Hi BCC readers. Sorry I’ve been away so long. No, I wasn’t just reading and napping—I’ve just completed a half-year program for my International Coaching Federation certification! Yay! I met many fabulous fellow coaches—all avid readers, too—and am now back in the blogging saddle. Missed y’all!
So, now down to book business… Need a Summer Read for your beach tote (or backyard, or business flight?) Check out my latest favorites. (And, no, I did not include my huge stack of coaching books…) My kind buddies over at Women’s National Book Association have posted The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 Summer Reads 2015 – Part 1. You’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for Part 2 in next issue—but that works out well—it’ll give you plenty of time to peruse some of this first group!
I’ve shown you mine—now you show me YOURS! Whatcha readin’?
(Photo credit: Red Wing Library, MN)
I’m so happy to host author Nomi Eve today on the Book Club Cheerleader blog! Not only was her book one of my top favorites last year (and a definite favorite for my book clubs this year) but she is doing something rather fabulous with book clubs that you need to know about…
For the past four months I’ve been on a whirlwind journey. It’s nice to slow down and think about where I’ve been and what it all means. When Henna House came out in August, I challenged myself to meet with 100 Book Clubs, either in person, or via Skype to chat about the book. I knew I’d be busy, but I am tickled pink with how it’s all turning out. I just met with my 48th club last night by Skype. #47 actually traveled to me from New Jersey. Now those girls were intrepid and fabulous! Along the way I flew to a library book club in Boise, I’ve Skyped with clubs in different parts of the country, and I’ve personally visited many in the greater Philadelphia area. Oh, and there was also an on-line club that discussed my book at the same time I was having a Skype visit with a club in Chicago. Talk about being in two places at once! That group, the Outlander Book Club, discussed my book in their forum, and then submitted questions to me, which I answered.
I’m having a wonderful time meeting readers and answering questions. What I’ve found is that all groups ask me a combination of questions I haven’t heard before and questions I hear over and over. I’ve gotten pretty good at answering the latter. For example, everyone asks me about my research. Considering the fact that I’ve never been to Yemen but I set myself the task of imagining Yemen in the early part of the 20th century, readers are curious to know my process of gathering information and crafting a convincing world. Readers also ask me how long it took me to write the book (2-3 years, but around 6 years just to think of the idea), and why my main character’s mother is so incredibly mean (invite me to a book club and I’ll tell you the answer to that one.)
Also, people are curious about my writing process. They want to know where and how I write. I explain how after my first book, The Family Orchard, was published I had three babies in four years and didn’t write for a long time. When I got itchy to start again, I made myself an office all the way up on our third floor. I was so excited about my “room of my own.” I had all my books nicely arranged on huge book classes. All my papers, my research files at my fingertips. But guess what happened? With three small children, I never made it up to that room on the third floor. So I took my computer and plopped it in the middle of our kitchen. That was six years ago and I’ve been writing smack in the middle of our family ever since. My kids are all rather huge now. Two of them are taller than I am already. I write while they are at school, but also when they are home. My kids could be standing on top of me, and I can still write. That room of my own wasn’t what I needed. I needed to be accessible to my family and to my characters at the same time. Now they are all on top of me – kids and characters, and that’s the way I like it.
Here are some photos. Henna House tells the story of Yemenite Jews, and their precious henna life-cycle rituals. I’m including a henna photo, and an image of a Yemenite Jewish woman in a traditional bridal crown. My characters wear bridal crowns like this for their weddings. There is also a photo of my kids, and I’m including a whole bunch of book club photos. I take a photograph at each visit and post them on my FaceBook Author Page and on my blog. I love these photos. They are creating a visual trail of this special time. I am so grateful to the book clubs for inviting me into the warm circle of their close relationships. Many of the book clubs I’ve met with have been getting together for decades. After each visit I take notes. One day I’ll write a book called The Hundred Book Club Journey about the experiences I have had and the things I learned along the way.
