Starry Sky, then we have the discussion questions to get the conversation going.

Discussion Questions:

1. In order to separate from her unfaithful husband, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne takes her children across the continental U.S. and the Atlantic to study art in Europe. Do you think it’s the wisest choice, given the impact on her children? Would you make a similar decision under the circumstances? Are there other options she could have pursued?

2. At first glance, Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson might seem an unlikely match. Why do you think they are so drawn to each other? Why does their relationship endure?

3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become a phrase synonymous with the idea of the divided self. At any points in the novel, does Louis seem to live a double life? Does Fanny? In what ways do Fanny, Louis, and other characters struggle with their own identities?

4. After criticizing a story of Fanny’s, W. E. Henley incites a quarrel with Louis that threatens their friendship. Does Fanny deserve the criticism? Do you think she and RLS enhance or hinder each other’s artistic ambitions and accomplishments?

5. Take a look at John Singer Sargent’s painting “Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife” (1885; currently in the Steve Wynn collection). What do you think of his portrayal of Fanny and Louis?

6. Many of us feel the need to shape a story out of the facts of our lives. In making these stories, we sometimes create myths about ourselves. Does Fanny invent myths about herself? Does RLS do the same?

7. The Stevensons travel all over the globe in search of the ideal climate for their family, from Switzerland to the South Seas. How do landscape and environment affect each of them?

8. Many of Louis’s friends find Fanny overprotective of her husband. Do you agree or disagree? Are her actions justified?

9. In Samoa, late in their marriage, Louis suggests that the work Fanny does is not that of an artist. He tells her, “No one should be offended if it is said that he is not an artist. The only person who should be insulted by such an observation is an artist who supports his family with his work.” Do you agree with this? What does Fanny consider her art? Do you agree with her views?

We can’t wait to hear what you think! Join the conversation with us on our Facebook page or with Nancy Horan.

Giveaway Opportunity: EMPRESS OF THE NIGHT by Eva Stachniak

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Stachniak_Empress of the Night Perfect for readers of Hilary Mantel, Alison Weir, and Philippa Gregory, Empress of the Night is Eva Stachniak’s engrossing new novel, told in the voice of Catherine the Great as the Romanov monarch reflects on her ascension to the throne, her rule over the world’s greatest power, and the sacrifices that made her the most feared and commanding woman of her time.

A critically acclaimed historical drama and instant #1 international bestseller, The Winter Palace brilliantly reimagined the rise of Catherine the Great through the watchful eyes of her clever servant Varvara. Now, in Eva Stachniak’s enthralling new novel, Catherine takes center stage as she relives her astonishing ascension to the throne, her rule over an empire, and the sacrifices that made her the most feared and commanding woman of her time.

As the book opens, the charismatic monarch is in her final hours. From the fevered depths of her mind, Catherine recalls the fateful trajectory of her turbulent life: her precarious apprenticeship as Russia’s Grand Duchess, the usurpers who seek to deprive her of a crown, the friends who beg more of her than she was willing to give, and her struggle to know whom to trust and whom to deceive to ensure her survival.

“We quarrel about power, not about love,” Catherine would write to the great love of her life, Grigory Potemkin, but her days were balanced on the razor’s edge of choosing her head over her heart. Power, she learns, is about resolve, strategy, and direction; love must sometimes be secondary as she marshals all her strengths to steer her volatile country into a new century and beyond—to grow the Romanov empire, to amass a vast fortune, and to control a scheming court in order to become one of history’s greatest rulers.

Gorgeously written with vivid detail and lyrical prose, Empress of the Night is an intensely intimate novel of a woman in charge of her fortunes, who must navigate the sorrows, triumphs, and hopes of both her soul and a nation.

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Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for THE DEEPEST SECRET by Carla Buckley

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Buckley_Deepest Secret Book clubs: get ready for this one! There is much to discuss with Carla Buckley’s The Deepest Secret (on sale February 4). We have the discussion questions for you and your book club to enjoy.

For fans of Jodi Picoult, Kim Edwards, and William Landay, The Deepest Secret is part intimate family drama, part gripping page-turner, exploring the profound power of the truths we’re scared to face . . . about our marriages, our children, and ourselves.

Questions for Discussion:

1. What did you think of Eve’s decision not to say anything the night of the accident? Do you think she made the best of a terrible situation, or that she should have confessed immediately? Do you think she might not have confessed if Melissa hadn’t been a suspect, and if Tyler hadn’t planted evidence framing Robbie?

2. Charlotte ultimately says to David that if it were “Tyler lying there and Amy who needed saving…If it were my Amy—I’d have done just what Eve did.” (421) What would you do in the face of such a situation?

3. Discuss the novel’s title, The Deepest Secret. How does it apply to the story? The author stresses that it is human nature to try and keep secrets. But do you think it’s true that all secrets will eventually come out, that it’s also in human nature to want to know—and, to a certain extent, want to confess?

4. The relationship between Tyler and Eve is the backbone of the novel, but it’s a complicated one. Describe the arc of their relationship from the beginning to the end. Were you surprised to find that they were ultimately quite similar in their drive to protect their family?

