I picked up Shelter from the Texas Heat earlier this year at the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriends Weekend in Jefferson, Texas—founded by the very fabulous Kathy L. Patrick. (Have I ever mentioned that this is the BEST party of the year?) I remember telling myself that I was not going to buy another book. But that was right before hearing the author, Bobbi Kornblit, give her talk. After which, my friend Jan and I jumped up to run and purchase (yet another) book! I remember thinking that Shelter from the Texas Heat would be a great addition to a blog I planned to do in November around the JFK assassination—this being the 50th anniversary of our national tragedy. But, by the time I got around to reading the book, I’d forgotten what else had attracted me to it…I was expecting a “nice little bon-bon” as my friend Sheila would say—you know—something kind of light and fluffy… After all, the cover has these great colorful cowboy boots—and I thought I’d remembered the author mentioning something about some quirky characters… So, was I ever surprised at the depth of the story! Quirky characters? Absolutely. Light and fluffy? Absolutely not! A perfect book club book? Definitely!
Synopsis: “Through laughter and tears [this novel] tells the story of a woman’s emotional journey on a road that could tragically lead to a dead end or to the highway of happiness. Compared in reviews to The Help and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, [it’s] a novel about deep secrets and powerful friendships. Rachel Frank, a redheaded Texan, has it all: a happy marriage to a successful architect, a house on a prestigious street in North Dallas, and a daughter who’s coed at UT Austin. And then suddenly, Rachel’s world turns upside down. She shares her adventures in life from the 1960s to the present with best friend P.J. Rutherford, the daughter of a Texas tycoon. They experience the horror of the assassination of JFK when they were girls in Dallas. Rachel’s mother, Rosy Rosenshein Miller, tries to overcome the nightmare of her own past. She’s one of those great “broads” with loads of spunk and a little too much red lipstick. The tale of three generations of women reflects the coming-of-age of its characters—and of America. From funny, turned disastrous moments at a glamorous birthday party at Neiman Marcus, to the painful memories of a Holocaust survivor, [this book] takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride that even includes a stop at the State Fair of Texas. The setting is Texas, but the themes are universal. With wide interest in JFK during this 50th anniversary of the assassination in 1963, this book provides a look at the tragic event from a child’s perspective and the aftermath on a family.” (Publisher)
Awards: Apparently, I’m not the first to recognize the value of this book…It has been selected as the Winner of the 2012 NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, the 2013 Multicultural-Fiction category of the National Indie Excellence Awards, and 2012 Georgia Author of the Year First Fiction Award Finalist . In addition, the book was chosen as the September 2012 Recommended Selection of Kathy L. Patrick’s Pulpwood Queens Book Club, an international group with over 500 chapters. The novel was also adapted for a staged reading by Kennesaw State University’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies.
Themes: The discussable themes covered in this short novel are myriad: Marriage and Family; Mother/Daughter relationships; Spousal Abuse; Random acts of Violence; Racial prejudice; Secrets; Friendship; Jewish traditions; Depression; Trauma Recovery—yep—some pretty heavy stuff. The author has you laughing one moment and crying the next. And yet, this was an enjoyable—if a bit emotionally involved—read! The author includes some discussion questions in the back—but you probably won’t even need them! Order extra wine, because your reading group is going to be there for a while. Oh, and Bobbi also welcomes Skype™ requests to connect with book clubs.
Characters: The main character is a spunky red-headed Jewish Texan named Rachel, whom you will learn to love—despite her inability to help herself, at times. Rachel appears to have inherited her spunk from her Mother, Rosy—a real beauty in her day—but also a women with hidden strength and a great love for her family. Rachel’s husband, Michael, is the kind of guy any woman looks for: strong, smart, and compassionate. And Missy, Rachel’s daughter is good kid—who unfortunately frequently ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time. You will also adore her loyal, life-long best friend—the determined PJ.
But even some of the periphery characters were quite interesting: Carrie Ann, the friend with enough “princess” crowns to open a jewelry shop: Rosemary, the pop-psychologist; and Irene, the Holocaust survivor; Manny, the African-American butler; and Juan, the Hispanic sculptor. They add much breadth to the character line-up, and complexity to the plot line.
Setting: The author used several historical references over the past half-century in an almost Forrest Gump-way to ground the time-setting, including the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, German Concentration Camps, and MLK’s March on Washington, in addition to the afore-mentioned JFK Assassination. For the baby-boomer generation, she sprinkled enough pop song references to send you back to your High School dance days. And for you Texans, there are plenty of landmarks—from Dallas to Austin—with which this Californian was unfamiliar, but y’all will certainly recognize.