Thanks, again, Nomi, for sharing some of the inside scoop on your research and writing process, the historical facts behind your fiction and the fun challenge you’ve set for yourself visiting book clubs. Remember, readers, if you’d like Nomi to visit (phone, Skype, stalk, etc.) your book club, please contact her on her blog. Who knows, your book club could be the magic number 100! I don’t know that there’s any kind of prize for that (other than being able to spend an evening with Nomi) but we are holding a drawing for a copy of Henna House—thanks to Nomi’s generosity—on Book Club Cheerleader, and all you have to do is comment below. Good Luck—and Rah, Rah, Reading!
I had fun writing this feature last year, so I thought I’d reprise it. Just another arbitrary BBC list…But as I started to write (my next upcoming post) about the books I can’t wait to read from Girlfriend Weekend (GFWE), it just seemed fitting to give a shout out to those books by Pulpwood Queens (PWQ) authors that I already read and relished. I think you’ll enjoy them too. So, in alphabetical order:
1) Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. What a delightful story by a delightful author! Of course, I hadn’t met Gabrielle when I read her book… I was reading along about this curmudgeonly man, only to find out he’s only in his 30s! That was the first of many twists in this funny, mysterious, and heartwarming novel which is an homage to literature of all types—and independent book stores, in particular. (This book made my Top 10 Book Club Books of 2014 list, as well, if you want to check it out…)
2) Judy Christie’s Wreath. I read this one several years ago, but it was so haunting, it has stayed with me. Marketed as a Young Adult book, its beauty and depth has captured many an adult as well. It has twice been named a PWQ book of the year. As a volunteer at a local women’s shelter, it’s no wonder I would be entranced by a story about a homeless girl. This short novel is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Following wreath is a great way to get a different perspective on life. Oh, and rumor has it, another Wreath Willis novel is coming in the spring. Yay!
3) Karen Abbot’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. I love narrative non-fiction done right. And Karen does it right! She wove the stories of four different women (two from the North, two from the South) so skillfully, that it reads like an old story your grandma would tell around the fireplace. But it’s so well researched, the author had to be selective about what she included—and didn’t. (For an example of the latter, you can read #3 on my Top 10 Sound Bites Heard at Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriends Weekend ‘15. Karen’s book also appeared as #3 on my Top 10 Book Club Books of 2014 list.)
4) Karen White’s Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion. This great collection of short stories by Karen (and 9 other noted authors including Kristin Hannah, Jenna Blum, and Melanie Benjamin) was my entertainment on the plane ride out to Houston. And Grand entertainment, it was! (Pun intended.) Of course, they probably had me at the mention of the accomplished authors… but if not, I was definitely ‘in’ when I learned the setting was one of the most beautiful train stations in the world and on a single day in September, 1945. (I’m one of those readers obsessed with WWII—and anything to do with it…) Given this one idea, each writer created a unique short story of her own imagination. And trust me; they will capture yours as well!
5) Tracy Guzeman’s The Gravity of Birds. I was so excited to read this book, I tucked it into my purse and read it on the plane back to California. It’s hard to believe this is Tracy’s first novel. Yes, she’d been previously published in Gulf Coast, Vestal Review, and Glimmer Train Stories, but what a gorgeous treat for the senses this book is! It’s a story about art and birds, families and sisters, betrayal and loss, forgiveness and redemption—and if that weren’t enough, it’s also a bit of a mystery. It grabbed me from the beginning and I didn’t want to let go at the end. (But as they were kicking me off the plane and that point, and Handsome Hubby was probably circling the airport for the fifth time, I sort of had to…)
Five fantastic reads by five fabulous authors! Oh, yeah, and a little help from those other nine writers…
Since January is almost over, I figured it’s high time I posted my “best of” list for last year. In 2014, I managed to read (listen to/dream about) 73 titles—some for business (I’m a career coach in my other life), some for pleasure, and many others to try to find that perfect book club read. Of course, I didn’t love all the books I read—in fact, a few I wanted to “throw across the room with great force” as Dorothy Parker (or Sid Ziff—whomever you want to believe) would’ve advised… But you’ll have to check out my Goodreads page for that kind of dirt. This blog remains quite positive. And as such, I had fun reviewing my favorite reads of 2014 to see which ones made my tippiest-Top 10.
