book club

Book Club Wrap-up: The Revenge of The Radioactive Lady

February 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm , by

Last month, we pored over kooky characters, relished dark humor, and were shocked by a surprise ending (you’ll flip for it!) reading The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady. We hope you got the chance to spend time with Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s addicting novel, and if you haven’t picked it up, we know her letter to readers will whet your appetite. And then, since we’re sure your book club will want to adopt it as your next pick, we’ve got discussion questions and an exclusive Q&A with the author as well.

But now, with the beautiful new LHJ on newsstands everywhere, it’s time to introduce our next pick! This month we’ll be digging into Vaclav & Lena, by debut novelist Haley Tanner. It’s love story–you’ll swoon over every page–that has quite the magical theme. We’re also happy to announce a terrific giveaway! Throughout the month, you can enter to win one of five LHJ Book Club libraries—all of our picks so far, signed by the authors! Visit our book club page to enter, and to learn more about Vaclav & Lena! 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 The Revenge of The Radioactive Lady! Comment here or tweet us at @LHJMagazine with the hashtag #lhjbookclub.

Book Club Guest Blog: Motives, A Character Discussion

January 13, 2012 at 10:33 am , by

This week’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 for February, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, author Elizabeth Stuckey-French explores the motives that propel her characters to act in very strange ways in this wonderfully quirky novel. The main character, Marylou, is a woman hell-bent on exacting revenge for a secret government medical study that caused the death of her eight-year-old daughter.

Motives are a critical component in character development for compelling story telling, and in a book club setting, one of the most important focuses of discussion.  A gifted author skillfully develops characters that intrigue us, and keep us turning the pages to find out the “why” behind the characters’ actions. Similarly, a good writer will allow the characters’ motives to unfold in a way that, even if we find their actions morally questionable at the beginning of the book, we will gradually start to understand them, sympathize with them and, usually, forgive them for their flaws.

These descriptions of the characters in The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady are followed by brief excerpts that provide glimpses into the real emotions underlying the motives of each of Stuckey-French’s characters. This is a technique you can use as a tool to provoke fascinating book-club discussions of almost any title.

Marylou’s Motive: Revenge

Marylou’s underlying emotions of deep anger, grief, and loneliness stem from the loss of her daughter to bone cancer because of a ghastly radioactive cocktail she was instructed to drink during her pregnancy.

Desperation was the mother of invention. By the time she got back to Reeve’s Court, Marylou had devised a brand-new attack plan. She would continue with her efforts to make Wilson remember and apologize, but she would also take steps to destroy his family, the way he’s destroyed hers. It would surely make him miserable to watch his family suffer, the way she’d had to watch Helen and Teddy suffer.

Ava’s Motive:  Acceptance

Ava is admired for her beauty, but overprotected and misunderstood because of her Asperger’s Syndrome, she is desperate to be independent and live a life of relative normalcy.

It was depressing to realize that she didn’t fit in here, and she sure didn’t fit in with the so-called typical people. So what was left? Living with her mother for the rest of her life? She’d rather kill herself.

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December/January Book Club Wrap-Up: The Bird Sisters

January 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm , by

We picked The Bird Sisters for December/January hoping to inspire chatter about sisters and family ties with your own loved ones over the holidays—and many of you did just that! We successfully hosted our first LHJ Book Club author Facebook chat, and tons of you came out to ask Rebbecca Rasmussen your burning questions on her life as a novelist, share your favorite recent reads and declare your love for the book (read some of chat here—and stay tuned for more author chats in the future!). Still haven’t been bitten by The Bird Sisters bug? Read Rebecca’s letter to her readers and thoughts on the novel from the bloggers at Girls In The Stacks to get you started.

