Cover Snapshot of Read Books

Sara's bookshelf: read

Crazy Little Thing
A Kiss at Midnight
The Disenchanted Widow
Hollywood Wives - The New Generation
There Goes the Bride
Table for Five
Do Not Disturb
The Husband's Secret
The Ugly Duchess
Help for the Haunted
The Power Trip
The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Summer At Willow Lake
Every Crooked Nanny
The Mystery Woman
The Woodcutter
How to Be an American Housewife

Sara's favorite books »

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Author Next Door

I discovered mystery author Carolyn Haines (burgundy blouse in pic) by asking for Southern author suggestions at our local book store. Soon we had chosen Them Bones (first in the Mississippi Delta Mystery series) for our next book club. You may be amazed at how many authors live in your hometown. And, why not choose one of those authors for your next meeting?

One of our club members learned that there was a Writer’s Conference in a town near ours and that author Carolyn Haines would be a speaker at the Conference. My fellow book member took the initiative to find the author website and sent an email request asking if the author would like to meet with our book club. And, you guessed it, within 12 hours she had an e-mail from the author stating that she would love to meet with us! How thrilling!

After her speech at the writing conference, Carolyn Haines met us at a local Tea Room for lunch. We brought her an honorary tee-shirt (and we all wore our specially made book club tees) and paid for her lunch. It was a wonderful and special lunch and Carolyn Haines was every bit as gregarious and spunky as her Sarah Booth character. I highly recommend that you contact an author and make a request for a book club visit. Carolyn shared her writing and publishing insights and was all-around terrific.

A Review of Them Bones by Carolyn Haines

Witty spunky and Southern to the core, Mississippi resident Sarah Booth Delaney makes a wonderful protagonist—issues notwithstanding. Sarah Booth reminds me a bit of a smarter sexier and more interesting version of Stephanie Plum*--a thinking woman’s investigator if you will. Not to be too dull or serious, I must mention that Sarah Booth is haunted by Jitty, her Great Grandmother’s nanny.

Having grown up in Zinnia Mississippi, Sarah tries to epitomize a southern lady, but it is a bit difficult when she is single, over 30, jobless and soon to be homeless. Sarah’s largest worry is that she is about to lose her family mansion and heirloom belongings to foreclosure. In desperation, she dognaps Chablis, her gal-pal Tinkie’s spoiled little dog. Once she has “recovered” the dog for a sizable ransom, word spreads throughout the small town and Sarah Booth’s rep as an investigator is formed. Soon Sarah Booth is investigating a 20-year old murder, the stuff of small town rumors and lore. Unfortunately Sarah is also falling for handsome murder suspect Hamilton Garret V.

I must admit that I proposed this book to our book club believing fully that this was a cozy mystery. However, this book belongs squarely in the mystery category, the murder investigation and story are twisted, complex and smart. Will I go on to read the rest of this series?—Absolutely Dahling!

*Stephanie Plum is the protagonist PI in Janet Evanovich's popular book series

Friday, November 19, 2010

Add It Up with Addition

Addition is the title of a paperback fiction novel which was written by Toni Jordan.

Vibrant and intelligent, Grace is an engaging character who happens to have a love of numbers and a need to count almost everything. Grace’s thoughts race as she goes through numbers in her head—thinking about roman numerals, the time, the date, the number of degrees it is outside and so forth. Diagnosed with OCD, Grace seems to count as she breathes, noting each poppy seed on her daily orange cake. For Grace everything revolves around steps and structure. Having limited interaction with people, Grace has a very lonely life until the day her favorite cafĂ© is full and she cannot find a table. When a handsome stranger asks her to sit with him, a potential new relationship is formed. Grace is sarcastic and smart and the thoughts she shares with the reader are forthright and refreshing. Grace’s family accepts her but doesn’t work to understand her or what her life has become. Meanwhile, Seamus is interested in pursuing a relationship with her—something she will have to analyze and contemplate. How will Grace handle the interruptions and complexities of adding a relationship to her life?

This novel was a perfect book club selection as it was funny, endearing, and richly observant in the idiosyncrasies of an Obsessive Compulsive person. This book could be termed a romantic comedy with a slightly flawed but still poignant protagonist. I did have a few “As Good as it Gets” images of Jack Nicholson stepping over all the cracks on the sidewalk…but overall a lovingly told story that has an interesting perspective and humorous disposition.

One of my favorite little quotes from the book reflects Grace’s sarcasm:
“He’s wearing jeans again today, on a Friday. Great. Not only does he have no friends but he’s also unemployed.”
Wry, observant, and funny--who hasn’t had those thoughts? Grace resonated with me and with the rest of my book club. At 254 trade paperback pages, this novel is short and sweet; perfect when your club needs a break from the too literal.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Savor Eat Pray Love

I will admit that our book choice of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was chosen to coincide with the film release this month. And, I will admit to a little trepidation at the thought of reading another memoir. 