Silly Stats & List Details:
All of the books were published in 2014, even if a few of them came out in paperback that year. It’s interesting to note that of the winners below, 60% were listened to (Thank you, Audible…), 20% were Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs), 50% are based on true stories, while 20% are Non-fiction. And a full 50% were written by Pulpwood Queens authors (which is a book club I belong to—if you’re a regular Book Club Cheerleader blog reader, you know how fun they are—if not, you need to check them out…) I’ve listed all of my 2014 besties below in alphabetical order by category, with my top winner listed as #1. You may agree with some on my list, may add some new ones to your ‘to be read’ list—and if there are some that I’ve missed, I’m sure you’ll let me know…
Books about Charming Curmudgeons:
I know that’s an oxymoron, but you’ll have to read these two top picks to see what I mean…I especially recommend them for fans of Julia Glass’s The Widower’s Tale and Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
This is a feel-good book from Sweden about a retired gentleman (that last word could be stretching it a bit) who wonders if life is still worth living after his beloved wife dies. Enter an active family with two young children, and Ove’s world changes. I laughed, I cried—you know how that goes… Backman is a fresh new voice in fiction—and I think you’ll really enjoy this one.
Probably all I need to say is that this is a ‘book about books’…Still want to know more? OK… A.J. Fikry is the owner of a small bookstore, and a widower. A small child is abandoned in his store, and changes A.J.’s outlook on life. Shrewdly written, it contains witty dialogue, humorous literary references, quirky characters and an unabashed love of everything bookish. It’s charming without being cloying; clever without being condescending; an entertaining read, indeed. Months after reading this book, I had the pleasure of meeting the author—and understand why the book is so smart and sassy. I’m so glad this author made the move from YA to adult fiction, and am keeping an eye on her!
I cheated a bit on this book, having read it in December of 2013—but since I’d already penned my top 10 list for that year, I included it in the 2014 list—after all, its paperback release date qualified it … (Whew…) I wrote about the book last January on this blog, so suffice it to say, it’s a story about love, race, friendship, and redemption. Think Five Smooth Stones in 1930’s Kentucky. My neighborhood book club loved it—and you’ll be glad you checked it out.
Of all the books I’d heard about in the pre-pub hype for 2014, this is the only one that lived up to all the hoopla! I loved Wiley Cash’s first novel, A Land More Kind than Home, (you can read my full review here) and his sophomore book did not disappoint! The man knows The South—it’s landscapes, intrigue, family bonds, and racial issues. This gothic thriller gives you the feel of the chase without leaving the characters in the dust. It’s Southern Fiction at its best!
What was life like for Jews living in Yemen in the mid-twentieth century? That’s the intriguing question this novel attempts to answer. Populated with numerous characters (Adela, the protagonist does have at least a dozen brothers, after all) the women are the most interesting in this novel. Spanning the century, we are witnesses to the brutality of the “Jewish codes” in a Muslim-majority country, the Second World War and the holocaust, and finally, the founding of Israel as a Jewish nation. Discussion themes include family traditions, religious practices, friendship, love, betrayal, and forgiveness. One of my book clubs discussed this last week, while another has selected it for next month. I highly recommend it for your reading group—or just for yourself. It’s captivating read!
Beautifully written, this novel is surprisingly a debut for this Afghan-American author. Not surprising, is the rich, evocative detail the author reveals about her native country—their social and political customs—and what it must’ve been like to be a woman in the 20th century and now. Two story-lines weave together flawlessly like an Afghan tapestry. With discussable themes such as family, commitment, abuse, oppression and freedom, your book club will have many topics to chat about.