And now that February issues are on newsstands, it’s on to the next for the LHJ Book Club! This month we’ll be chatting about The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French. Sound like wacky one? It is—sort of. Stuckey-French’s tale of a woman who plots revenge after she’s unwittingly involved in a Cold War-esque government study tackles themes of struggle and sadness, but from a darkly humorous angle that makes Radioactive immediately addicting. Visit our book club page for an introduction! 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 The Bird Sisters! Comment here or tweet us at @LHJMagazine with the hashtag #lhjbookclub.

Guest Blog: How Sisters Shape Our Lives, a Book Club Discussion

November 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm , by

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

The special bond of siblings can often be the longest and most important relationship in our lives, transcending friends, jobs, parents, and sometimes even marriage. This month’s LHJ Book Club pick, The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen, tells the story of sisters Milly and Twiss and the heartbreak, sacrifice, love and secrets that they share through childhood, adulthood and old age.

Here are some tips to enrich your book club discussion, exploring how your sibling relationship has influenced the trajectory of your own life. Encourage members who are only children to participate, as they offer a fresh perspective to the discussion.

Back to the Sand Box: Tell a specific story from childhood that recalls a vivid memory about your sibling. Sharing personal anecdotes can make great ice breakers to get a group discussion flowing! Add some depth by asking members to bring along pictures of their sisters or brothers to share.

The sight of the Mason jars led her back to the town fair. She could see Twiss rearranging her jars of Purple Prairie Tonic from a simple line into a pyramid, trying to sell them with a manic energy and an equally manic twinkle in her eye. She could see her mother and father strolling along in the late light, untwining their fingers, it seemed, just so they could entwine them again. And she could see Bett.

Stiff Competition:  Competition for mom or dad’s attention is often at the heart of sibling issues. Was this the case in your family? How do you think birth order affects sibling relationships?

“Beauty gives you choices,” their father said to Milly. “Ugliness doesn’t.”… “What about me?” Twiss said. “Your hands belong on a golf club,” their father said.

Compare & Contrast: Identify the similarities and differences between you and your sibling. How have they shaped your personality?

Although Milly was the one who earned perfect grades term after term, Twiss was the one with all of the creativity and the daring. Milly may have known how to balance both ends of Mr. Stewart’s chemistry equations without making a mistake, but Twiss was the one who possessed the heart to be a real scientist.

Life Lessons: What life lessons have you learned together?

Twiss traced the rim of the teacup. “Remember what she used to say?”… The two sisters lingered in front of the sideboard, as if waiting for their mother to appear and caution them, before they took up their lists and went about their chores. “Bone china is like your heart. If it breaks, it can’t be fixed.”

The topic of sibling relationships offers so much to ponder; I hope that your book club enjoys a rich and rewarding discussion of The Bird Sisters.

November Book Club Wrap-Up: The Widower’s Tale

November 16, 2011 at 11:45 am , by

This past month, The Widower’s Tale left us all with tons to chat about. Author Julia Glass vividly depicted four very different characters (who were all male!)—how did she do it? Which was our favorite? Which female character did we wish we’d heard more from (Julia talks about this in her Q&A with us)? And just which of characters is the man illustrated on the cover? We were enthralled with the deep family ties and intense passions of all kinds this novel brought to life. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, take a look at the discussion questions to get you started. And don’t forget about Glass’s ode to her favorite independent book stores—her list is a must-keep for your next road trip.

And while we’re sad to leave the family of The Widower’s Tale, we’re also excited to introduce December/January’s book pick, The Bird Sisters, a story with another intriguing family at its core. Sisters on a Midwestern farm, Milly and Twiss have a special relationship with, you guessed it, the birds that come their way, each one carrying the troubles of the people who own them. It’s a enveloping tale about being a sister (and being yourself) that we know you’ll love. Visit our book club page for an introduction! And, as always, stay with us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here on our blog to join the conversation as we chat about The Bird Sisters all month long.


But first, tell us what you thought of The Widower’s Tale! Comment here or tweet us at @LHJMagazine with the hashtag #lhjbookclub.

