book club

Book Club Wrap-Up: Signs of Life

April 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm , by

Natalie Taylor kept us in stitches (and near a box of tissues), with her hilarious yet gut-wrenching memoir, Signs of Life, last month. She unabashedly allowed readers to dive into her psyche during the months after the sudden death of her husband and birth of her first-born son. And we’re so glad that Natalie continued to be candid with us all month long, game for a Q&A and Facebook chat about the book. If you haven’t yet picked up Signs of Life, read her letter to readers now–you’ll want to run out to the nearest book store by the second paragraph.

But now that our May issue is officially on newsstands (doesn’t cover star Melissa McCarthy look great?), it’s time to reveal our next pick! This month, we’re reading The Language of Flowers, the illustrious debut novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, a true labor of love. Though the story of a young woman aging out of the foster care system and finding joy in the world of flowers is fictional, Diffenbaugh means it to be a symbol of a cause dear to her heart—creating a better outlook on life for the many young people who leave the foster care system each year. Find out more about why this is so important to Diffenbaugh in her Q&A with us, and her letter to readers. And, as always, stay with us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on our blog to join the conversation as we chat about the book all month long.

We’re hosting a live Facebook chat with Vanessa Diffenbaugh on Thursday, April 26 at 1:00pm EST! Mark your calendars, and come to our wall to ask Vanessa a question about The Language of Flowers, her life as a writer, or her philanthropic efforts. We hope to see you there!

Featured Book Club of the Month – Fairfield, CT

March 22, 2012 at 10:16 am , by

The ladies of the Edgewood Road Book Club have been meeting for four years, and in that time their group has grown from nine to 14 dedicated, book-lovin’ members. “Having long wanted to share my love of reading and discussion, I first brought the group together,” says member Sharon Daly. “We are a wonderful mix of middle-aged and thirty-something women, and I appreciate the different perspectives we bring to the group, in addition to the support and friendship we provide each other.”

Don’t they look like a fun bunch? I asked them a bit more about what they love about their group and for their favorite reads!

Is there anything special you’ve done for your meetings?

“We’ve had two theme dinners—a Southern feast for a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help, and a French potluck for Julie & Julia. Authors have also called into our meetings to discuss their books with us, like Jeffrey Zaslow when we read The Girls from Ames, and Warren St. John when we read Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. I’m a writer myself, so it’s fascinating to hear what motivates and inspires these authors.” – Amanda Cuda Swavy

What’s your favorite book the club has read together?

“One of our favorite books was Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, which is about Philippe Petit, the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974. It was one of the most profound books we have read, and we all felt that the way the characters’ lives intertwined was genius. It’s a commentary on life in New York in the 70′s, but there were also many parallels to life today.” – Sharon Daly

Everyone’s super busy these days. Why is it important to you to make time to read and get together?

“Discussing books with good friends over wine is enlightening, and a wonderful way to spend an evening. Plus, even though we have a TV with 3000 channels, I still find there is nothing to watch! So I love to read.” – Ann Marie Curtin

“Reading opens our minds to understanding the human condition, and sharing insights with other women is so affirming. The support we give each other is such a gift.” – Sharon Daly

“I’ve come to cherish the friendships I’ve made with the women in the group, and sharing our feelings about the books has led us to open up to each other in other ways, as well. The book group is a place where I feel safe and can relax. It’s one the few things I do just for myself, and it has made me happier.” – Amanda Cuda Swavy

Interested in a chance at having your book club featured on our blog or in the magazine? Tell us about your group here!


Book Club Guest Blog: Signs of Life and the Healing Power of Literature

March 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm , by

Today’s post is by Neely Kennedy of Reading Group Choices, a leading online resource for book club tips and discussible selections.

In the LHJ book club pick, Signs of Life, author Natalie Taylor shares her story of loss, grief and healing following the untimely death of her husband. She finds love and hope in her baby, takes comfort in the support of her friends, and, as a high school English teacher, reflects on the wisdom she’s read in great books.