Books about Strong Women in American History:
While all three books in this category are based on true stories, the first two are actually non-fiction accounts, while the last book, though heavily researched, is historical fiction. These may appeal to fans of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Erik Larson, and Melanie Benjamin.
4) The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, by Denise Kiernan. (GR: 3.66; Am: 4.2; PB: March 11, 2014; 416 pages)
I had never heard of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. But, that was the idea—we weren’t supposed to know much about it. The site of one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, a majority of the workers employed there beginning in 1942 didn’t know the big picture—only each person’s small piece of the puzzle. This well-kept secret is completely unveiled as author Denise Kiernan reveals the results of dozens of interviews with surviving ‘Rosie the Riveter’ workers—from scientists to factory workers, to the woman who cleaned the floor. Although painstakingly researched, the author creates a strong narrative and makes us care about every women she has profiled. The result is a fascinating account of the secret work involved in building the bomb that devastated Hiroshima. I could not put this one down!
3) Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott. (GR: 3.86; Am: 4.3; HC: July 1, 2014; 528 pages)
An ingenious non-fiction account of four brave women—Elizabeth, Emma, Rose, and Belle (hmmm… That last one, maybe not so brave—but you’ll have to read about them all)—who went undercover to help their own chosen side in the ‘battle between brothers.’ Two spying for the North, and two for the South, each woman works with existing gender stereotypes to gain their advantage. Emma becomes “Frank” and enlists in the Army—and at one point impersonates a man impersonating a woman in a Victor/Victoria sequence that is stranger than fiction. Oddly enough, she gets away with it (along with 400 other women, the author estimates) because no one can imagine a woman wearing pants! The other three women smuggle messages in their hair, bustles and under female-wear to the enemy—what gentleman would check a girl’s garment in the mid-19th century? A page turner, indeed! (For fun, check out Karen’s statement about facts she could not include in her book from a blog post earlier this month—she’s bullet #3…) Oh, and don’t let the page count fool you—you’ll be sorry it’s all over when you turn the last page…
In 1930, Justice Joseph Crater entered a taxi and was never seen again. (Apparently the early-20th-century version of Jimmy Hoffa disappearance—jokes were made, but he man was never found.) Add to the unsolved mystery, a bit of The Godfather, and Tammany Hall and tell the story from the perspective of three women, of course, from title fame: The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress—and you’ve got yourself a page-turner! Since this is historical fiction, the author could play a bit with the facts—apparently the first two women are real, and she created the character of Maria, The Maid, to round out the narrative. And it worked—quite clever, indeed! There’s a fabulous twist at the end—but don’t worry—you won’t see it coming…
…and my #1 book club book of 2014…
This is one of the rare times that Oprah and I agree on our reading choices. This antebellum tale of two sisters and an enslaved girl had me hooked from the very first page! Carefully crafted characters, smoothly-flowing narrative, and a compelling story all add up to a read that will completely capture you.
What made YOUR top 10 for 2014? I can always add a 928th book to my TBR list!
After each holiday season, I still have something exciting to look forward to on my calendar: Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend! (PWQ GFWE) I’ve been studying Kathy L. Murphy’s recipe for these outrageously fun weekends, and I think I’ve about figured it out:
– Take a bunch of exceedingly entertaining authors—50 or so will typically do,
– Stir them up in costumes—then have them serve dinner, schmooze with book club members—oh, yeah, and talk a bit about their books,
– Mix in 300+ book club members with a passion for both books and merriment—these should also be in costume and/or wearing pink and leopard with their tiaras,
– Add New York Times best-selling author Jamie Ford as your clever and comedic co-host,
– Finally, par-tay every night with great music (her lovely daughter is conveniently the DJ) in a tribal-type-dancing-affair culminating in the Great Big Ball of Hair Ball on the last evening (after all, Ms. Murphy IS a hair stylist …)
It’s a winning recipe!