This novel was a satisfying read and will be added to my short list of favorites for this year. I did, however, have a few unanswered questions when I finished this book, and so the author has agreed to participate in a Q&A for us inquiring minds—so you have something else to look forward to… (Let me know if you have some “Q’s” to add to my own growing list…)
Give-away: And speaking of things to look forward to—we will be giving away a copy of Ms. Kornblit’s novel here on the Book Club Cheerleader blog. Please leave a comment below to be entered into the drawing! Good luck and…
Details and Links:
Peach Twig Press, $17.95 (304p) November 2011, IBSN 978-0-615-53861-7
Author’s Website: Bobbi Kornblit.com
Check out her FB page: Shelter from the Texas Heat
See where Bobbi will be next: Author Events
Pure Politics: Book Review: Shelter from the Texas Heat by Bobbi Kornblit
* Ratings were current at the time of posting.
It’s been a few years since I shared about the popular and important topic of Literary Halloween Costumes, so I thought I’d post an update. Of course, there have been SO MANY book events to dress up for since then!
Personal favorites have included: that great 50’s housewife Shoko from An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway (Tip—this costume is quite versatile as I also wore it when our neighborhood book club celebrated The Help by Kathryn Stockett); the pioneering aviator and author Anne Morrow Lindbergh from The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin (I know—lots of “wives”…)(Tip: this could also be worn for Louis Zamperini from Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken); the grieving Irish gypsy grandmother from The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins; the brave civil war nurse (and eventually doctor) Mary Sutter from My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira; a Reveur from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; and finally the spunky little German foster-child Liesel Meminger from Marcus Zusak’s incredibly wonderful novel, The Book Thief. (Tip—I originally wore this as the courageous mother Anna from Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us.) Also, fans of Liesel, take note—the movie will be in theaters starting November 8th!
What do I plan to wear tonight while doling out candy to all the little neighborhood goblins? It’s a toss-up between Liesel Meminger and Anne Morrow Lindbergh—probably the latter since the aviator’s helmet is less scratchy than the blonde pigtailed wig…
Who will YOU be dressing as tonight? I want pictures!
Wishing you a Happy and Safe Halloween!
Photo info: Top row left to right, BCC with Kay Hodges; BCC solo; BCC with Kay Hodges. Bottom row left to right, BCC solo; Carolyn Turgeon, Kathryn Casey, Jenny Wingfield, Marcia Fine, BCC, Jan Ward, ML Malcolm, and Deb Derrick; BCC.
Mr. Ford seems to have a penchant for writing stories that will warm your heart only after breaking it a few times along the way. Of course, book-clubbers fell in love with his debut novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, helping to make it a New York Times best-seller which rode the list for 136 weeks, selling well over a million copies on that ride. Back then, our hearts ached for the star-crossed young lovers, Henry and Keiko. Well, he’s up to his old tricks again in his sophomore novel, Songs of Willow Frost—and we’re up to our elbows in tissues. But before we get into the book, I have to share a little anecdote about what happened when I first read this latest Jamie Ford sob-fest of a novel.
Handsome Hubby and I were on our way to the East Coast recently, and as we were about to land he happens to glance over and see me sniffling, tears streaming down my face. Alarmed, he leaned over and asked, “Honey, are you alright?”
Pulled from my post-reading trance, I replied,” Oh…Yes…I just finished Jamie Ford’s new book…And it was just… beautiful…”
Disgusted that I had concerned him over something as trivial as a book, he shook his head while rolling his eyes and shutting the Ron Chernow book he happened to be reading. I could tell he was thinking, “I can’t believe she would get so worked up over a stupid book.” (Yeah—we’ve been married 30 years now—I can translate almost any gesture…)
We landed a few minutes later, and as we were gathering our belongings to exit the plane, another passenger glanced over and recognized the book in Handsome Hubby’s hand. “Hey—that’s Chernow’s latest, isn’t it? How do you like it?” he asked.
Handsome Hubby replied, “I’m really enjoying it. He’s a good writer.” And then with a smirk in my direction, he added, “But apparently he’s not Jamie Ford…”
Obviously, I enjoyed reading this latest book by the inimitable Jamie Ford. And here’s why I think you will too…
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage—a rather Dickensian institution—for the last five years ago. On a field trip to the historical Moore Theatre, William hears an actress sing who he swears must be his mother. On a mission to discover the truth, he and his best friend Charlotte escape the orphanage in (you’re going to love this) a book mobile. Now the pair must survive the streets of Depression-era Seattle on their own. In a secondary story thread, we follow Willow Frost, a young Chinese-American singer turned actress through her roller-coaster life and career. Can these two really be related?