Here are some brief excerpts from the book that illustrate how Taylor used classic literature as therapy, helping her understand and deal with her grief.

After the death of her husband, Taylor suffers agonizing grief. She relates the shock and disbelief with characters from The Great Gatsby.

“Oh my God, I’m never going to see him again…I will never be able to go back…I know that even now, three months later, my brain hasn’t fully absorbed the concept. That’s what Gatsby and I also have in common. We can’t seem to swallow our own realities.”

When Taylor gives birth to her son, Kai, she is overcome with an a feeling of love and hopefulness that even the greatest poets cannot describe.

“The best way I can say it is that when a baby is born, the ghosts of the world’s greatest poets stand and listen to the cry of a life that just took its first breath and even they can’t find the words.”

As Taylor begins to redefine her life, she is inspired to avoid the ‘W’ of widowhood, like the label ‘A’ for adulterer in The Scarlet Letter.

“Suddenly literature turns into a good movie and you’re standing up in your seat, smiling and clapping in your head. You wish at some point in your life you get to tell someone how you really feel. It makes you wish you had the courage to redefine what your letter stood for.”

As Taylor finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel, Thoreau’s writing helps put her expectations for the future into perspective.

“…although Thoreau’s narrative of ice melting may not wow the average twenty-first century audience, the process itself is really amazing when you think about it. Nature understands that things take time. You can’t rush certain things if you want them to work correctly…Sometimes I really look forward to how I will feel in ten years.”


During your Signs of Life book club discussion, ask your members to:

  • Share the three books that have made the biggest impact in their lives. What meaningful lessons did the books offer?
  • Write his/her own six-word memoir.  For Example: Hope triumphs death; life goes on.


Book Club Wrap-up: Vaclav & Lena

March 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm , by

Did you fall in love reading Haley Tanner’s Vaclav & Lena this month with us? We hope all of our fellow book clubbers swooned together while reading this work of romantic literary fiction, and that you were dazzled by its themes of magic and illusions. We invited Tanner to take over our Facebook wall one afternoon, and we couldn’t peel our eyes away from her candid accounts of her life as a writer and behind-the-scenes secrets about working on V&L, her first novel. Missed out? You can read the chat here, and listen up for info on more author chats to come—all you have to do is like us on Facebook to stay in the loop.

Now that our April issue is on newsstands, we’re ready to reveal our next pick! A first for the LHJ Book Club, we’ve chosen a truly mesmerizing memoir this month, Signs of Life, by Natalie Taylor. When Taylor was 24, she was newly married, pregnant, and on top of the world. Then, the worst thing happened: her husband died in a freak accident. Signs of Life is the story of the year-and-a-half that followed, and trust us when we say it is as hilarious as it is harrowing. Visit our book club page to read a letter from Taylor to get you started. And, as always, stay with us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on our blog to join the conversation as we chat about the book all month long.

But first, tell us what you thought of Vaclav & Lena! Comment here or tweet us at @LHJMagazine with the hashtag #lhjbookclub.

On Reading and Writing: A Q&A with Author Haley Tanner

March 9, 2012 at 11:04 am , by

Have you picked up this month’s book club pick, Vaclav & Lena? It’s a touching love story (Aren’t you a sucker for a good love story? We are!), by Haley Tanner. We have a penchant for reading literature here at LHJ, so I was eager to chat with this young debut novelist about her writing process and the books she’s curled up with recently. Read on for the inside scoop, and check out a preview to Vaclav & Lena and the rest of the LHJ Book Club bookshelf on our books page.

What have you read recently and loved?

I just read The Adults, by Alison Espach, which was amazing. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in Connecticut, and it’s full of dramatic tension. There’s some really heavy, serious subject matter, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.

Do you find it hard to read other stories while you are writing?

I do get to a point where I can’t read other writing, because I start to sound like JD Salinger or Muriel Spark. But sometimes I’ll intentionally read other writers while I’m writing. If, say, I feel like my setting is falling flat, I’ll read someone who’s really good with setting. Or if I feel like I’m forgetting to have fun, I’ll read Tom Robbins for a little while. It’s like a prescription.

