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Posts Tagged ‘reading group’

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?

Enter to win a copy of VACLAV & LENA by Haley Tanner

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

tanner_halleyVaclav & Lena LHJ dummyThis giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!

Vaclav 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.

Follow Haley on Twitter

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.

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.

Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

MWF Seeking BFFI couldn’t put it down.” – Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project

When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: She’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

In her thought-provoking, uproarious memoir, Bertsche blends the story of her girl-dates (whom she meets everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites) with the latest social research to examine how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. In a time when women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF, Bertsche uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life is, you’ve gotta have friends.

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Win a copy of Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Peach Keeper TP smallThis giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the many of you who entered!

Coming to paperback January 10th!

“[Sarah Addison Allen] juggles small-town history and mystical thriller, character development and eerie magical realism in a fine Southern gothic drama.”—Publishers Weekly

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather and once the finest home in Walls of Water, North Carolina—has stood for years as a monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite Paxton Osgood—has restored the house to its former glory, with plans to turn it into a top-flight inn. But when a skeleton is found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, long-kept secrets come to light, accompanied by a spate of strange occurrences throughout the town. Thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the passions and betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover the truths that have transcended time to touch the hearts of the living.

Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife: One of the Top 10 Books of the Year!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The Tiger's Wife TPThe New York Times announced its top 10 books of the year yesterday, and we’re thrilled that The Tiger’s Wife is among them! Congrats, Téa.
For the complete list, click here.

Win a paperback of The Tiger’s Wife!

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

*This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to the over 2,000 people who entered!*The Tiger's Wife TPobreht_tea

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction

One of the year’s best novels is coming to paperback November 1st!

“[Obreht] has a talent for subtle plotting that eludes most writers twice her age, and her descriptive powers suggest a kind of channeled genius. . . . No novel [this year] has been more satisfying.”—The Wall Street Journal

“So rich with themes of love, legends and mortality that every novel that comes after it this year is in peril of falling short in comparison with its uncanny beauty.”—Time

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