Eat Pray Love was unexpectedly wonderful; I was immediately drawn into this rich and luminous little story.

As with most memoirs, I fought it, I didn’t want to get started and had a fear that the book would be completely dull and uninteresting—perhaps why the book defied me and proved otherwise. One strong key to the Eat Pray Love success is that Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer; she thoughtfully ponders and commiserates on how to tell her tale. Elizabeth is also charismatic and that really comes through in her story telling abilities as she resonates with the modern woman. Liz reminds me of someone, that gregarious friend whom you envy as she has that great job and seems to have it all together. In reality she is unhappy and depressed and is looking to define herself. Liz admits that she has never lived alone, that she has always been in a relationship—ultimately deciding that she needs to travel alone on a soul seeking journey of independence. While Liz’s divorce is a tragedy, it is also the catalyst to her trying to live her life independently.

The book is broken into thirds with Eat encompassing Italy, Pray occurring in an Ashram in India, and Love happening in Indonesia. Liz decides to travel for a year, and take a break from her life while spending four months in each country. Soon Liz is ensconced in Italy, eating the food and learning the language. India is where Liz really struggles as she has to learn patience and discipline and get over her emotional inequities. In Indonesia Liz discovers that she is worthy and ready to receive and perhaps give love again.

The book is very focused on how to find balance in life and how to let go and perhaps find your destiny. I know that some felt this book was very selfish or self-indulgent—but I believe that there are those who bloom later in life and they need journeys of self-discovery. While most of us would not have the joy of being paid to travel for a year, I think we could each translate pieces of this novel into our lives. I know that now I want to incorporate more yoga and perhaps start journaling...simple real things that I can do in my personal journey of spiritualism and balance. I love the thought that you should wake up and say, what would I ENJOY doing today? Hmmm….where to start?

Our book club chose to meet at a local Italian Restaurant for lunch. I  provided little bags of movie candy for each book club member (Chocolate, Licorice, and Skittles) and each bag had a Meditation quote attached. We ate pasta reminiscent of Liz's Italy while we discussed the book and read our meditations. Post lunch we made our way to the movies to see the translation to the big screen. Again, I think we all were pleasantly surprised as the movie was fairly true to the book--I recognized several direct quotes. Obviously this book lends itself to a fun and vibrant book club. Host a Pasta night at your house, make lasagna, go out for Italian--dream big when you host this book! And, how fun will it be to discuss the book, grab some snacks and then watch the movie on DVD?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sugar and Spice: Hosting Themed Book Clubs

Many books lend themselves to a theme which makes it easy for the host to determine a menu. The obvious theme choice is a culinary book and there are many that are suitable for those times when your book club wants to read something on the lighter side.

My club recently read The Sugar Queen --a light but enjoyable book which lends itself perfectly to a themed book club. The book focuses on Josie Cirrini, a gal who has a secret closet full of candy and romance novels. Josie soon wakes up and discovers a local woman named Della Lee is living in her closet. Della is determined to help Josie and change her life—especially once she sees the secret stash of closet sweets. Della believes that no one should live such a sad life and makes it her mission to give Josie advice. Before long Josie is contemplating leaving her small town and deciding whether or not to give up her closet-sugar-eating lifestyle. All of our favorite childhood candies (and some we didn’t know) were mentioned---Sour Patch Kids (my favorite), Sweet Tarts, Moon Pies, Lemon Drops, Squirrel Nut Zippers (what?) and more! So, you can see how this easily lends itself to a vibrant candy theme! Our host had a candy table with glass containers of Gobstoppers, M&Ms, and Bottle Caps; it was candy-filled fun! Inspiration is easy to find—add candy as cake or cupcake toppers, have brightly colored drinks, serve candy found in the book!

If you choose The Sugar Queen for your book club, be sure to check out author Sarah Addison Allen’s website. She has a book club tab, discussion questions, and a full Sugar Queen candy list!

Culinary Themed books that may work for your book club: The School of Essential Ingredients, The Sugar Queen, The Wedding Officer, Like Water for Chocolate, The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange, The Diva Runs out of Thyme, Comfort Food, Deep Dish

Relax and enjoy your sugar coma,

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Club Starter Steps

So, you think that starting a book club of your very own is an arduous and overwhelming task? Follow the guidelines below and you will have an organized and self-sufficient book club in no time.