Setting: Well-researched, yet authentically personal, “Songs” is told in the alternate voices of 12-year old William Eng and Willow Frost (partially based on real-life film star, Anna Mae Wong.) The narrative covers the time period of 1920’s and 1930’s Seattle. So, it follows that the author would bring in a personal aspect of Chinese-American life in this city. (Ford, himself, is self-described as “half Chinese, half Betty Crocker-White” and lived in Seattle for a long spell.) As with Ford’s previous novel, we feel as though we can see, taste, and feel the city of Seattle—although this time we’re transported to the Depression era.
Characters: Although the strong setting is realistically drawn, it is the characters that drive this story. Be prepared to fall in love with young William—who’s as charming as Hotel‘s Henry—and Charlotte, a beautiful but blind fellow orphan, who serves as Willie’s sidekick and is wise beyond her years. It may take a while to warm to Willow. But her “frost” melts when we witness what caused her to make the choices that she has, and then we learn to sympathize with her plight, as well.
Favorite Quote: “The Library is like a candy store where everything is free.” (Obviously written by a man who loves libraries. And not a surprise—since he met his lovely wife at one…)
Discussable Themes: Book clubs have much fodder for discussion in this book including the themes of loss and abandonment; hope and healing; mother/son relationships; the meaning of home and family; hurt and forgiveness; child-abuse; orphans and orphanages; the great depression; minorities in the film industry; and search for identity. But don’t worry—if you can’t devise questions from these themes, they’ve included a reader’s guide for you in the back of the book. And taking this lead, my library book club has already selected “Songs” for one of our upcoming reads—come join us!
Although highly recommend, don’t forget that this novel comes with a major hanky-warning!
Details and Links:
The book: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford.
Ballantine Books, $26.00 (319p) September 2013, ISBN 978-0-345-52202-3
Author Website: JamieFord.com
Publisher’s Website: RandomHouse.com (Ballantine Books is an imprint of Random House)
Read the first two chapters for free: Scribd.com
Author Talks about his new book: YouTube
Author Interview: YouTube (sorry about the background noise—BEA can be a real zoo…)
* Rating at the time of this posting
Author’s prior work: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Disclaimers: I consider Jamie Ford a friend (as well as a literary genius…) But if you don’t trust my (admittedly biased) judgment—you’ll just have to pick up a copy of Songs of Willow Frost for yourself and see if I’m exaggerating!
I received a copy of the book for review purposes. I do not receive any compensation for any feature or recommendation that appears on my website or recommendation I make to my clubs. I am a member of Amazon Associates program, and I do get a small amount of money if you buy a book using my links. So far, I’ve earned enough to buy a bag of Meow Mix™ for my cats, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…
Oh, yeah—and sincere apologies to Ron Chernow. Apparently, he IS a really good writer. And he cannot help it if he’s not Jamie Ford.
Leave it to Susan Reinhardt to tackle an extremely disturbing topic—spousal abuse—while writing about the recovery in a very funny way. And that’s just what she does in her latest novel, Chimes From a Cracked Southern Belle.
Prudy (Dee) Millings is trying to put her life back together after doctors have done the same for her poor ol’ body. Recovering from a near-fatal attack by her psycho-preacher-ex, she and her two “young-uns” are trying to move forward again. A former Homecoming Queen, Dee has now put a few pounds and did not finish nursing school before running off with the most handsome man in the county. Her two cheerleaders in this endeavor are her mother (who’s almost as crazy as her ex) and her Aunt Weepy—who scours the obit section of the newspaper daily so she can plan to crash nearby funerals (whether she knows the deceased or not) in order to be invited to the “covered dish” afterwards. (Now I don’t like to cook either—but this seems a bit extreme…) Two years after the attack, doctors say her bones are healing fine, but it’s her spirit that needs the most help…
When I first discovered why this Southern belle was “cracked”, I thought to myself, “Here we go—another depressing Black and Blue…” but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not that Susan sugar-coated the abuse issue—we learn about every gory cut, scar and crushed limb—but I was amazed that she was able to write about it in such a way that the tone was ultimately uplifting. Instead of framing our protagonist Dee as a victim, we see how she eventually became a survivor—and thriver—in life.