5. At one point, David reflects that, “Now he sees the grays, the blurry lines. He understands how loneliness might drive a person to make terrible choices.” (171) Do you agree with David’s assessment? What do you feel the novel says about loneliness and its impact on our actions?

6. Holly asks Tyler, “Do you think it’s better to have dreams and lose them, or not have dreams at all?” (178) How would you respond?

7. Throughout the book, there is the recurring idea that we can’t ever truly know what another person is capable of. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

8. Tyler slips through the night, observing people when they believe they are alone, and is surprised by what he finds. Do you think, in the moments where we are unobserved, we are all different people? That we are more ourselves? How much of our personalities are defined by how others see us?

9. What did you think of the author’s portrayal of parenthood and parent/child relationships? Did it resonate with you?

10. How much of a factor did Eve’s age/experience play into your sympathies for her or lack thereof? If it had been Melissa who had hit Amy, would you have viewed the situation differently? If so, in what ways?

11. Which characters won your sympathy and why? Did this change over the course of the novel? Did your notion of what was best or right shift in the course of your reading?

12. Mourning and loss are themes of the book. How does loss—or the anticipation of loss—affect certain character’s decisions?

13. What did you think of the conclusion of the novel? Did it turn out as you expected? Were you satisfied?

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Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for CARTWHEEL by Jennifer duBois

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

DuBois_Cartwheel “[You’ll] break your own record of pages read per minute as you tear through this book.”—Marie Claire

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The first paragraph of Cartwheel ends with a chilling statement: “The things that go wrong are rarely the things you’ve thought to worry about.” Why do you think the author makes such a pronouncement at the beginning of the novel? What does she mean? Is this true in your life?

2. The story in Cartwheel is very much of our time. Lily’s case becomes an international sensation because of Facebook, blogs, and the way shocking news and information can travel around the world within minutes. Social media plays a big role in Cartwheel. Does this change your view of social media? How do you use social media to share details of your life? What about your family members?

3. Why do you think Jennifer duBois chose to tell the story from four points of view? How does that affect the experience of reading it?

4. At one point, Lily’s sister Anna says “… everyone wants to love Lily,” that she’s always played by different rules. Why does Anna think this?

5. Lily’s father, Andrew, believes “. . . everything vile about your children was to some degree vile about yourself.” Is this a fair statement? Do Lily’s parents fail her, or is this parental guilt?

6. What impact does her sister’s ordeal have on Anna?

7. The title of the book comes from the cartwheel Lily turned between interrogation sessions. Why did the author choose this image as significant?

8. In what ways are Lily and Katy different? Why does Lily feel Katy’s life was “easy”? Is she being fair?

9. Have you, or someone you know, studied abroad? Do you think it benefits college students to visit other countries? Why do you think Lily wanted to study abroad? What was she looking for?

10. Eduardo, attorney for the prosecution, believes Lily is guilty but that she doesn’t understand why what she did was wrong. Do you agree?

11. Sebastien is an enigmatic character. What do you think Lily is attracted to about him? Where do you think his addiction to obscuring half-ironies come from, and what consequences does it have for the unfolding of events?

12. The author uses ambiguity to tell this story. How does that affect your understanding of what happened? Which character do you trust the most?

13. Lily calls her family “repressed,” saying they never learned how to mourn their first child, the sister who died before Lily and Anna were born. Why does she say she and Anna were treated like “replacement children?”

14. Do you believe the whole story comes out at Lily’s trial?

Giveaway Opportunity: BLOSSOM STREET BRIDES by Debbie Macomber

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Maomber_Blossom Street BridesIs your book club looking for a new read? Enter below for your chance to win Blossom Street Brides by bestselling author Debbie Macomber for your ENTIRE book club!

#1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber has won the hearts of millions of readers with her moving and inspiring stories. Now wedding bells are ringing in the tight-knit community that gathers around A Good Yarn, a store in a pretty Seattle neighborhood. Knitters come to the store to buy yarn and patterns but somehow they leave richer in friendship and love.

Lauren Elliott has waited years for her long-term boyfriend, Todd, to propose, yet he seems more focused on his career than their relationship. When Lauren learns that her younger sister is pregnant before she herself even has an engagement ring, she feels overjoyed yet disheartened. Knowing she can’t put her future on hold, Lauren prepares to make a bold choice—one that leads her to a man she never dreamed she’d meet.

Newly married to her second husband, Max, Bethanne Scranton is blissfully in love. But with Max’s job in California and Bethanne’s in Seattle, their long-distance marriage is becoming difficult to maintain. To complicate matters, Bethanne’s cunning ex will do anything to win her back.

Lydia Goetz, too, is wonderfully happy with her husband, Brad, though lately she worries about the future of A Good Yarn. As she considers how to bring in business, she discovers that someone has beaten her to the punch. Baskets of yarn are mysteriously popping up all over town, with instructions to knit a scarf for charity and bring it into Lydia’s store. Never before has her shop received so much attention, but who hatched this brilliant plan?

As three women’s lives intersect in unexpected ways, Lydia, Lauren, and Bethanne realize that love heals every heart, and the best surprises still lay ahead.

Bertelsmann Media Worldwide