Book Club Starter Steps:
1. Start thinking of book club name (jot ideas down)
2. Create Invitee List, gather email addresses (<10)
3. Look online for book ideas, ask Face Book friends, ask bookstore employees, email bookish friends for ideas
4. Determine Book Options (2)
5. Determine Book club Date (one month out)
6. Send out book club invite
7. Determine the Rules

Start thinking about a name for your club, sadly the internet won’t help you with creative ideas—oh to have a book club name generator! Think about where you live, books you love, your common interests with your friends/potential book club invitees. A name is something that you can determine together at your first meeting too—think brainstorming! Okay, so keeping a running name list going, move on to the next step which is who you want invite to be part of your book club.

Where do you start with who to invite to your club? I love a small and more intimate group of 10 or less. Five or six will be enough to get your group started as members may soon have others they want to invite. Think of five to seven friends, co-workers or friends of friends and ask (in person) or email if they’d be interested in joining a book club.

Now think about when you want to have your book club. For the initial club, you should be about 5 weeks out as there is some initial prep that you have to do pre-book club. Pencil a potential book club date (week of) in your calendar.

Next, start thinking about potential books for your club. One way to start is to look at bestsellers at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, I recommend starting with general fiction. Read the editorial reviews and see if anything catches your interest—also look at user/customer reviews. is a wonderful book site too. Also, ask your Face Book friends, email your bookish friends and ask trade-paperback stores what books they’ve read and would recommend for book clubs (be sure to check reviews online). Capture potential book titles, authors, genre and number of pages in an excel spreadsheet (or on note paper). Creating a Book club folder at this point is a great idea—mine is filled with our Potential Books excel sheet and bookstore pamphlets. Since you want to start the book club, you need to choose two book options from your Potential Books list.

Now that you have your list of invitees and your two potential books, the next step is to send a preliminary email (this is 5 weeks out). Email your book club invitees, a quick “hey I’m starting a book club, please vote on ONE book (choices below)” more information to follow (set a deadline of RSVP BY—before the next week). You can also ask your attendees for best days/times to meet in this initial email. Once your RSVP deadline has passed you will need to send out (one month notice) your book club meeting Invitation (email or Anyvite). Be sure to include the majority chosen book and author along with the meeting time data and place. Also include information about food and drinks. My club meets at 6PM, so whomever hosts that month makes dinner, but you can choose light snacks, drinks only, potluck, whatever!

You and your fellow book clubbers can create your own List of Rules in your first meeting. I’ve found that my club only needs one rule and that rule is “all book club choices must be paperback.” Paperbacks only because they are cheaper for those who chose to buy the book, but also this ensures that the book is old enough to be available in libraries.

My book club is diverse and fun, books that have been great for us include Reading Lolita in Tehran (literary/smart), Water for Elephants (compelling novel) and The Help (my favorite 2009 book). Keep in mind that there will be hits and misses, just go with it, the discussions are always enjoyable whether we loved or hated the book!

Last note: Truly it is up to you and your club how you chose your next book. Some clubs let their hosts decide and rotate hosting duties. My club rotates to different houses and hosts, but we choose 3 book titles at the end of our meeting place them in a jar and pull one out—that is the book for the next month. The host later must write an email to all members stating next month’s book, author and host!

Best wishes in Starting your Book Club,

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chosing Beach Vacation Books

What book preparations do you make for your travels and vacations? I am a planner stocking up collecting and storing books that I plan to savor on vacation. I longingly and lovingly store my potential vacation books in a special corner on the shelf--especially if they are favorite authors. This year I had ten potential vacation books lined up and I struggled to decide which to take and which to leave at home. I knew I was not going to read 10 books in a week, but what would I want at the beach? Would it be romance or mystery or intellectual novel? Oh how to choose?
I knew that I would need something easy, light and beachy, so one of the first to go into my take stash was a Susan Mallory romance. If you haven't read The Marcelli series and you like a little romance, give The Sparkling One or Delicious a try. Also there are some great English chic lit novels that make me laugh--I discovered The Chocolate Lover's Club, a cute little gem. Be forewarned that you will crave chocolate; I made my husband take me straight to the grocery store to pick up some Ghirardelli’s chocolate bars (hazelnut and dark chocolate caramel)!

James Patterson is mainstream, I know, but some of his novels are fast-paced page-turners--great for the beach. I chose Beach Road, mainly because it was one of the few Patterson books that I haven't read yet. Beach Road ended up being absolutely perfect--I was hooked on the murder mystery that occurred in the Hamptons, on the potential love affair between the defense lawyers and on solving the crime, this is one of the better James Patterson books in my opinion.

Another murder mystery thriller writer whom I adore is Linda Fairstein. If you haven't read her Alex Cooper mystery series you are missing out. Lethal Legacy (#11 in series) is one that I had been saving for vacation, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Lethal legacy starts with a murder and delves deeply into the NY library and its history and documents therein--in order to solve the case, of course! I love the sexual tension and strong relationship between Assistant DA Alex Cooper and Detective Mike Chapman.