It was an enjoyable, well-paced and entertaining read with fascinating characters (and I do mean “characters”…) a positive message, and some of the best one-liners ever. Rounding up her description of Dee’s mother, she writes, “She meant well. Only I wasn’t well enough for what she meant.” After Dee runs over a squirrel with her car—which was a bit too reminiscent of her recent “accident” in which her Baptist preacher husband tries to run her over with the church van—she is obviously emotional and guilt-ridden. The author describes Dee’s ensuing “rodent CPR” episode, and then her mother reacts, “Get away from that thing right now!…You could get rabies. I didn’t raise you to French kiss road kill…”And finally, she writes of Dee’s physical urges, “I was almost at the point, lust-wise, of putting a personal ad in the paper.” Wanted, DFHMWMOT (Disease Free Heterosexual Man With Majority Of Teeth) for three to four nights of fun. No attachments. No commitments.”
Fans of Fanny Flagg and Beth Hoffman will love this little Southern slice of life. It also reminded me of Robert Leleux’s memoir, “The Living End”, that he wrote about the serious topic of his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, in that Susan finds the (funny) silver lining without diminishing the impact of the subject. I’d be curious to hear how a survivor of abuse reacts to this book. For the rest of us—it’s a highly recommended read!
Details, Links & Resources:
The Book: Chimes From a Cracked Southern Belle by Susan Reinhardt; Graceful Steps; June 2013
Author’s Website: Susan Reinhardt.com
The Publisher: Graceful Steps
Short Author Interview video: Citizen-Times.com
Author Reading: YouTube
Related Book Club Cheerleader post by author: What Not to Say at Book Club
GoodReads: 4.23 ranking*
Amazon: 4.9 rating*
Angela’s Smexy Reviews: 4 rating
* at the time of this posting
Disclaimer: I met the author several years ago at a writer’s conference and received a copy of the book for review purposes. I do not receive any compensation for any feature or recommendation that appears on my website or recommendation I make to my clubs. I am a member of Amazon Associates program, and I do get a small amount of money if you buy a book using my links. So far, I’ve earned enough to buy a bag of Meow Mix™ for my cats, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…
Several years back, I met a very funny writer at The Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Conference (No, not Marcia Fine or Wade Rouse, although I did meet both of these talented authors at that same conference.) As is often the case at conferences, we were both standing in the lengthy line outside the women’s room, and we struck up a conversation by complementing each other on what we were wearing (natch…) And as we continued to chat, I learned that Susan Reinhardt was our keynote luncheon speaker and she was taking care of necessary business before stepping up to the mike in just a few minutes. (Great—I couldn’t be late if the speaker was stuck in this same queue with me…) At the time, Susan had just written “Not Tonight Honey, Wait ‘Til I’m a Size 6,” (whose clever cover was a spoof of David Sedaris’s “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim”) which I later bought, read, and loved! But at that moment, she kept me in stitches while we waited in that enormously extensive line—and it’s lucky for me that I was already where I needed to be because she had me laughing so hard, I might’ve peed my pants. (A true Southerner, Susan has some great stories—and she tells them well…)
When we were chatting recently, she began telling me about her book club and I thought it would be fun if she could share a little bit about them with y’all. Like Susan, herself, her book club sounds like they’re not high on “rules”—and it sounds like they’re a bunch of gals we would all like to hang with!
Have I ever mentioned how much I love my book club and the fine group of 10 or 12 ladies who gather each month?
We’ve been together for nearly 10 years, thanks to our founder Laurie Pappas, who owns the Coach House Seafood & Steak (delish!) in Black Mountain, North Carolina. A year after she lost her precious daughter, Katy, she found herself lonely and enjoying friends who’d come around and try to cheer her up.
“I thought having a book club would give us purpose to get together, as well as keep me reading on a regular basis,” this mother of three from North Asheville said. So in the fall of 2003, she founded our book club. We don’t really have a name – or rather have had a couple but none stuck. What did stick, however, were the bonds we made over the past decade, many of the original members still active and meeting once a month on a Monday evening in each other’s homes. We’ve all been together since our kids were in elementary school, and were there for each other during transitions, graduations, proms, colleges and other milestones and even a few missteps.
Sometimes we talk more about our kids and our lives than the book, but that’s all right by me, and often the conversations are either hilarious or healing. We are women, after all. And women do tend to get off topic, which is why having girlfriends is so important.
The other day I opened an Oprah newsletter, which I normally never do. It was about book clubs and what “Never to Say” at such meetings. I simply had to click on that link. While our group typically enjoys rousing evenings during our “meetings,” I think we’ve all broken a few of Oprah’s rules.