Where did the germ of the idea for Vaclav & Lena originate? Did you always have the story in the back of your mind?

I was writing an assignment for a class, procrastinating at midnight. I had class the next day, and I’d written nothing. I finally just sat down and I started writing, and the first thing I wrote is still the first page of the book, Vaclav’s introduction to his magic act. Once I had the characters, I watched what they would do. It was incredibly fun, and I never had a larger plan for them. Even when I was on page 45, I didn’t know what page 46 would look like.

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Book Club Guest Blog: Illusions and Vaclav & Lena

February 17, 2012 at 11:35 am , by

Today’s post is by Neely Kennedy of Reading Group Choices, a leading online resource for book club tips and discussible selections. 

In the LHJ book club pick, Vaclav & Lena, author Haley Tanner tells the story of a young Russian immigrant boy’s obsession with becoming a great magician. While Vaclav studies and practices his magic, his best friend, love interest and assistant, Lena, hides behind the illusions of her horrific home life. It’s a delight to read how Tanner skillfully marries the literal theme of magic with a deeper metaphor and exploration of illusions.

When discussing the book with your club, ask members to identify examples of the use of illusions. What are the tricks behind them? How might we be using illusions in our own lives to hide or protect ourselves? What magic in life is worthwhile? Here are some brief excerpts from the book that illuminate the theme to get your conversation going.

When Vaclav and Lena are reunited as teenagers, they both reveal more self-awareness in trying to control the unmanageable parts of their lives.

“’Same thing’, he says, meaning same thing as when you left, meaning still magic, still trying to take care of you with my mind, still trying to control events using supernatural powers.”

When Lena finally settles into a relatively normal life with her new mother, she has a hard time maintaining the mirage of happiness, as she is haunted by her past.

“This is especially difficult when she must lead a meeting of the student council or the art club, or rally her teammates at soccer practice, but she gets through it, one minute at a time, by pretending.”

During a moment of introspection and clarity while escaping to a bathroom stall in her school, Lena realizes how she uses the illusion of different personas as a coping mechanism.

“She decides that the spots are keys to living a life as a complete person, not as a disjointed puzzle person made up of many different people trying to masquerade as one person.”

This leads Lena to another observation. She’s not the only one masquerading—everyone around her is projecting an ideal self-image to hide behind, an illusion to mask their perceived inadequacies.

“Everyone wants to go about as if they were a fantastic superhero, born into the world complete; no one wants to acknowledge that they are self-consciously creating themselves, but everyone is. Everyone is, Lena thinks.”

Featured Book Club — Surprise, Arizona

February 16, 2012 at 10:14 am , by

Thanks to the LHJ Book Club (have you checked out our March pick, Vaclav & Lena? It’s a must-read!), we’ve been talking about our favorite characters, plot lines and themes for weeks around our office—we can’t stop! With book club on the brain, we’re itching to hear about other clubs around the country, and will be featuring one each month right here on our blog.

Our first club is from Surprise, AZ (doesn’t that sound like a fun place to live?), and they are one bonded bunch. “We’re coming up on our fourth anniversary as a club and were talking about everything that has changed in our lives since we first met,” says member Tina Mollica. “Two new babies, graduations, children entering the military, retirement, the loss of parents and jobs, and some major changes at our church. We started as eight strangers and became 11 life long friends.”

Here’s what some of the other members have to say about their beloved group:

Do you have a name for your book club?

“We often refer to ourselves as The Greatest Book Club Ever!  I don’t know if it’s an official name, but it shows how we feel about each other.” – Krystal Ford

Is there anything special you do for each meeting?

“Different gals volunteer to host our meetings, but we don’t adhere to a strict rotation. When one of our books has been made into a movie, then we have a movie night and try to all attend it together. But we all agree that movie night does not replace book club meeting for that month—it’s just too important!” – Colleen Kolb

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