An Ode To Indies: Why Small Bookstores Need Your Support

November 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm , by

Julia Glass, author of our November book club pick, The Widower’s Tale, has spent a lot of time visiting and reading at the country’s many independent bookstores. It’s safe to say that she’s cultivated quite an admiration for them—and we agree! Here, she explains why you should love them, too (and lets us in on her favorite local bookstores across the US.)


The author (third from left) at Town House Books in St. Charles, IL.

Last Sunday I shared a podium with fellow novelists Leah Hager Cohen and Ha Jin at an 8:00 a.m. “author breakfast” hosted at the Colonial Inn in Concord, Mass., as part of the town’s annual book festival. As I scraped ice off my windshield in the still-dark of that frigid morning, I thought I must have been crazy to accept this invitation. Who in their right minds would leave a cozy bed before sunrise just to listen to a bunch of daydreamers talk about their made-up worlds?

Book lovers, that’s who. Contrary to media doomsayers, they (we) are still legion—as was obvious when I entered the cheerful pandemonium in the inn’s quaintly crooked but spacious dining room. There wasn’t a spare seat to be found.

Standing in that crowded room was doubly affecting to me. First, it happens to be the setting I chose for a climactic scene in The Widower’s Tale. (In my novel, the town I call Ledgely is a twin to Concord, the Ledgely Inn an alias for the Colonial.) Second, the books for sale at the breakfast were supplied by the Concord Bookshop.

The Concord Bookshop was my childhood bookstore from age nine on. I browsed there as often as I could finagle a ride from my mother. An annual ritual was my visit there in early December to choose titles for my Christmas wish list. I picked out art tomes, poetry anthologies, hardbound novels—expensive books I couldn’t afford with the wages I earned as a library page. (I can point to several of those books on my shelves today, their spines faded from the sun permeating various homes over the past forty years.) My mother probably drove back the next day to buy the books I’d held and coveted. There was no Amazon, no Alibris, no eBay, no ready ”discounts” on the price of a book. Imagine my emotions when, at age two or three, on a visit to his grandparents’ house, my first child asked, “Can I go to the Concord Bookshop with Grammy?” He’s 15 now, his little brother 10, and those visits are still a popular request. Heaven knows how much money my mother has spent there over the decades; I’m sure she’d tell you every penny was worth it.

Click “read more ” for Julia’s favorite indie booksellers!

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Guest Blog: Life Choices, a Book Club Discussion

October 18, 2011 at 10:29 am , by

Today’s post comes from leading book club resource Donna Paz Kaufman of Reading Group Choices. “There is so much we learn from the characters in books, and many stories involve circumstances we will all deal with at some point in our lives.”

This month’s LHJ Book Club pick, The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass, tells the story of Percy Darling, a man dealing with his grief after the loss of his wife, and how it influences his relationships and decisions. When he decides to offer the use of his barn to a trendy preschool, he goes through yet another major life transition that brings his choices into question.

Ask your book club members to relate a story of someone they know who has lost a spouse and what they have learned by observing how the widow/widower handled the life transition. Sharing our personal experiences can be interesting and even therapeutic!

Here are some conversation starters to use when a character’s choices are curious or controversial. Some discussion questions relating to the The Widower’s Tale readers’ guide are in italics to help your book club dig into this book—find more here.

Describe the character’s perspective
How do they hear, see, and perceive the situation? Talk about the baggage they might be carrying to this situation and how their view of the situation may be clouded.

How do Percy’s age, background, and profession shape the way he thinks about the world? How does the way he sees himself differ from the way other characters see him? How has being a single father and now an involved grandfather defined him? How do you think he would have been a different father and man had Poppy lived?

Identify the choices
There are usually a variety of choices we can make when faced with a decision. Does the character see and consider them all?

Why do you think Percy chose to avoid romantic or sexual involvement for so many years after Poppy’s death? Why do you think he falls so suddenly for Sarah after all that time alone? Why now?

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