For more serious mystery fans, Louis Penny is a modern mystery writer whom I highly recommend. Start with the first in the series, Still Life which reminds me a bit of an Agatha Christie novel. I don't know how she does it, but Penny gets into the minds and tribulations of small town life. And, I adore Inspector Gamache--such a strong warm intelligent character—Gamache is one of my favorite book characters.

Did I get through ten books on this vacation? Nope, not even close, but a summary of book titles that I finished and recommend include Delicious, The Chocolate Lover’s Club, Beach Road, Lethal Legacy, and The Cruelest Month.

One book which I recommend against taking on a beach vacation is Reading Lolita in Tehran—this was a book club book and it was too serious and literary for me to read on the beach. Books that were in my starter pile that did not go on vacation, but which will eventually be read include Four Corners of the Sky, Twenties Girl, Murderers Prefer Blondes and Bookplate Special.

So, how to choose what to take on your next vacation? Well, my advice is to take a little bit of everything that you love. I chose a few romance/chick lits and mixed in a few mysteries. And, it also helps to know that a Barnes and Noble wasn't too far away--just in case of a book emergency.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Managing your Book Club Using GoodReads

Are you one of the millions of readers who have discovered If so, I can bet there are some features you may not be utilizing to the fullest. If not, what are you waiting for? GoodReads is a great site for book lovers and readers to create bookshelves to track the books we've read, we want to read, and are currently reading. Additionally, we can rate our books and write reviews. In the past, I was listing my books and reviews in excel, not anymore, GoodReads is so much better. And, it should be noted, that you can upload your excel data into GoodReads. Truly, I update GoodReads more often than my FaceBook pages.
GoodReads is user friendly and features include searching for books (to read), looking at booklists(whatever your fancy--biographies to chick-lit), and exploring book giveaways. You can also add friends very easily by finding them through your email accounts. Writing comments on books or on what your friends are reading are also fun aspects of this site. Another friend feature is to “compare” books—a simple application that shows you which books you and your friends have in common. This feature shows the number of books you have in common as well as how each of you rated those books.

Giveaways are wonderful, just sign up for a book that looks interesting, provide your mailing address and you have a great chance of getting it in the mail. I have received 4 books in a year--FREE! All that is asked is that you write a review of the book and post it! How easy is that?

Another overlooked GoodReads feature is Groups. My book club has set up a Group under our name (all members in our book club joined Goodreads). The group feature shows our current book, our previously read books, and our future book list. And, we can add comments and future meeting dates as we want, what a wonderful and useful tool for book club! Also, we can send out group invitations to our monthly meetings! WOW, no more anyvites or separate emails--it is one stop Book club management!
On a final note, yes, Goodreads does connect to FaceBook. Apparently there are other similar apps out there that do not, and some that don't allow you to upload your excel files. Again, GoodReads comes highly recommended not just by me but also by my book club. Join, discover and fully utilize and explore this fabulous reading site.

Good reading all!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Brave your Book club through A Reliable Wife

Critics hailed A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick as "thrilling, suspenseful and mesmerizing." Good marketing and a fantastic publishing house have made this novel the success that it is today as not one of those adjectives adequately  describes this lugubrious and depressing novel. How many of us have been suckered into a novel by disingenuous and overly flattering reviews?

Having a diverse book club which covers numerous religions, I worried that my group would not be able to finish this novel. This novel is shockingly dark and violent and descriptively disturbing. Buyer beware, this is not a romance novel and should come with a warning label!

As an avid mystery reader, I found nothing that could be described as suspenseful, there were no events that shocked or for that matter, thrilled the reader. As I read yet another vivid violent and unromantic scene, I worried how my book club was going to react--would they even finish this book? I also wondered about the author, did the he suffer and fester through 20 years of dark loneliness?

Just when you think I am going to dismiss this book, there is a pleasant surprise. Our book club discussion was wonderfully shocking as it was our lengthiest and most intense discussion to-date. While everyone was disconcerted at many of the scenes (and all admitted that this wasn't the book that we had expected), there was much to discuss. Not one character had our empathy and yet all of us waded through the gloom for a hopeful ending. We did quite a bit of speculating on the author, the characters and what wasn't realized in the plot. The best part of our discussion was our speculations, so the author was successful in letting the reader create their own conclusions. And, our ultimate conclusion, if the early 1900s were as bleak as this, we would not have wanted to have been there.

Recommendation: Book clubs should try this book to initiate discussion and drama--even the shy will speak up. While everyone will have an opinion and contribution, be prepared to choose a "lighter" book for your next meeting.

Trade Paperback, 291 pages, available everywhere from Target to Amazon