She begins her blog with this opener: “We love reading. We love the company and conversation. We love the stuffed mushrooms and potluck pinot noir. But every now and then, somebody says something that we really, really wish they hadn’t – especially, when that somebody is us.”
OK, I’m guilty as charged. I’ve done a few things at book club meetings I’ve come to regret, but let’s not get into that. Here is a partial list from the Oprah rant about what not to say when wining and dining and book discussing with your besties.
Her first no-no was asking members, “Who liked the book and who didn’t?” I find nothing wrong with this question. We’re always voting and rating the books at the end of each session, usually after downing all the appetizers and beverages (lemonade, of course) at the hostess’s home.
Her second point of contention was throwing out problems during book club meetings, such as “Dealing with my kids/boss has been crazy – I couldn’t get past the first chapter.” Guilty. While most come to book club to escape stress and reality, we’re always talking about various jobs, problems, losses and successes. This chitchat is as important for us as discussing The Book.
Oprah says if you didn’t have time to read the selection, sit quietly and nibble the cheese dips. Yep, or as I say, scan the cheat sheets on the book and “pretend” to have read it. I didn’t just say that.
One of my favorites that the Queen of Books claims isn’t a cool question is, “Who picked this book, anyway?” Makes a gal turn 50 shades of crimson. I think all the members in our club have asked that many times. I remember picking something really, really raunchy, but had read the great reviews and had no idea “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper,” was so explicit. I mean the writer of “Juno,” Diablo Cody, had penned it. I tried to visualize each of our fine ladies reading certain parts of this hip-thrusting, nudity-filled memoir. I was for sure they would kick me out, but Laurie typically reserves such threats for the no-shows.
One more thing Oprah advises is never to announce, “This one is just over my head.” Well, we have a certain loveable member who always chooses very difficult classics. I remember a recent meeting when most of us decided to watch “The Grapes of Wrath” instead of reading it. So ha!
In parting, Oprah offers some final words. A member should never say, “What I really want to talk about is…opening another bottle of wine.” We have a quite a few Catholics, Greeks, and non-denominationals so that’s not a big deal during our glutinous fests.
The best part of joining a book club is sharing friendships, hardships and the fact that most groups vote on genres and selections, so we’re reading a wide variety of books. If we read them. And that is dear Laurie’s biggest issue.
“My pet peeve is when people just don’t’ read the book ’cause they didn’t like it or didn’t make an effort to find the book in a timely manner, then scramble at the last minute to find a copy,” said Laurie, who’s read every book since 2003. “Do I sound witchy saying this?”
No, Laurie. Oprah would probably give you a hug or a new Kia for those enlightening thoughts. Especially if you jumped up and down on her couch and told her how much you LOVE your book club in quite a Tom Cruise-y fit of passion.
This is the opinion of Susan Reinhardt. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Reinhardt is the author of the hilarious and quirky novel “Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle,” along with “Not Tonight Honey, Wait ‘Til I’m a Size 6,” “Don’t Sleep with a Bubba.” and “Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin.” www.susanreinhardt.com
OK. I’m not one of those bloggers who talks about books she hasn’t yet read. Normally. But I received a book in the mail today that is totally NOT normal—and I cannot wait to tell you about it…
So what if Rapunzel were actually the wicked step-mother of Snow White? Who in the world would ever re-imagine such a fairytale mash-up? Only the queen of the genre herself, Carolyn Turgeon. Author of Mermaid, The Next Full Moon, and Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story (one of my favorite books of all time…) Carolyn has once again turned fairy lore on its ear. I can’t wait to dive into this one!
Here’s what a few of my favorite authors have to say about it…
First, the adorable Mr. Jamie Ford (author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) says, “I loved this unexpected spin on the story of Rapunzel, a strong-willed devourer of hearts. Be careful, she just might take a bit of yours.”
And here’s what the talented Ms. Caroline Leavitt (author of Is it Tomorrow) says “Magical, mythical and totally original, Turgeon’s haunting story of Rapunzel and Snow White unfolds like a waking dream, with prose that shimmers like cut diamonds. About love, longing, and loss, it turns the fairy tale into something as provocative as it is profound.”
And then clever Ms. Eleanor Brown (author of The Weird Sisters) writes, “Intricate, inventive, and charged with magic. Carolyn Turgeon masterfully clears the mists of fairy tale and legend to reveal the complex humanity that lies beneath the stories of Rapunzel and Snow White.”
Is it any wonder I can’t wait to read this? How about you read it too, and then we’ll compare notes with Jamie, Caroline and Eleanor!