I realize that not everyone is able to make Kat’s creative clambakes each year—but I’d hate for my readers to miss out on all of the fun. So, as in past years, I took notes to share with you some of the fun and funny tidbits that the authors shared with us. Here are 2015’s Top 10 sound bites:
10. “Huguette Clark wrote, ‘On my honeymoon…I had to go home…’ Well, who doesn’t have that feeling?” (Bill Dedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Empty Mansions) on the reclusive heiress’s tough start to an unsuccessful marriage.
9. “I have good genes. Terrible thighs—but good genes.” Christa Allan (author of Test of Faith) responding to a reader’s comment about how young she looks. (Be sure and check out Christa’s top 2 sound bites from last year—the woman is a hoot.)
8. “My friends told me, ‘As a single woman, you’ll love Alaska. The odds are good…but the goods are odd.’” (Kim Sunee, author of A Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes from my World Travels) about the quantity and quality of the opposite sex in her newly adopted state.
7. “People say to me at parties, ‘I’d love to write a book, if I only had the time.’ No one ever tells a neurosurgeon, ‘I’d love to operate on a brain…’” (Karen White, author of A Long Time Gone) on how some folks think writing is so easy.
6. “I don’t know where Philip Roth goes for Thanksgiving, but I have to live with my family.” Jamie Ford (author of Songs of Willow Frost) on the former author’s contention that one should use one’s relatives for truthful and meaty content. (And Jamie has reason to be concerned as he does have quite a large family…)
4. “Let the turd go!” Kathy L. Murphy (PWQ founder and author of The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life ) on changes her editor wanted her to make in her memoir about going down what she and her friends affectionately dubbed “Turd Creek” in Kansas. Can’t you see just Idina Menzel singing Let it go with Kat’s altered lyrics? (…the poo never bothered me, anyway…)
3. “One of her paramours was a Major Dick Long. I couldn’t put it in my non-fiction book because no one would believe it.” Karen Abbott (author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy) discussing the love life of one of the women profiled in her civil war book.
And the top sound-bite heard at PWQ GFWE… (drum roll in the background…)
1. “Our costumes are battlefield-authentic…except for the Spanx. I’m fighting my own war…” (Kathy Hepinstall, co-author of Sisters of Shiloh) on the civil war uniforms she and her sister, Becky Hepinstall, wore for their panel discussion. (This may not be the funniest sound bite, but I sure relate to this one the best…)
Hooray! I know it’s already the 13th, but I still can’t believe October is here!
While some of my Italian friends may be celebrating Columbus Day, and others are getting their little kiddles ready for The Great Pumpkin, many of by Bookie buddies are celebrating National Reading Group Month, October 2014!
The fabulous folks over at Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) have selected their annual Great Group Reads, a carefully curated list of books that clubs can count on for a great discussion. Due to other commitments, this is the first year in a while that I haven’t been a part of the fun reading-machine otherwise known as the selection team—but they seem to have done quite well enough without me. (I really missed discussing the books with you, Rayme Waters, Rosalind Reisner and Kate Farrell.) Although I’ve only read a few of their selections—Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, and Laird Hunt’s Nevermore (still in progress and loving it)—several others were already at the top of my TBR list, including, The Orphans of Race Point, by Patry Francis, Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks (this one may also win my just-this-minute-made-up prize for best cover art,) The Promise by Ann Weisgarber and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. That leaves a bunch of new titles for both you and me to discover—and perhaps later devour! Yay! Thank you, Women’s National Book Association!
But WNBA doesn’t stop there! For those of you near Boston, Charlotte, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Seattle, and Washington D.C. there are some exciting upcoming special events to help commemorate National Reading Group Month, October 2014, as well!
Whether you observe National Reading Group Month in a big way—such as my neighborhood book club did last week with our Dinner and a Movie NIght: Gone Girl Style—or in a smaller way such as we did later in the week with our in-depth discussion of Julie Kibler’s delightful Calling Me Home, I hope you enjoy some memorable reads this month. Rah, Rah, Reading!